Students choose PSU over Pitt

Students choose PSU over Pitt

By Dale Shoemaker / Staff Writer

In the ongoing fight for dominance of Pennsylvania college pride, Pitt may be falling behind Penn State.

A study published earlier this year by Parchment, a company that accepts online submissions of college transcripts, compiled the “revealed preference” of 104,119 college students in the United States. The study showed the percentage of students who chose a particular college, when accepted to more than one, for the 2012-2013 academic year.

Between Pitt and Penn State, Pennsylvania’s two largest public universities, 60 percent of students who were accepted to both schools chose Penn State.

Enrollment numbers could explain why. In 2013, Penn State had 98,097 enrolled students and Pitt had only 35,014. But other factors contribute to the divide between which school students choose.

Nate Grygo, a sophomore mechanical engineering major at Pitt, applied to Pitt, Penn State, Washington and Jefferson University and Case Western University. He was accepted to all except Case Western.

“I wanted to find a school where I could pursue an engineering degree and also participate in outside clubs or organizations,” Grygo said in an email. “I also wanted to find a campus where I would be comfortable living at for four years.”

After the letters came in, he decided to attend Penn State.

“I was a mechanical engineer,” Grygo said. “I chose Penn State because of the size of their engineering program. Additionally, I chose Penn State because I knew a few people who went through the engineering program and enjoyed the experience inside and outside of class.”

The large class sizes at Penn State were a problem for Grygo.

“Most of my classes for my first semester and intended classes for the second semester had over 300 people. At PSU, the campus and classes were so large that I never really felt like I was familiar with the entire campus,” he said.

After his freshman year, Grygo said he felt dissatisfied, and decided to transfer to Pitt. 

“I am definitely happy with my decision,” Grygo said. “I enjoy my classes and outside-of-school activities more at Pitt than at PSU.”

Jennifer Hoffmann, a sophomore media and professional communications major at Pitt, also applied to both Pitt and Penn State. She said, when researching schools, she looked for a school that wasn’t too far from home and offered an assortment of majors. She planned to enter college as an undecided major. 

After visiting both universities, she was torn. 

“I’m a big believer in that gut feeling you get when you know something is right for you — including colleges,” she said. “I only got a true sense of comfort and peace at Pitt and Penn State.”

Hoffman said choosing a university was one of the most difficult decisions she’s ever made, especially because her mother works at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

“Had I gone to Penn State, I would have had a significant tuition discount,” she said. “Thus, my head was telling me Penn State. However, my heart was at Pitt.”

After visiting Pitt during her senior year of high school, Hoffman said she fell in love with the campus. One Saturday, she and her mother drove to Pitt from their home in Hershey, Pa., for a visit.

“As we drove into the city, I remember my mom looking at me and saying, ‘You know, honey, I’m not sure if you’re going to like it.’ As we turned the corner and Pitt’s campus came into view, I immediately remarked, ‘I love it,’” Hoffmann said.

Location was another factor for Hoffmann. She wasn’t sure if she wanted a “traditional” campus or a school in the city. 

“I wanted to go to a school where I could continue to change, grow and not conform to the rest of the student body,” she said.

For Hoffmann, Pitt offered a supportive community.

“Without even being at the University of Pittsburgh, I already felt like a member of the Pitt family. In an environment like this, how can you not be happy?”

In Happy Valley, 133 miles away, the story is similar. 

Nicole Reigh is a sophomore at Penn State pursuing a nutritional sciences and human development and family studies double major, and she also applied to Pitt before attending college.

When she was searching for colleges, Reigh said she knew she wanted one with a nutrition program. She visited Pitt, Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Penn State, and she applied to all three because they were the only schools near her home in central Pennsylvania that offered the program she was looking for.

Pitt and Penn State’s statuses as research schools were also important to her.

“[It] gives you the opportunity to be a part of something that hasn’t been discovered before,” Reigh said.

After visiting both Pitt and Penn State, she said she admired the school spirit at Pitt but felt that Penn State had more extracurricular opportunities for students. She is now a research assistant for the development and family studies department, a student nutrition associate and a committee member of Thon, Penn State’s 46-hour dance marathon that raises money for Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. Thon has become a significant part of her life since last year.

“[Thon] allows you to be a part of something so big and connect with fellow students,” she said.

In the end, she said she knew she’d be unhappy anywhere else.

“College is expensive no matter where you go,” Reigh said. “I thought it was more important to be happy.”