What to Expect From Your 17-year-old: The CMU campus visit

It’s been a long time since I picked up one of those “What to Expect” books that were regarded by my generation as the bibles of those early years of motherhood. The “What to Expect” series either offered us soothing advice; or made us feel woefully inadequate in our parenting skills from pregnancy all the way through the early school years.

But I thought about them on a recent walk. I wondered, if that series continued into a child’s later high school years, what the author write?

Your 17-year-old:

  • Can make their own lunch. And when they don’t like what you are serving for dinner, well, damn it all to hell,  they can make their own dinner 
  • Is learning to drive, or may already have their driver’s license
  • You may not be seeing much of your 17-year-old. This is because the 17-year-old spends most of their waking hours in school or holed up in their room studying for college entrance exams.
  • They may even get asked to prom!
  • The only hope that you, the parent, may have at spending any quality time with your 17-year-old is if they need you to come along to buy that prom dress. Or to go on a college road trip.

On the second leg of our April college road trip, we spent the day in Pittsburgh visiting Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Though they may be distant relatives by blood, I feel I a part of a legacy in Pittsburgh. My third cousin (though we were raised  more like first cousins) is a CMU alumna. My mom has a cousin who went to CMU and his father, my great uncle through marriage, taught at the University of Pittsburgh. I also have other cousins who live in Pittsburgh. So, if my daughter wound up going to school in this great city, I wouldn’t be the least bit upset. I wouldn’t mind living there myself.

But back to the tours:

We visited these two colleges in the same long day. However, the two campuses will not be blurred in my memory, as they give off two very different vibes.

We started the day at CMU. About 50-60 other prospective students and their family gathered in Hamerschlag Hall, the largest on campus.  Unlike the intimate feeling at Case Western Reserve, the admissions rep felt far away, way down below at the lectern.

The information session began by asking prospectives to stand up and introduce themselves and tell what they planned to study as a major, if they even knew.

In a world where some of the careers a decade from now have yet to be created, most kids stood up knowing  – or thinking they knew-  exactly what they wanted to study.

Most wanted to study engineering.

  • Chemical
  • Mechanical
  • Biochemical
  • Biomedical

Or they wanted to go into business

Or they wanted computer science

Only one mentioned psychology as a possible major.

Not a budding writer, or poet, or historian, or political scientist in the bunch. Are the humanities truly dead?

My daughter was the only one to stand up and say she was just thinking  about studying graphic design and visual arts – but buffered that notion by saying she wanted to combine it with a parallel study in biology or medical imaging.

I got the feeling that the admissions representative really did not need to work very hard to sell the CMU brand to the students in the room. But there she was, dressed in a seriously smart gray suit, chalk in hand, ready to sing us the praises of a school “built by the two industrialist Andrews as a college meant to educate the sons of their steel workers.”

I wondered how many of the CMU student body consisted of the sons of today’s blue-collar workers.

CMU holds the reputation for one of the finest schools in the country for engineering, math and computer science. And yes, for those left-brained people, many prominent actors and artists are graduates of CMU’s performing and visual arts programs.

CMU encourages its highly motivated and driven students to collaborate and research across disciplinary studies. CMU will actually fund a student’s research project proposal if they find it fits within the high benchmarks and the overall vision of the university.


Admission rates at CMU are steep. Very steep. According to CMU’s admission statistics, CMU received a  total of 33,008 applications for the current academic school year (2013-2014).  Nearly 5,900 were accepted and 1,444 enrolled.  The admissions representative gave an example of just how competitive it is to get in by mentioning a student who “held several engineering patents.”

Even he didn’t get in.

You could feel the uncomfortable squirming in those lecture hall seats.

Knowing just how much some prospective students will covet those slots, CMU also offers a binding early decision status by November 1. If you apply for early decision, here are some of the stipulations right off the web page:

  • If you’re admitted to Carnegie Mellon, we expect you to enroll.
  • You can apply to only one college within the university.
  • Three decisions can be given: admit, deny or defer to Regular Decision.
  • You must agree to withdraw applications previously submitted to other institutions, in any country, when notified of Early Decision acceptance and financial aid granted at Carnegie Mellon.
  • You are not able to compare financial aid packages between Carnegie Mellon and other universities you may have applied to

Tuition & Financial Aid

Like the admissions process, the tuition price tag at CMU is also steep. Undergraduate tuition is currently $62,032. A high percentage – 53 percent – of  undergraduate students are receiving some form of financial aid and the average financial aid package is $34,225.


The Campus Vibe

Truthfully, I did not go on the tour. It was a cold raw April day so I stayed in the student union with my 10-year-old son and let my husband and older son tour with my daughter.

I was glad to see that in this intense environment, there were some students hanging out on a lunch break playing pool.

There was a bit of a spring fling feeling in the air, as engineering students and other Tartans put their talents to work as they helped prepare for the upcoming weekends annual spring rite of Carnival: 



Also, my daughter met up with a friend of hers currently enrolled at CMU at “the fence.” If you are a CMU student or alumi, you know what I’m talking about:


And, at the end of our tour, what were my daughter’s impressions?

It turns out that the  “we have so many applications we really don’t need yours” approach, the idea that an acceptance from CMU serves as a mark that you truly are a cut above the rest, was tantalizing to her. If she got in to CMU, she would have to give it more thought, and perhaps a “sleeping bag” overnight visit to campus, but CMU really appealed to her.

But, oh the price tag of that tuition! Even if she got into CMU’s prestigious fine arts program, would she get financial aid? And if not, would she be willing to take on thousands of dollars in loans? And would she find a job in art and design that would help her pay off  that debt?

Our visit left us with far more questions and speculations than answers. After the tour we took our daughter’s friend to lunch on campus at Pomegranate in exchange for his insights and advice on applying and being a student at CMU before Part II of our day at the University of Pittsburgh.

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

2 responses to “What to Expect From Your 17-year-old: The CMU campus visit”

  1. segmation says :

    Looks like you have some decisions to make. We are picking up my daughter from Arizona State today. She is finishing up her sophomore year. Fun times ahead!


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