Campus Visits and test-taking angst: University of Pittsburgh
“Oh, crap mom, they are everywhere!”
My daughter and I were stopped at a red light, on her way to her A.C.T. tutorial class, and there they were. In perfect order on the license plate of the car in front of us.
It does seem that letters and acronyms are all that is on my high school junior’s mind.
Around my town, you can see her peers in places like Starbucks and Panera accompanied by a private tutor and hunched over one of those mammoth ACT prep books.
Taking the tests costs money.
Hiring a private tutor or taking a private class costs LOTS of money – try like $90 an hour.
Times like this, I often think of that movie Race to Nowhere. It’s becoming a race to empty our bank account in the name of college admissions. Taking admissions tests and studying for them is all that really occupies my daughter’s existence. She asks how long going out do dinner will take if it means she will be separated from her study guide. And she really doesn’t part from it because it comes along wherever she goes. She went to prom with a boy the other night. It surprised me that she did not take it along in the limo.
And when you finally get to college….
My daughter, visiting a friend who was showing her around his new surroundings at the University of Pittsburgh, told her “no one here cares what you got on any of those tests.”
This blog post is a long overdue follow-up to my post on our visit to Carnegie Mellon University. At CMU, my daughter sensed just how intense a campus atmosphere could be as the students there were in the midst of cramming for finals.
Just across the river, at the neighboring University of Pittsburgh, the atmosphere seemed livelier. And happier. Yet still very competitive. According to about.com, The University of Pittsburgh often ranks among the top 20 public universities in the U.S., and its strong research programs have earned it membership in the exclusive Association of American Universities. Pitt also can boast of a chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. In athletics, the Pitt Panthers compete in the NCAA Division I Atlantic Coast Conference.
Unlike the dimmed dreary lecture hall at Carnegie Mellon, prospective students to the University of Pittsburgh started their tour at an information session in the in a massive historic building of Alumni Hall. The interior was decked out with balloons and music and the smells of fresh-baked cookies and popcorn wafted from the main salon, where Pitt seniors were collecting their caps and gowns and other graduation mementos at a pre-graduation reception.
Our admissions official was a young African American man in a cardigan sweater. He was a recent Pitt graduate who was in the process of applying to law school. He told the prospectives that during his time at Pitt, he changed his mind on what he wanted to study several times, from business, to engineering, and, he said, and I quote,
“to worry my parents, I once even thought of becoming a writer!”
His advice: Unless you have your heart on becoming an engineer or you absolutely know you are going to medical school, keep a decision on a choosing a major fluid and take a course load from Pitt’s multiple major offerings. At Pitt’s Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, one can wait until the end of their sophomore year to declare a major.
And as far as acceptance rates at Pitt?
As it stands, Pitt in 2012 had an acceptance rate of 56.1 percent. Admissions officers are looking for the following ACT breakdown from applicants:
- ACT Composite: 25 / 30
- ACT English: 25 / 32
- ACT Math: 25 / 31
- ACT Writing: 8 / 9
However, our admissions rep stressed that test scores and grades of B’s and A’s were just one part of what they were looking for in a prospective freshman. They wanted to see a well-rounded student taking vigorous courses. They wanted to see a students’ involvement in their community and leadership positions they took at school. And then he said the words I was longing to hear: better to get a high B or low A in an advanced course than all A’s in less challenging classes.
After the informational tour, we met our Pittsburgh Pathfinder. He led us on an hour tour across campus, highlighted by a visit to the Cathedral of Learning, the undergraduate library, open nearly 24 hours a day and seven days a week, the quad of freshman dorms, and the dining halls. He even told us in confidence, even though his official job was to tell us to buy books at the campus bookstore, the best place to rent textbooks for the semester. For that, I gave him a stellar grade on his evaluation.
And, we even got a few Pitt T-shirts for free from the guy selling T-shirts on the corner from our fearless Pathfinder. Apparently, he has some kind of deal going with the guy:
No T-shirts were handed out at CMU.
Best of all, my daughter got an unofficial, insider perspective on campus life from a friend who was finishing up his freshman year:
He has loved his first year of Pitt, both academically and socially. He loves the urban atmosphere of being on a campus in a big city.
After our visit, my daughter can see herself applying to school in Pittsburgh. She could see herself taking classes either at CMU or Pitt. And, for a break, she can see herself going for a run (with a friend of course, not alone!) in beautiful Schenley Park.
What is not to love about Pittsburgh?
Then again, there is the whole in-state out-of-state tuition factor which weighs heavily on most admissions decisions. Out-of-state tuition is nearly double. At this point, she had yet to visit one of the best state schools in the nation, in her own state, just 40 minutes down a potholed highway to Ann Arbor.
But that visit, I will leave for another post.
- Pittsburgh’s economy has gained from high-skilled immigrants (post-gazette.com)
- The value of campus visits: Questions are answered and connections are made (simplygreater.org)
- What to Expect From Your 17-year-old: The CMU campus visit (stacylynngittleman.com)