Starting answering!Academic life varies a lot depending on your major. Drama students seem like almost their own fraternity: older students guide younger ones, and professors make the whole Drama school feel like a community. Architecture students also grow close, through infamous long hours in the studio. The humanities college has less of a unified or tight-knit feel, though Creative Writing, for instance, has its own lounge, which gives its students a bit of a hang-out place. It is true that Carnegie Mellon is known for engineering. It has a strong reputation for drama (Zachary Quinto among others!) and music, and just that you go here is usually enough to make someone think you’re smart. But nearly all the job fairs will be a waste of time for a humanities student (unless you also program software). Just wait for the annual Creative Arts Opportunities Conference. Your college’s reputation also affects what sort of interesting people are brought to campus: it’s going to be more tech and science people than writers and artists. One of the best parts of Carnegie Mellon is the energy of the students. While studying abroad, I missed the creative intellectualism of CMU. A lot of the students here like to talk, and will sit down with you for hours to discuss and joke around. Some of my best conversations have been with people I just met, which says something about the friendliness here. The student organizations are another true strength of the college. There is a wide variety, including improv, dance, Buggy, satire, juggling, philosophy . . . .Most importantly, many people get very involved in their clubs, and thanks to clubs there’s often a lot going on. The college makes an effort to provide activities as well; for instance, movie showings on a big screen are offered for $1 Thursday through Saturday. Dining is different at CMU than at most colleges. Instead of a dining hall, there are many separate vendors. This means you have more control over what food you get (you’re not stuck with typical dining hall buffet). Vendors range from hamburgers to vegetarian, from Indian to soups and salads. This means you can find places you like, but that there’s not a central eating place, and that you won’t meet people at meals. There’s a lot to do on campus and a lot to do in the city, though transport is a bit difficult, due to a slow bus system. Chances are you won’t spend much time in Downtown Pittsburgh, though if you do make it there, you’ll find plays, museums, and sports stadiums. In general, CMU supports you doing whatever you want, be that going abroad or organizing your own major. However, as a side effect, there’s a lot of opportunity to make your own plan and not as much structure. Advising is de-centralized, with an advisor for your major, another for your minor, another for study abroad, and another for your general college. Choosing specific teachers to talk to can help get you more detailed advice.
Coming to Carnegie Mellon was initially a bit of a gamble for me because of the unfamiliar location (I am from LA, California) and because it was the only university I applied to without my original intended major. However, I’m three semesters into college and am completely convinced that coming to Carnegie Mellon was the best decision I could have made. The best thing about Carnegie Mellon is that no matter what major you decide to pursue, each program is extremely well developed and guaranteed to improve and advance whatever skills sets you plan on using for your potential career path. Carnegie Mellon is well known not only for its cutting-edge programs in computer science and engineering, its known for its phenomenal fine arts programs in theater, architecture, and design. Other programs Carnegie Mellon excels in include business, psychology, and professional/creative writing. Basically no matter what you end up studying at this school, you’re bound to get an incredible education that will well prepare you for the future. Generally, when people hear that I attend Carnegie Mellon, they are either very impressed or unfamiliar with schools in Pittsburgh, PA. People that know about CMU usually know the school for particular programs we have that are amongst the top in the country. The more disappointed reaction may come from the fact that I went from LA to Pittsburgh; however, I love Pittsburgh as a college location because it has just enough “city” to it without being too distracting and overwhelming like if I had gone to school in NYC (which was a serious consideration for me while I was determining where I wanted to go). Another appeal of Carnegie Mellon for me is the size of the campus/number of students. CMU is a medium-sized school with roughly 5,800 undergraduate students and 3,200 graduate students. For me, this size was ideal because it’s small enough that I can have intimate-sized classes with active discussions yet big enough that I can still meet new people every day outside of class. The campus itself is about 145 acres, quite beautiful and has a lot of open grass space. One thing that I feel like CMU lacks in may be school spirit, most likely because we don’t have any dominant sports teams (though we do have some small club and intramural sports) to cheer for. Our football team is a pretty big joke and though I would eventually like to go to a game one day, there is not a whole lot of incentive to spend your time at a CMU football game instead of doing work or hanging out elsewhere. On the plus side, we have many active organizations on campus that keep our students lively and excited about other campus events.
In a nutshell, CMU is a great place to go to school. It's located in Pittsburgh's Oakland region which is not-to-far but not-to-close to Downtown Pittsburgh. Oakland is also home to the University of Pittsburgh, among other colleges/universities, so it is in a pretty college-age friendly area. Oakland is also home to the Carnegie Musuem of Natural History, which is a fun place to visit from time-to-time since it is constantly changing -- and FREE for all CMU students. In addition to all the great aspects of Oakland, it is possible to explore the City of Pittsburgh (and its surroundings) with your CMU ID card since it grants you free and unlimited access to the region's public transportation system. So, you can head over to one of Pittsburgh's great sporting arenas/parks and see the local team play or to the Carnegie Science Center for a more casual outing. As for CMU itself, I cannot express how wonderful the atmosphere of the campus is. There are going-ons all the time -- all you have to do is find them. The size of the school is one of its best features. The smaller university setting gives you a chance to develop relationships with other students, as well as faculty and staff on campus. When people are told I'm a CMU student (at the risk of sounding egocentric and snobbish here) the reaction is usually along the lines of admiration. This is due to CMU's reputation of providing a quality education which helps to produce modivated students who are considered above average, in terms of quality. As for an unusual niche that CMU has, well it's just too hard to explain in words -- but at CMU we call it Carnival -- which comprises (mainly) of two things -- booth and buggy. Booth allows organizations/groups of students to literally construct massive carnival booths that are meant to inspire and impress (which they most certainly do). Buggy on the other hand is a racing competition that is truly one-of-a-kind, from what I can gather. Students build these "buggies" and race against one another in a soapbox-like, but oh-so-much-better manner. Young women are literally encapsulated in the buggy and pushed up and down hills; it sounds crazy, I know, but you'd have to see it to believe it and truly understand it.
I'd say the best thing about this school is the self-directed way it's run. If you want to do well or just fail everything, no one is going to stop you. If you want to sit in your room glued to a book on Saturday nights or go get drunk at a frat, there's no real pressure either way. If I could change anything it would be the absence of school pride. Crowds at sporting events are pretty small, and most of them are there just to see the band play since it's basically a comedy group. The school is a bit small, but not suffocating. Pittsburgh is a pretty cool place, but the bulk of people never leave campus which is a shame. The biggest controversy recently was a girl who wore a pope hat and paraded naked with a cross shaved...well, I'll let you figure out where. Since this school is overwhelmingly liberal, most people supported her. Big complaints include the meal plan and lack of a social scene. The food isn't too bad, but it gets old and eventually you just want to break away from it. Eventually you'll settle in and find your favorite place(s) to eat. However, I have to agree that the social scene here is severely lacking. If you want to party and have a solid social life, you pretty much need to join Greek life or play on a varsity team. The only real stereotypical "bro" frat just got kicked off campus, so most of the groups just function as a group of guys who like to have a good time. Each group has a unique personality (big drinkers, nerds, stoners, normal guys, try-hards, and more) so go to plenty of rush events and see where you fit in the best. There's even one or two dry frats (whether they actually are is questionable). Sorority recruitment is a bit more formal and they pretty much decide for you where you'll join. It's possible to be an independent and have a fun time here, it just takes a lot of work.
I think that we're in a great part of the city. We have free museum passes, three professional sports teams, other universities, shopping streets, coffee shops and great bars. I do spend a lot of time at the library getting my work done, but once it's finished, there's a lot to do. There's a huge incentive for managing your social and academic life. A lot of students complain about the workload, and I've certainly done it, but while working at an internship this summer, I realized that CMU students are able to function and excel at such a high level and literally jump into the workforce and impress people from the beginning, all thanks to our ability to manage time and work. Being introduced as a Carnegie Mellon student elicits a lot of positive responses. At face value, people might not see CMU as having a lot of school pride. People attend football and basketball games, but it's not anywhere close to a state school. Our athletes are our peers, people that we sit next to in class and study with, so our school pride comes from supporting our friends, and other very unique CMU traditions. The annual Spring Carnival with BOOTH and BUGGY is one of the most memorable times for students. Greeks and other students build small carnival houses for the community and compete for the first prize, while Buggy participants spend the spring semester training for the spring relay race with the buggies, often waking up at 6am on Saturdays and Sundays to use the road. It's a different kind of pride, but it's totally unique to Carnegie Mellon. Sometimes I feel like it's something that you can't understand until you use your first powertool at Booth, or stand around trying to stay warm at Buggy practice, or sneak out to the Fence and paint it for the first time.
When I tell people I go to CMU, they either say that they've heard of the name but not much else, don't know that it exists, or they exclaim, "Oh, I'm sorry, which school rejected you, MIT or Stanford?" CMU is a university with high reputation among certain circles, but most people don't seem to have heard much about it, if anything. It's just shy of an Ivy League, but being Division III makes all the difference for its profile as a university (CMU's endowment is definitely shy of an Ivy League). For most of the students I've met (definitely not all) CMU was a 2nd or 3rd choice or lower, and the only reason why they're going here is because they got rejected from their top choices (in engineering most people seem to indeed fall into the two rejection camps: MIT and Stanford). Maybe that and CMU's lack of emphasis on sports is what contributes to CMU's low sense of school pride. CMU has a small campus (I can walk from my dorm to my farthest class in less than 10 minutes) and a relatively small number of people (5000 undergrad, I believe). The ratio of students to space is almost right, except that CMU doesn't have enough housing for its undergrads (There was a room draw fiasco in Spring 2008 when a third of the current freshman class didn't get a room. CMU has been reserving more places for incoming freshman on campus but doesn't have enough housing to guarantee for everyone).
I like Carnegie Mellon. I've made some very good friends, and when I meet someone new I can get along with them fairly well. I think the best thing about the school is the community. We have a kind of quiet pride about our university. I wouldn't say there are a ton of overt campus pride events going on, but there are many things about the university, and about the particular departments that create a kind of bond. I've heard professors form many different departments referencing the Carnegie Mellon tradition of pulling something together at the last minute for (usually the night before its due) instance. Then there are certain courses in different programs that are notorious for their difficulty, but passing the class becomes a rite of passage. There are many rallying points in the Carnegie Mellon experience for students to bond over. Not everything is roses though. The campus food has improved, but its still pretty costly for the quality of food. Dorms are much more expensive than finding housing in the city. And navigating the campus can be confusing to new students. And of course, its really expensive to attend. Overall though, my opinion of Carnegie Mellon is very high.
The best thing about CMU is that when you graduate you know you will have a job, especially if you're an engineer, but employers just seem to really like our students in general. If I could change one thing it would be the workload -- it really can be too much at times. The school size is about right, though by the time you're a senior you will feel like you know everybody, which is sort-of nice but it can feel a bit like high school again. We have Pitt next door and a few other colleges around but it still doesn't feel much like a college town. CMU's administration is really concerned with helping students cope with the workload, I haven't given it a lot of thought but I'd say they do a great job helping kids enjoy their college experience. Most frequent student complaint: too much work. No big controversies on campus that I'm aware of, that is one unique thing about CMU, students are pretty self-absorbed so there's not a lot of campus-wide issues that really dominate discussion. An experience I'll always remember is singing karaoke at one of the campus cafeterias on Friday nights -- I don't know if they still have that, but it was a lot of fun.
CMU is just the right size. The campus isn't too small or too big but for the amount of students, you won't be hiking for an hour before class to get to campus. When I told people in high school I was coming here, most students had never heard of it, but other adults recognize is as a really tough and prestigious school. It's not much of a college town, but Pitt is down the street so there are a lot of restaurants and bars to go to in that area. I wish it weren't so spread out because if you want to go to clubs or something you need to take a bus and the buses stop at 1am or so so it's hard to plan how to get home. There isn't a lot of school pride, not many people show up to the football games or such but that might just mean that we're not big on sports here. A lot of students have recently complained about "The Pole" or "Walking to the Sky" which was erected last year. The administration accepted it as a donation from someone and instead of donating the $10,000 to a scholarship, they made this awful looking sculpture that now takes over the front area of campus. But the hype from it has mostly faded.
Two things I did not think about when I was applying I have found to be very important and well done at CMU. 1) Does the administration treat student inquiries and issues with respect? At CMU, I have (in my first year) founded a club, worked to change a school-wide plagiarism policy and been supported by 3 deans and my college counselor in all of my interests. 2) Access to public transportation. Pittsburgh is on Amtrak, served by Greyhound and part of the tuition gives us free rides on all public transportation. I volunteer as an Escort for Planned Parenthood of Western PA, go to the Walgreens and get haircuts using the bus. If at home, you are active with your administration and like to roam around on the weekends, CMU has the potential of being a great school for you. On Amtrak--I get to Washington DC for about $79 roundtrip (with the Student Advantage card) every two weeks or so. You can get up at 4am, take a cab ($11) to the Amtrak Station, catch the 5:45am and you're in DC by 1:30pm. Then on Sunday take the 4pm train back, getting to Pittsburgh at 11:30pm. Fun!