Study in Pittsburgh
Updated 2023-10-04 09:22

An industrial city that was affected by the steel crisis in the 80s, the so-called "steel city" of Pittsburgh, has since reinvented itself.  No longer the grim, post-industrial city of the past, Pittsburgh has emerged as a center of culinary exploration, the arts, and natural beauty. Here's what you need to know about a Pittsburgh getaway. In terms of “livability”, Pittsburgh tends to score well, and in 2022, Pittsburgh was ranked ninth in the Top 100 best places to live by – which surveyed the world, not just the USA. 

If you are planning to continue your studies in the United States and you are looking to live in Pennsylvania, here is the essential information you will need to prepare for your stay! Do not hesitate to pursue your search by asking your questions and sharing your experiences on's Pennsylvania Forum or by reading the expat guide in the United States.

Renowned universities in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh's universities have always attracted students from all around the world. Two universities in Pittsburgh got a spot in the top 150 in the QS World University Rankings® 2023, led by the well-known Carnegie Mellon University in 52nd place. A reputation for academic excellence and good quality of life make Pittsburgh a sought-after destination for international students.

Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is a private research university in Pittsburgh's vibrant Oakland district, founded in 1900. CMU excels in technology and science and is renowned for its artistic and economic programs. Its computer labs are among the most innovative in the US. The university holds the impressive rank of the 3rd most innovative American university according to US News and is the QS Rankings 52nd best university in the world.

In terms of being welcoming to international students, you can't really do much better than CMU, which is essentially a global community, being home to 13,650 students from 114 countries. Remarkably, 58% of its graduate students hail from outside the US. Expanding its worldwide reach, CMU has satellite centers in Silicon Valley and Manhattan. Additionally, it made history by being the first US university to establish a campus in Australia (in Adelaide) and operates an undergraduate branch campus in Doha, Qatar.

University of Pittsburgh

Established in 1787, Pittsburgh University, often referred to as Pitt, is a public university situated in the Oakland district near Carnegie Mellon University.

Pitt enjoys a global reputation for its exceptional medical school and medical center, leading the way in organ transplantations. The university is also renowned for its engineering school and finance program.

As of the latest data, Pitt accommodates over 19,000 undergraduate students, including nearly 3,000 international students. The university boasts a generous admission rate of 66%.

Other universities in Pittsburgh

Yes, CMU and Pitt are the most obvious choices in Pittsburgh, but don't rule out the other well-regarded colleges. Alternatives include:

  • Duquesne University is a private Catholic university offering a range of undergraduate and graduate programs. Known for its strong emphasis on ethics and social justice, it has a beautiful campus located on the Bluff overlooking downtown Pittsburgh;
  • Point Park University is a private university focused on arts, media, business, and social sciences. It offers innovative programs and opportunities for hands-on experience in various fields;
  • Chatham University is a private university committed to sustainability and environmental studies. It offers a diverse range of programs and is particularly known for its strong focus on women's leadership;
  • Carlow University is another private Catholic university in Pittsburgh focusing on liberal arts and professional programs. It strongly commits to community engagement and offers a supportive learning environment.

Tuition fees and scholarships in Pittsburgh

The cost of completing a year at US universities can vary significantly. For instance, at Carnegie Mellon University, it can be approximately $62,000, while the University of Pittsburgh may require over $36,000 per year.

Many universities offer merit scholarships based on outstanding academic performance and grants based on financial need. However, these scholarships may have limited quotas, which can vary by the university. To apply for scholarships, students usually need to submit their applications during the enrollment process. Keep in mind that not all scholarships are available to international students, so it's essential to contact your desired university for specific information. For instance, Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh do not offer these scholarships to international students. As an international student at these universities, you may need to rely on personal financial resources and possibly consider part-time work to support your studies (check the "Working as a student in Pittsburgh" section below for more information).

Academic calendar and courses in Pittsburgh

There are two types of academic calendars in American universities: the quarter system, which divides the year into four terms of 10 weeks each (on average), and for which the academic year runs between September and June. The terms system, on the other hand, divides the year into two terms that can last from 14 to 20 weeks.

Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh have both adopted the quarterly system, and classes start at the end of August.

Classes are conducted in small groups, either in a classroom or an auditorium with dozens of students. It is also possible to participate in seminars, which give the floor to students and focus on communication, togetherness, and sharing opinions.

Grading system and diplomas in an American University

The grading system used in American schools is entirely different from the one used in Europe, and it may seem complicated at first, but it makes sense once you get used to it. First of all, grades are assigned by teachers using a percentage system. Next, they are converted into letters from A to F, based on the US Grade Point Average (GPA) system, which serves as the overall average. Every homework assignment is given a score between A and F, with A being the highest score (4.33 points) and F being the lowest (0 points). For more detail, there is a helpful spreadsheet from the University of Pittsburgh website that explains America's grading system.

There are three levels of study in American universities: the undergraduate student studying for a Bachelor's degree, the graduate student working towards a Master's degree, and the postgraduate student who is referred to as such until the end of the Ph.D.

Student visa in the USA

Any foreigner wishing to study in the United States must have a visa granting them the right to attend a university. The F1 visa is awarded to full-time students doing their entire course of study as an undergraduate, graduate, or postgraduate in an American university. Another possibility is the M1 visa, which is intended only for students in technical fields (called "vocational studies", which include the fields of hospitality, automotive, computer science, cooking, etc.). This visa is only valid for one year but can be renewed thrice. Finally, the J1 visa is granted to students who participate in an exchange program with an American university while remaining enrolled in their home university.

The visa procedure is the student's responsibility, as well as any administrative costs which usually amount to $300-$500.

Your chosen university can help you in the process by providing the documents and paperwork required for you to obtain your student visa. Admission requirements sometimes vary according to universities and departments, although some steps are mandatory for international students.

First of all, to be accepted into the university of your choice and obtain your visa, you must take an official English proficiency test (TOEFL or IELTS) proving your English level. The other step for graduate students is to take the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) or ACT (American College Testing). They are conducted in English and allow you to assess your level in broad-based subjects (mainly maths, writing, and text analysis). Visit the College Board website to learn more about the SAT, prepare for it, and register for the official exam. Students seeking a Master's degree may have to take an official English test, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Note that health coverage is mandatory for all students in an American university, including foreigners. It can be your national health mutual if it covers you internationally or an American health mutual. This is an expense to be aware of in advance because health insurance is very costly in the United States, even for students. Each university offers its own health insurance, which is cheaper but can still be quite expensive. For example, the health coverage provided by Carnegie Mellon University for 2022–2023 amounted to $2,577 for the year.

Working as a student in Pittsburgh

International students with F1 and J1 visas are allowed to work on campus as long as they are enrolled at the university. They can work up to 20 hours per week. Students with an F1 visa may work off-campus (under some conditions) from their second year of study. In any case, your university must provide you with an acceptance letter that will allow you to obtain your US social security number.

Those with the M1 visa are not allowed to work on or off campus. On the other hand, it is possible to do an internship of one month after completing four back-to-back months of studies. In total, the student can benefit from a six-month internship. In this case, you must apply for a work permit delivered by the US government.

If you wish to work in Pittsburgh, you can check out some job offers on or interact with the expat's network.

Living costs as a student in Pittsburgh

The cost of living in Pittsburgh is not as expensive as you might think — especially when compared to other big cities on the East Coast. However, as a student, you often live on a shoestring, and it is important to have a clear idea of what to expect. According to Numbeo, the average rent for an apartment in Pittsburgh is $1,536 in 2023.

Flat-sharing is an excellent way to save money while living in a central neighborhood, such as the Strip District located downtown or Oakland, which is home to both of the universities mentioned earlier and is slightly more affordable than the Strip.

In general, life in the United States will probably be more expensive for some items and less expensive for others, depending on where you hail from. Based on your daily expenses (shopping, transport, eating out, leisure, etc.), having student status can give you quite a few discounts. Students attending Carnegie Mellon University, for example, are granted a free transportation card to get around the city. Some cultural visits and outings are also available at reduced prices.

Accommodation in Pittsburgh

As an international student in Pittsburgh, the simplest way to find housing is to live on campus. Not only will it save you time commuting to class, but it will also help you socialize more easily. Universities organize various activities for students living on campus, including softball championships, regional excursions, and Halloween or Christmas parties. Depending on your temperament, these kinds of events can be a lot of fun and fast-track your social life.

Both the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University offer several on-campus accommodation options for undergraduate and international students. Remember to submit your accommodation application during the enrollment process.

If you value independence and want to branch out, you can explore living in your own apartment or flat-sharing if you have the necessary means. The city of Oakland, filled with students, offers various affordable restaurants and major museums. The Strip District, a bit more expensive but still easily accessible by bus, is another option. Check your university's website, which likely has a dedicated page for students seeking off-campus housing, such as the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University sites.

Culture and leisure in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh, also known as "The Burgh" to locals, stands out among East Coast cities with its many districts. The city boasts a rich cultural scene, being the birthplace of Andy Warhol and Heinz Ketchup, both honored with dedicated museums. The prestigious Carnegie Museum of Art is also a notable cultural gem.

With historical significance, Pittsburgh witnessed one of the final battles of the War of the Conquest between France and Britain in 1760. History enthusiasts can explore the Fort Pitt Museum to expand their knowledge.

Pittsburgh offers diverse dining experiences, ranging from high gastronomy to typical American diners, where you can savor a local banana split. Beyond being a vibrant metropolis, Pittsburgh is near nature, providing excellent opportunities for biking, picnicking, strolling, and kayaking on the converging rivers. For a brief escape from the city, the Laurel Highlands area offers ideal weekend hikes and camping experiences.

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.