The academics at Pitt are extremely varied, which is good because it means there's something for everyone's preferences. A lot of the intro classes are several hundred people (the biggest being 300-400), so it's easy to get lost in them (which, in classes you don't really care about and want to be able to skip without being docked attendance points, this is great). A lot of the upper-level classes within majors are smaller and more intimate, around 20 or 30 students, and in this case the professor will know your name. This is generally a good thing though, because in your major, you usually want the opportunity to be more engaged. My favorite class was Intro to Poetry Writing, which isn't even close to either of my majors. As a freshman science major it was the first small class I had ever had, so I liked that, and also my professor was really young, cool, and understanding. He listened to the interests of the class, which helped us decide what to read, and made assignments really flexible so that we could tailor them to our individual interests. Though the typical Pitt student might be stereotyped as lazy in regards to homework, most Pitt students are actually pretty intellectual, and random intellectual conversation is, while not prevalent, definitely not out of the ordinary. I've walked by students sitting around randomly debating nuclear energy, and one of my friends met his current girlfriend because they got to talking about social issues in society today at an otherwise typical twenty-first birthday party. One great thing about the Pitt student's laid-back attitude is that most students aren't competitive academically. The one glaring exception to this is pre-med students, and if you're taking what's considered a weed-out class for pre-med students (intro biology or organic chemistry) and you are not pre-med, it will be an awful experience because you literally won't be able to get an A without giving up 30 hours a week to the library. The school's liberal arts and academic requirements are relatively easy and painless, especially if you're coming in with some AP credits. The "global" requirements are a bit hefty if you don't study abroad, but just the mere act of studying abroad (regardless of the classes you take abroad) will knock out anywhere from 2-3 of them. Most of the professors at Pitt are pretty approachable, friendly, and willing to see you outside of class (I've had a few in the hard sciences which aren't very approachable though). I've definitely gotten the opportunity to get really close to a couple professors, one of whom serves as essentially a mentor to me, and I've even been to his house and met his wife and children. In most cases professors are willing to talk to and establish relationships with students, but usually this is something the student must initiate. The education at this school isn't really geared toward getting a job for the most part - we have a strong liberal arts program, and the second best philosophy program in the nation (and philosophy majors are notorious for not having jobs when they graduate). That being said, the engineering school and any pre-professional track (pharmacy, med, dental) are clearly geared toward getting you a job/into the relevant professional schools.
When taking into consideration the number of students that go to the University of Pittsburgh, I was sure all of my classes were going to be huge. However, I was mistaken. I have had more classes that hold 30 students than anything, and only 3 classes with more than 100 students. I always make an attempt, regardless of the class size, to let the teacher know my name- and they usually remember. My favorite experience so far was my first semester at Pitt. I took Biology for non-majors and it was a huge class. However, the professor came in and shook everyone's hand and introduced us. He knew we weren't majoring in biology so he even made a course packet so we wouldn't have to purchase an expensive text. It was a nice first class to have when I was so anxious about school starting. I've taken several unique courses like Vampire: Blood and Empire and Indo-European Folk Tales. The variety of courses is another thing I love about Pitt. Yes, they require that annoying core of classes required, however, there are tons of unique classes you can take to fulfill the requirements. It makes getting your degree more fun, and when you take an odd-ball class is can lighten your academic load, which is always nice. It creates a nice balance between education needed for the workforce and education just for learnings sake. The only complaint I have, being a communication major, is that a lot of my professors have been adjunct, which means teaching was their night job. Therefore, they weren't really available outside of class. Its frustrating to have someone teaching you who doesn't want to be teaching. However, I think my academic experience thus far has been pretty good. I've had interesting professors who are good to talk to in and out of class and some interesting classmates who I've had great academic discussions with in and out of the classroom.
Classes at the University of Pittsburgh can be very large. The lecture set up of classes can accomodate hundreds of students. But, some classes also have recitation sections where a smaller group of around 20 students meet and discuss any questions regarding what was gone over in the lecture. Class participation is very common in lectures and is sometimes a grade requirement in recitations but it can start very interesting discussions so it is very beneficial. I also often overhear my classmates continuing a discussion after class is over so that shows other students enjoy this aspect as well. Some students can get competitive, especially in the science classes, but it does not interfere with the learning experience. I am in the School of Arts and Sciences studying a major in Psychology and because of this I have to take a lot of general education classes to fulfill requirements. Sometimes it can be frustrating having to learn material that I would not otherwise be using in my career, but a lot of the time there are really interesting classes available. The most unique class I have taken is either Russian Fairy Tales or Vampire: Blood and Empire. I never would have learned about those topics anywhere else and it was really enjoyable to learn more about areas that I knew a little about previously. My favorite class that I have taken so far is Psychology of Gender. I was really nervous about taking it at first because it was only offered online and I had never taken a class in that format before. But, the material was just as easy to follow as in an actual in-person class because there were video lectures and a discussion board where all the students posted questions or comments they had about that week's material.
Professors know your name outside of the big introductory classes and pre-req courses. Some classes are completely about class participation such as writing and language courses. Intellectual conversations outside of class really depends on your crowd of friends, but they always find ways to sneak up when needed before an exam or midterm. Students are extremely competitive, especially if the class is for their major. The most unique class I've taking it a swimming class. I got credit for working out. I also took a class where I had to go to the Peterson Events Center (our huge gym in the basketball facility) and work out for credit. I spend time with professors when I need to. I meet with all of them at least a few times during the semester. Pitt's academic requirements are reasonable, and are getting more challenging every year. It is becoming increasingly competitive. More example I declared one of my majors, Political Science, this year because they are adding many more classes to the requirements for the major before next year. I plan to dual major in Finance/ Political Science to set me on my way for a Law Degree. I am also planning to minor in International Relations and grab a Leadership Certificate in the process. I feel the education is geared for getting a job and learning for different people who feel differently. Teachers are happy to sit with you and discuss in depth issues regarding the topics of their classes. Obviously if a class is for your major you are more interested in learning about all aspects of the topic rather than just trying to get the grade.
So why should you study at Pitt? First and foremost, Pitt is definitely a research college. If you go into business, medicine, or other research-intensive fields, Pitt's definitely going to give you a lot of real-world experience. Last year, I had motion sensors all over me for a few hours, for a kinesiology experiment (and made $30 doing it). I'm in the business school right now, and have been thoroughly underwhelmed. I've dealt with a lot of TA's and professors who don't use English as their first language. If you can understand Indian accents well, you'll be fine; but it's been a little tough understanding some of them. That being said, the American teachers I've had are always accessible, and genuinely want to talk with you. They know you're spending $20,000 a year to go to Pitt; they want to help. Most are very casual and relaxed about post-class conversations. The academic requirements are appropriate. Pitt's big on "diversifying yourself." So, you accounting majors will have to take some science and English courses; and you English majors will have to take courses that may actually help you find work later in life. The Pitt foreign language department is excellent. I've taken Mandarin Chinese for the past two years, and understand the language pretty well. Other languages offered are your standard Spanish, French, German; but also Indian, Arabic, even Icelandic! There are a ton of classes; and largely, you design your own schedule (within the confines of your major). Some unique classes include the History of Sci-Fi, Vampirism, Islamic Culture, and others.
Pitt's a great school in many ways. The campus is nationally ranked in a variety of undergrad and graduate areas: philosophy, english, communications, neuroscience, nursing, medicine, rehabilitation sciences, public affairs, and a top 50 MBA program. The school's based on research. They offer undergraduate research positions across the campus, which almost no one does. There are many neuroscience, biology, and chemistry majors, but over 700 graduates per year major in communications. Most of the lower-level courses are large. Don't get discouraged. They get smaller as you progress and evening classes are usually small from the beginning. With some of the large classes, especially science and math, they require and extra hour of "recitation." These recitations are taught by TAs and offer time for specific questions and homework review. The school career services center and most of the full-time faculty are really supportive if you're interested in completing any graduate work. I can't stress this enough - get involved early and get to know the profs! They enjoy your enthusiasm and want you to succeed. It has helped me out countless times. There is financial aid, but you have to work for it. Funding is getting tight EVERYWHERE. Seek our scholarships and write those essays! I averaged about $2,000 a year in scholarships alone...
I am currently in the College of Business Administration and the staff has done an excellent job preparing me for my internship search, and eventually a job search. In the business school, even the introductory classes are relatively small, approximately 100 students. All of the professors hold office hours and are extremely willing to meet with students during or outside of the assigned hours. Student participation, even in the bigger classes is definitely a common aspect of class, and most often incorporated into each student's grade. If a student approaches or contacts a professor multiple times, it is safe to assume that the professor will recognize that student in the future. The School of Arts and Sciences has much larger introductory classes, such as economics and psychology, with class sizes up to 400 students. In these larger classes, participation is slim to none. I have found that students in academic focused groups are rather competitive when it comes to grades and jobs, more so than students that are not involved.
Professors try to learn your name, even in larger lectures. I hate most classes in my major (Psy) and not much is available in my minor (Soc). I don't know how often students study...but a lot it gets overwhelming. You tend to not know those in your class outside of class...there's not much discussion that goes on, even if there is high participation--it's responding to the professor's questions. That's it. I've had no unique classroom experiences. The psych department is huge and most don't know you by name--you have to make yourself known. The professors teaching it that didn't go to Pitt even say it would be hard to survive the major at Pitt in great standing. It's based entirely on the premise that research is GOD. Pitt Undergrad preps you for Grad school perhaps, but definitely not "the real world." Academic requirements are better than A LOT of other schools, but the General Ed requirements for A&S are ridiculous..Philosophy? Seriousoly? Art/Music? Boo.
One of the greatest things about Pitt is that our school has 18,000 undergraduates, yet only 6% of our classes are 100 students are more. If you are in one of those classes that is over 100 students, once a week you will break down into what is called a "recitation". These recitations do not go over any new material, and is instead a time to review old material and ask questions you might not have been able to ask in lecture. In addition to the recitations, all professors and teaching assistants (regardless of class size) are required to hold office hours. If you still need more help, Pitt has the MAC (Math Assistance Center) the WAC (Writing Assistance Center) and the ARC (Academic Resource Center). These are all free tutoring services that are available to students. At Pitt we take our academics very seriously, and there are a lot of resources available to students to ensure they have the most academically stimulating experience possible.
I am a marketing major in the College of Business Administration at Pitt. I have had some teachers that I did not particularly like, but I have had some amazing teachers as well. One in particular was Professor Raymond Jones who taught me Business Ethics. This teacher had me excited to go to class because the first thing he did was extreme. He started reading a definition of ethics out of the book in an extremely dorky way. Then he through the book onto the ground screaming, "This is not one of those classes where you read the book and forget everything as soon as you're done, I can't STAND those classes". This made me jump two feet but it demanded my attention and made me laugh. This teacher really made class exciting. I never thought I would be saying this about studying. Anyways, if you come to Pitt you will be challenged by students and teachers intellectually and you will have a great time while your here.