Western Pennsylvania Road Trip: Carnegie Mellon University

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You're about to spend four years of your life on a college campus; you need to make sure it feels right. So hit the road—we did! We took three typical road trips: East Coast, West Coast, and in between. By the way, college visits don't have to mean hours on the interstate. Use our Directory to locate schools near you and walk through the gates. You may find what you're looking for.

The Keystone State is blessed with a huge choice of colleges. The Philadelphia region rivals the Boston area as a home for top-notch schools; dead center, Penn State is the pride of the public higher education system. But western Pennsylvania offers an equally impressive variety of colleges. We visited four: two urban campuses in Pittsburgh and two in more rural settings.

Carnegie Mellon students tend to be techies or artists, and, walking across campus, you can guess who's who. Engineering and computer science have given the university its prestige, but CMU also has standout departments of music, art, and drama.

CMU attracts students with a clear vision of what they want to do. Until about five years ago, it favored applicants who were extremely directed, but President Jared Cohon has changed the emphasis. "You'd find them [after graduation] as chief technology officers but not as CEOs," he observes. Now, says Cohon, the school is looking for leadership potential.

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As with most top science schools, one of Carnegie Mellon's attractions is undergraduate research. "It was easy," says Courtney Ondeck, a senior double major in material sciences engineering and biomedical engineering. "I just went up to my professor and said I wanted to do biomedical research." The resulting paper—on computer modeling of heat output for different nanoparticles that offer promise for cancer therapies—wound up in the Journal of Applied Physics.

Like Pitt, Carnegie Mellon is located in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood, but its central campus is tucked away from the bustle of the street. A grassy commons attracts pickup soccer games and even sunbathing (when Pittsburgh's weather allows it). The sports scene is casual; the school mascot is a Scottish terrier, and its kilt-clad marching band is known affectionately as "the band without pants."

The highlight of the spring is "Buggy"—think NASCAR, but techier—in which teams of students race down a 1-mile course in aerodynamic contraptions sporting fiberglass and duct tape. Engineers get a chance to strut their skills ("People are so secretive about their buggy designs," says sophomore Dana Evert-Parise), and the buggies can reach 30 mph. The workload at CMU is nothing to sneeze at, and some complain it's too much. But for others, late nights logged in the library are a source of pride. Love it or hate it, the school is not for intellectual lightweights.

More About Carnegie Mellon University

Plus factor: Diverse student body; 78% come from outside Pennsylvania; 14% are international.
Undergrad enrollment, '07: 5,849
Est. annual cost, '08-'09 (tuition, fees, room and board): $48,584

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