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Carnegie Mellon University

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What are the academics like at your school?

The overall quality of the academics at Carnegie Mellon is quite prestigious and geared towards not only teaching the coursework but also expanding their students’ interests within their studies and well preparing them for future careers. The classroom style varies depending on the type and demand of the course, but in general even large lectures of 100+ students are broken down into smaller classroom-sized “recitations” of roughly 15-35 students (depending on the type of course) at least once a week so that students have to opportunities for group discussion and individual attention from a teacher or PHD student-teacher. The types of courses taught in large lectures are those in high demand such as general education requirements, computer/science/engineering courses, psychology courses, and more. Classroom/lecture size is made to suit the needs of the students to the best of the school’s ability. Access to teachers and counselors is fairly easy at Carnegie Mellon. All teachers, student teachers, and counselors have available office hours every week or can be contacted for an appointment via email. The faculty at CMU is very dedicated to the students’ welfare and education and is more than happy to provide help or advice for students that seek it. Teachers at CMU enjoy seeing their students approach them outside of the classroom whether it’s academic-related or just conversational. Courses at Carnegie Mellon are often very difficult so getting extra help is common and often advised if necessary. The benefits of the academics are shown to influence students outside of the classroom as well. CMU students often catch themselves talking about academics in regular conversation and beyond that even take their skills from class and apply them to extra curricular activities during their free time. However, expect to study often and have copious amounts of work if you plan on attending CMU. Possibly one of the biggest issues regarding academics on campus would be registering for classes for each semester. The severity of this issue depends very heavily on how popular/in demand your classes are. For example, it can be difficult to immediately get into some computer science courses because there are so many computer science students at CMU. Many students find themselves placed on waitlists at first until adjustments are made or people switch out of classes. If it is absolutely necessary for you to take that course immediately, contact your counselor and he/she will do the best they can to get you in. However, this difficulty is definitely not the case for all students. Higher priority goes to those who with seniority, have graduation requirements, and are declared for the major that the course applies to. As major within the English department, I’ve had very few difficulties getting into any of my courses and have been able to get into almost if not every class I’ve been waitlisted for both within and outside of the English department. Students are given times to register for classes for the upcoming semester several weeks before the current semester ends. Dates to register are based off of class seniority (Seniors first day, Juniors second day, Sophomores third day, Freshman last day), and times for students’ access to the registration page online are randomly selected and changed every semester to make it fair. There are several weeks in between when you register and when the new semester begins so that all issues can be resolved as best as they can.

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Starting answering!In drama and writing, participation is critical at every class. Class sizes are kept small, at about 10 people (the smallest class I’ve been in has been a 5 person Theory of Translation class). Professors and students are often on first-name basis, and creative writing professor’s offices are right next to the lounge, so if you hang out there, you’ll see your teachers often and it’s easy to drop in on them. Usually professors are good about quickly responding to e-mail. I don’t often talk much with professors outside of class, but sometimes they make an effort to seek out students. One physics professor asked to talk to me because he felt I had a lot of potential in the field, for instance. Sciences will get more large lecture hall classes, and often have one smaller session a week with a teaching assistant. Occasionally, grad students teach beginning classes, but professors teach the majority. A few professors have been repetitive and distracted, or have given only surface comments on returned work, but in general they are helpful and they all seem to care. Students are able to teach courses, and these courses usually meet once a week for 2 hours. They give you a chance to dabble in topics like Scottish Highland Dance, Making Comics, or Wine Tasting. In my experience, if you want to get into a class, you can, but it may take effort. I’ve been able to take classes that are usually restricted to other majors, or to seniors, by showing an interest, writing to the professors, and visiting the first two days of class. If you care, professors want you. CMU does make humanities and social sciences majors take 5 general education courses as a freshman: world history, statistics, a seminar class, Interpretation and Argument (basic English), and computing. There are several other general education requirements, in the fields of Creating (arts, writing), Modeling (math, sciences, psych), Deciding (history, philosophy, psychology, statistics), Communication (Modern Languages, English), and Reflecting (English, arts, history, modern languages). On the one hand, this does make you aware of the variety of studies offered and makes you more well-rounded, on the other, it holds you back from diving straight into your major.

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In a blanket statement: Carnegie Mellon University provides an outstanding but challenging academic environment to all of its students. On average, the class sizes range from 25-35 people, and the student-to-faculty ratio is 10:1. That being said, I've been in classes of close to 100 students (Intro. to Psychology, Biology), and I'm currently enrolled in a class of 6 students (Modern Poetry). It all really depends on the type of class (lecture classes vs. seminar classes). In my total experience, the professors are always invested in the students and--if you simply muster the courage to talk to them, they don't bite--they will do everything they can and even go out of their way to work with you and ensure your success. That being said, the academic programs here are Carnegie Mellon are extremely rigorous. It is not unusual for students to have to spend hours studying or doing homework. All of the professors here carry high expectations and hold their students to high standards. This, of course, is because CMU students work hard and have a drive to excel; and it wouldn't be entirely false to categorize a large section of the student population as competitive. However, this love of learning facilitates a challenging and innovative academic environment that is awesome to participate in. And most importantly, the hard work pays off. Carnegie Mellon has some of the highest job-placement rates in the nation. As far as my own beloved English department- both the students and the faculty create a challenging and intimate environment. I know and speak to many of my professors outside of class and on a personal level, and they are all very invested in my education and leading me to a successful career, as well as personal success and happiness. With other students in my department,there is frequently intellectual conversation, but also a lot of friendship-building and fun. And It is awesome, especially as a writer, to have the support of your peers.

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It's really hard in a large lecture for professors to know your name so I suggest, as most websites and advisors tell you, to think of a question or two in the first couple of lectures and ask the professor after class. There may be a long line of students waiting in front of you to ask, but it's worth it. Favorite class is Social Psychology because it was really easy, not a lot of work, and interesting subject. Least favorite was Calculus (all of them) because I'm really bad at math. Students study a lot on average. Again, a lot of all-nighters, but I don't believe that is always necessary. If you plan ahead with your work, know when your deadlines and tests are, you won't need to be up late everynight. I haven't pulled an all-nighter in all 3 years I've been here. Students aren't competitive even though they might seem to be. If you want help or want to take the initiative to set up a study group with your class, you can access the whole class roster, e-mail everyone and set up times to review the material. It might be really helpful if you're struggling. Unique class was Roots of Rock and Roll. Highly recommended!! I didn't spend time with professors until my second or third year, once you start doing independent research with them, and even then it was still in a school environment. A lot of the General Education requirements are very annoying. Like having to take a "creating" course meant I had to sit through a boring poetry class, and I don't think a lot of the H&SS classes were necessary.

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Academics at CMU can be a great experience. Professors are at the top of their professions and they genuinely care about teaching and making sure students are doing well. Plus there are so many neat classes you can take to fill your general requirements -- my favorites have been economics courses which I took on a whim and now I think econ is something I may dedicate my career too. Classes themselves are usually very small, but in classes I have been in, most students are very shy so there is not a lot of participation. Students often work together on homework and I have never seen any competition at all among students, probably because there is no class rank and hardly any professors give curved grades, or assign a fixed amount of students to get an "A" a "B" and a "C" etc. The education at CMU is geared towards both getting a job and pure learning. Professors teach skills you need for employment, but they give you more than that as well. With only a few exceptions my professors have been phenomenal teachers, they have graded reasonably, they have prepared fun, interesting lesson plans, and they have taken the time to get to know their students, even in big classes. One economics teacher even went out to lunch with his entire class of some 400 kids in small groups.

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As far as academics go, CMU is truly a powerhouse. The classes at CMU are challenging, but in a good way. They push students to truly reach their full potentials, through a variety of ways. Engineering classes often have everything from homeworks, exams, midterms and finals, to lab work and lab reports. While professors vary, overall CMU professors seem to have a knack at getting students to participate during lectures (maybe to keep us awake, but either way it seems to work). And most make a point to learn every one of their student's names...even some of the larger lecturing professors (but those are fewer and farther between). Outside of class, students are known to be working on projects that can span across disciplines. However, it is far from uncommon to see students studying on campus -- both in- and outdoors. Students are even able to see meet with their professors outside of the classroom, although typically that depends on both the individual student and the individual professor. Overall, I'd say CMU is definitely a great academic school that prepares you for the "real world." It challenges you, but the rewards that you are able to reap because of the challenges CMU presents are able to be seen even before graduating.

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I am very close with a few professors, and have felt comfortable with attending office hours with about 75% of the professors that I've had. Some professors do seem more interested in their research at times. My favorite classes have been my upper economic electives, while my least favorite was 1st year World History. Group work is HUGE, atleast for the program that I'm in. You can learn so much from the people in your groups, but it's always important to set a standard of expectations for participation at the first group meeting. Students are competitive, but not in a cut-throat way. I've never felt uncomfortable about studying with my classmates (often, group work is encouraged), because there's always something I understand and they don't, and vice versa. We're all trying to do well here and get the best grades that we can in order to get that job that we want. I do feel that most of us are here to get a job, but I've found that I end up learning things outside of the classroom accidentally. Academic work is what I do to gain the expertise and knowledge to get a good job, but everything else (especially being an RA) is where I get to practice those skills.

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I can talk more about CIT (CMU's school of engineering) than anything else on campus. First of all, CIT only has 8 general education requirements. I only have to take 4, because they are easy to get out of if you have taken AP tests in history, foreign languages, etc. My particular major lets me be flexible, however, and I can take more humanities courses if I so choose. Or I can choose to take more math or computer science. My favorite classes are ones with professors who make whatever they are lecturing about interesting and who really make you think (there are a lot of those on campus). I've been told many times that getting an engineering degree (especially in Electrical and Computer Engineering, my major) is about learning how to think and solve complex problems, which allows you to step into a variety of jobs after getting your degree, so the actual material you learn in your classes isn't extremely important. Most engineers go straight into the industry after CMU (some end up in consulting or on Wall Street). CIT pushes you to get internships over the summer and there are many career fairs on campus throughout the year.

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All professors are different, however most will go out of their way to help students and inspire them. Having transfered to CMU from a different university, I can definitely say the quality of professors in CMU is far more higher than others. Students, likewise are all different, however quite a few of them are happy to pursue academics outside the classroom in the form of research, individual projects, or clubs such as the Robotics Club. CMU's academic requirements are fairly tough however, and sometimes makes it difficult to pursue activities other than those required in classes. However, the number of classes a student is willing to take is up to the student after all. Compared the previous university that I have attended, CMU is far more geared towards learning for learnings sake. However, I believe this is mainly due to the fact that CMU students do not quite require a 'masking' of their ability to get things done. Although CMU does not spend as much time trying to get students job compared to my other school, its students are often employed at higher rates with higher salaries.

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For most intro classes the class size is pretty large, and it’s unlikely that you’ll establish much of a relationship with your professors. But as the courses get more advanced and more specific to your discipline you’ll find smaller class sizes and have stronger connections with instructors. Class participation is crucial- if you don’t participate you can get a C or worse even if you ace all the tests and papers. CMU is certainly career focused. It’s not just about learning. It’s about developing skills for the career you seek to pursue. In my creative writing classes, the challenge goes beyond producing well written pieces and onto creating art that satisfies not only yourself but will also appeal to an audience. You’re consistently tested to go beyond the limits and urged to ask questions. Don’t be shocked if you receive a paper back from a professor and around your thesis statement are a red circle with a comment of “So, What?” You have to constantly make certain your purpose is clear and more importantly relevant to our world today in whatever your studies are.

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