Carnegie Mellon: The Secret Survival Guide

Orientation Week is a ton of fun, but don’t let it fool you into thinking that Carnegie Mellon is always this great. Things can get busy. Very very busy. When the work hits, you’ve got to be prepared to be running from class to meetings to the library and back to class with barely enough time to breathe. Most of the people here are amazing — passionate and ambitious yet warm and helpful. But I guarantee you’ll meet at least one selfish schmuck who’ll drive you nuts or let you down at the worst possible time. The majority of your professors and classes will be so amazing as to inspire you to do better than you ever thought possible. That said, no work in the world is fun at three in the morning when you’re running on four hours of sleep.

I’ve made more than my fair share of mistakes in my three years here so far. Here are a bunch of suggestions that can help you survive and thrive in the parts of Carnegie Mellon you read about in admissions brochures, as well as the dark underbelly you want to, but will never quite be able to avoid. Some of the suggestions listed below are what you might call typical college advice, and some of them are decidedly more Carnegie Mellon specific.

  1. Learn to slowly let go: High School is over. Like everyone else here, you’ve left a ton behind to come here — whether that is your parents, your closest friends, or a significant other you’re hoping to keep things going with (good luck with that). Deal with it. Don’t forget about them, but acknowledge that they now all belong in a compartment in your mind. You have got to make space for new things. New people and new priorities. Get out and talk to everyone you can — men, women, athletes, nerds and artists. I guarantee you’ll find at least one person you’ll be surprised you got along with.

  2. Friday nights: Frat parties are great, but most of the time there are way cooler things to do with your time. Go out on the town. Pittsburgh is an amazing city with a ton of stuff to do. Downtown Pittsburgh in particular is absolutely stunning at night. Go for long long walks around campus and the general area. Find a favorite spot. You’ll find yourself repeatedly returning to it in your next four or five years here. A personal favorite of mine is Panther Hollow — a little forest with trails and a lake just five minutes from campus. At night, the place is pitch dark, pretty scary and probably even a little dangerous. Carry a torch, and I don’t mean the one that comes in an app on your phone.

  3. Food & Beverage: You’ve probably heard this a bunch of times already, but I’m going to repeat it again. Get off the meal plan as soon as you can. Off campus food is, as a thumb rule, cheaper, healthier and tastier than on campus stuff. Craig Street in particular should be your best friend. If you go to Sushi Fuku, be sure to ask Jose to make you a ’Salmon on the Beach’. It isn’t on the menu, but he’ll know what you’re talking about! Sunday brunch should, by law, be at Crepes Parisienne. The place’s crepes and croissants are to die for. Also while on campus food may not be too great, on campus coffee is a surprising exception. La Prima Espresso, on the 5th floor of Wean Hall, makes the best Cappuccinos and Mochas that I have ever had. Tazza D’Oro on the 3rd floor of the Gates Hillman Centre isn’t too bad either.

  4. Find yourself: College isn’t so much about figuring out what you want to be as it is figuring out who you want to be. Be spontaneous. Take risks that you wouldn’t dare take if you still lived with your folks. This could be taking a class in Middle Eastern History because why not, or it could be an impromptu road trip in a rental car to a place you’ve never even heard of. It is only when you step outside your comfort zone that you can learn new things about yourself.

  5. Take it easy: This, in my opinion, is the hardest thing to do at Carnegie Mellon. Everyone is always in such a hurry and everyone is always so focused on their priorities that it becomes easy to forget that college is anything more than a resume building exercise. It is important to have a goal and move towards it. But don’t put on a pair of blinders and look so far straight ahead that you’re not willing to risk a sideward glance and appreciate where you are.

  6. Keep the illegal stuff local: Whatever you want to do, whether it is just visit the roofs, or some underage drinking, or even a little bit of pot, you’re probably much safer doing it on campus. If you get caught, your RAs, housefellows and even Carnegie Mellon police will usually be much more tolerant and understanding than the Pittsburgh cops. Downtown, I’ve heard of people getting taken to lockup for carrying a fake ID. Closer to campus, you’re likely to get a citation at worst.

  7. Don’t get caught.