Western Pennsylvania Road Trip: University of Pittsburgh

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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.

A few miles east of downtown, Pitt is a big school embedded within the larger cityscape. It is a campus divided: "upper campus," mostly residential, is a short hike up the hill from "lower campus," home to the academic buildings and the commercial strip along Forbes Avenue. About 50 percent of freshmen are placed in the Towers on lower campus (not glamorous but a good way to meet people), but most upperclassmen migrate off campus. The school is competitive; its acceptance rate is 56 percent.

English, political science, and biology are all top picks for undergrads. So is psychology, a robust department much in demand by other majors. "My real focus is business marketing," explains Brant Hawk of his dual major in business and psychology. "But I figured you have to know how a consumer thinks to market to them." Hawk will graduate next spring; he is interning at the International Business Center at Pitt's business school, designing online surveys to gauge student opinion on Pitt's study- abroad program and help improve it.

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The Cathedral of Learning, 535 feet tall, is the campus centerpiece. A double staircase and arched entryway lead to a Gothic-style interior and classrooms commemorating the cultural histories of 27 nations (ever wondered what a sixth-century oratory from Ireland's Golden Age looks like?). Two floors with a spectacular view house Pitt's Honors College, one of the university's crown jewels (think 1400 on your SATs and top 5 percent of your graduating class). The three full-time Honors College advisers work closely with students, and sometimes the school even funds pet projects. "We are the receivers of crazy ideas," says Honors College Dean Alec Stewart.

Another trademark building, much more modern, is the Petersen Events Center, perched atop the hilly streets of upper campus in Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood. It offers a workout area with a wide-window view of the city. Pitt's high-profile sports teams attract strong support; men's basketball has a following so wild that the fan section has been nicknamed "the Oakland Zoo."

Being in a major metropolis has academic advantages: Pitt's standout medical program draws on massive resources from surrounding hospitals. But there's a danger of getting lost in the crowd, especially when it comes to advising. "No one's going to hound you," says Victoria Lee, a junior. "You have to take the initiative." On the plus side, the school offers plenty of distractions and an active party life: Pitt bashes often attract students from up the street at more restrained Carnegie Mellon.

More About the University of Pittsburgh

Plus factor: Cross-registration with nine neighboring schools
Undergrad enrollment, fall '07: 17,208
Est. annual cost, '07-'08 (tuition, fees, room and board): in state: $21,176; out of state: $30,686

Western Pennsylvania Road Trip

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