Opinion | The first year: What I wish I knew

By Mackenzie Oster, Staff Columnist

I can easily recall my time spent eagerly awaiting my first day at Pitt, including the craving for the independence of living on my own and vivid memories of wanting to buy every blue and gold clothing item I saw for future game days. Adjusting to college is a tough but ultimately riveting experience. So, before the class of 2023 officially arrives at Pitt, I want to present five things that I wish I had known before setting foot on campus.

  1. You get out what you put into it.

“College is what you make of it” seems to be the quote that every parent recites when giving their kid the spiel about their college experience. It’s one of those things that you instinctively nod your head to and don’t really think twice about. But after my first year of school, I can attest to the accuracy of this statement.

College is a place where the way you apply yourself is entirely up to you. Every action and decision lies in your hands, which is why it’s so important to push yourself to try new things early on and experience as much as there is to offer. Getting involved in clubs, student organizations and attending social events can help you meet fellow students and make Pitt feel more like home. The Fall Activities Fair, where student organizations recruit new members, can seem daunting, especially without knowing about anybody or any groups at first, but the only way to change that is to rip the Band-Aid off and show up. And don’t fret — there are plenty of other first-years in that same boat.

If I hadn’t gone out of my comfort zone and talked to members of other clubs and groups at the fair, I never would have found The Pitt News. I would highly advise attending events like the Activities Fair because there are so many extracurriculars that I was unaware of when I started my first year at Pitt. The fair especially is a really convenient way to explore the many outlets that Pitt has, as it’s the only time all of Pitt’s clubs will be under one roof.

Creating these connections and forming relationships on campus is really helpful in the adjustment process. Having others to lean on, or even just being able to spot some friendly and familiar faces on campus can make you feel more confident during your first year, especially if you’re not from the Pittsburgh area. Utilize social spaces and get yourself out there.

  1. Living with others isn’t always easy, but communication is key.

If there is one thing that I have learned during my time at Pitt, it’s that living with others won’t always work out as smoothly as every episode of Friends. But when problems arise, communication can make all the difference.

It’s always important to be mindful of your roommate. Whether you and your roommate are best friends coming into school or meeting for the first time during move-in week, any problems or pet peeves that you may have with them will be best dealt with by being honest and open with one another. Establishing a level of honesty and respect early on will create a more comfortable and open living environment and prepare for a smooth year of living with one another.

If all else fails, you can confide in your resident assistant for advice. Assisting residents is quite literally their job, so don’t hesitate to reach out about roommate problems.

  1. Every residence hall has its own perks

As I’m sure you have heard, Nordenberg Hall is the so-called Ritz-Carlton of dorm living at Pitt. But if you don’t get placed in Nordenberg, don’t freak out. In fact, every first-year dorm at Pitt has its own perks.

When I lived in a triple in Nordenberg Hall, the room came with a TV, microwave and fridge. These are all great benefits and I do think living in Nordenberg was a privilege, but it’s definitely not worth all the hype. Other dorms have their own perks as well.

Unlike the rooms in Nordenberg, many of the rooms in Holland Hall have walk-in closets and large windows that actually open, which is super beneficial when you want to catch a breath of fresh air — especially when it’s too cold to go outside.

The central location of living in Towers is a huge perk, especially when said cold weather rolls around. The Market Central dining hall is located right below Towers Lobby, and not having to leave your building to grab some food is a major benefit to living in Towers. If you’re not in the mood for dining hall food, Towers places you right on Forbes, where you only have to face the outdoors for a few minutes to grab a bite to eat from all the dining options lining the street.

And then there’s Sutherland Hall, which is basically a palace that lies on top of the steep incline that is De Soto Street, otherwise known as “Cardiac Hill.” Sutherland may be further away than the other first-year dorms, but it is close to the Petersen Events Center, which has a nice gym and some alternative dining options that take dining dollars. The Perch dining hall is also located in Sutherland (and rumor has it that the food there is far better Market Central). The distance from classes also isn’t too bad because you can take the campus shuttle up and down the hill.

  1. You probably won’t have any idea of where you stand in most classes the whole year, so it’s better to underestimate a grade than overestimate.

While some professors may enter grades for projects and exams on CourseWeb, your actual letter grade in the class is likely to remain a mystery unless you seek out the professor and ask directly. I would advise you not to wait until finals week to ask your professor about your grade, as I once did. Speaking from personal experience, it’s always better to ask early. Your professors are here to help you, and shouldn’t have a problem updating you on where you stand in the class.

Try your hardest in every class, too. No class is more important than another, especially because all of them will be factored into your GPA with the same weight. Don’t blow off assignments just because a certain class has been written off as easy on RateMyProfessors.com. Try to utilize a daily planner to help stay on top of assignments and ensure steady time management. When your transcript comes around, you’ll thank yourself for staying on top of everything. After all, how you do in college can determine how many opportunities are available to you in the future.

  1. A meal plan with a majority of dining dollars is the way to go

At the end of this past academic year, I went over to Market Central to donate the many dining swipes that I had leftover so that another student who had run out might benefit from them, but was told that each student can only donate only a single swipe.

With that being said, I would highly advise getting a plan with a lot of dining dollars and minimal swipes. Leftover swipes do not transfer from your first semester meal plan to the second semester meal plan, while leftover dining dollars do. And while swipes can only be used at very few locations, dining dollars can be used at any on-campus dining facility, so they’re really a great bang for your buck. They can be used at Forbes Market (Pitt’s new grocery store on Forbes Avenue), Market To-Go and the many other dining locations and coffee carts on campus. Meanwhile, swipes can only be used at Market Central and The Perch. The Perch is seated all the way on top of Cardiac Hill, and Market Central doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to cleanliness — so just trust me on this one.