In the past few months/years I have been contacted by many new comers who are starting their program in either Pitt or CMU. It seems that there are several questions that are shared by the new students who come specially from abroad. Instead of writing several emails to these lovely new students repeating the same content, I thought to put it in one central place so that everyone can read them and use the info, and also that I can save some time.
This document is updated as of May 2012.
The main questions are about housing in Pittbsurgh. Graduate students have to find their own housing in Pittsburgh. The important aspects are:
1) WHERE IS GOOD TO GET HOUSE???
*North Oakland—this is close to both CMU and Pitt schools, like 20 minutes or so, if you walk to school. It’s convenient and relatively safe.
* Shadyside. This area is closer to CMU and a bit farther to Pitt but it has safer and greener streets and many students live there. Houses close to Walnut street are particularly good choice since that street has several shops and restaurants and it’s pretty lively and fun.
* Squirrel Hill- This area is the liveliest area, full of restaurants and shopping places and it even has a small cinema (theatre). I suspect it houses most graduate students of CMU and Pitt. You’ll probably take the bus to school and back, because streets are hilly and walking is kind of hard. BUT, buses are free with your student ID in Pittsburgh, and there are several buses that pass through the Sq. Hill/CMU/Pitt path every few minutes so no one ever complains. Sq. Hill is also a very safe neighborhood and you can walk home alone pretty late, I guess.
A friend has kindly specified the area in which if you get your house, you can WALK to school every day... Click to load the Google map area of walking distance.
And this is the area which is the largest area probably that you can get your house, if you want a comfortable daily commute to school and back., Click to load the google map area which your house probably should be within it for a comfortable commute to school.
Speaking of going to school, you should check bus paths (use google map -> direction -> public transport to check from a potential house to your school). Remember that buses are free with student IDs! Also you should check school shuttles. They are free too, and usually leave every half an hour. For CMU I know there are cmu shuttles (here's the link: http://www.cmu.edu/police/shuttleandescort/). The shuttles are A(North Oakland/Lower Shadyside), B(Upper Shadyside), AB( North Oakland/Shadyside), C(Squirrel Hill), Bakery Square(Upper shadyside), And PTC(Pittsburgh Technology Center). There are Pitt shuttles too, which your school might give you more information about.
Other neighborhoods are kind of rare and at least I don’t know about them. I have personally lived in North Oakland mostly, and I’ve liked it.
2) HOW TO FIND A HOUSE?
Well I have always found my own house through Craigs list, which you should check for some time, if you’re picky, and email them and ask all your questions and even ask for pictures.
* Yearly lease contracts: http://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/apa/
* Temporary (few months) stay: http://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/sub/
* Sharing with roommates: http://pittsburgh.craigslist.org/roo/
Another website to look at is http://www.padmapper.com/. The website places the Craigslist ads on top of the map, and so you have a good idea where they are located already. It's pretty neat. You can also filter for price and # of bedrooms and stuff. If you want you can put zipcode 15213 in the box to zoom in around CMU (and I guess UPitt as well) to show you the available houses close by.
There are also some landlords that you can contact independently. Of course they put their ads on craigslist too, but just in case, these are the Good companies:
*Union Real Estate http://www.unionreal.com/
And by all means, AVOID a company called Lobos. They are famous for having terrible houses and bad service. I made the mistake of renting from them. Simply avoid LOBOS if you respect yourself!
Also there’s a website that has some reviews about your landlord: http://www.landorslum.com/cities/pittsburgh
Find your potential landlord in the list. Read the reviews. If you see a longggg list of complains (check Lobos for example) you know you have to avoid them.
3) WHAT TO BRING WITH YOU TO PITTSBURGH?
Houses here are NOT furnished. They only have refrigerator and oven. Everything else (bed, desk, plates, iron, TV, .. ) You gotta either buy here or bring with you. I recommend you use common sense and also double check with your landlord.
Personally I brought one piece of anything that I needed for the first few weeks. Like, one spoon, fork, knife, 2 plates, one small pan, one small pot (like super small, for 1 person only), one drinking cup, one light blanket, one pressed pillow, bed sheets, hair blow dryer, clothes for cold and warm weather, … U know, just use your brain and bring things that you might need the night/morning after you arrive, before you have time to go shopping… Shopping is easy and you can find almost anything with good price BUT the first few days you have so much to do at university, and are jet lagged and tired so it’s good to have some items with you.
4) WHERE TO STAY UNTIL YOU FIND/MOVE IN YOUR APARTMENT?
If you’re from a particular community (like, -in my case-Iranian, or other communities like Chinese, or Indian or Vietnamese or … ) try to contact them (they all have an student organization) and ask if anyone is willing to help the new comers. I know that the Iranian students have two student organizations in Pitt and CMU and the Facebook page for these organizations is pretty active and you can ask for info there.
Here is those pages:
University of Pittsburgh http://www.facebook.com/groups/215787705021/
5)WHAT TYPE OF CLOTHES DO I BRING WITH ME?
Pittsburgh weather is crazy. It can go from +20 to 0 in one day. It rains a lot too, in Spring and Fall where many students arrive. Bring at least some cloths for warm weather and some clothes for cold weather. Bring Umbrella! Also try to bring some light jackets where you can potentially wear on top of your t-shirt so that you can adjust to inside buildings/outside weather.
6) WHERE TO BUY FOOD/GROCERIES/MEDICINE/BASIC ITEMS?
So, the groceries shops here are diverse but there are a few big supermarkets that you probably have withing walking distance around your house. There is "Giant Eagle" supermarket that has most grocery itemsincluding fruits and vegetables, meat, bread, milk, tea, chocolate, toilet papers, disposable plates, shampoo, soap, medicine, etc. etc.
There's also WholeFoods which has more organic/healthy options available but the wholefood I know is in Shadyside only. There's also Trader Joes in Shadyside...
With more abundance around the city, you can find some extended pharmecies, which have everything Giant Eagle has, except the fruit and vegetables and meat. If you're really tired and hungry(like your first days of arrival) and other groceries are far, you can get some bread and milk and cheese and egg from these pharmecies, among other things. The main ones I know are: CVS Pharmecy, Rite Aid Pharmecy, Wallgreens, etc.
7) HOW TO GET BANK ACCOUNT, PHONE, INTERNET?
The first day you visit your university you'll probably get LOTS of information on these. There are several Banks in Pittsburgh of course, but one that many of us have accounts with is PNC Bank. It has branches all over the city, and it has a branch right in ground floor of University Center in CMU. What I did when I first arrived was first, to get my CMU student ID card, then go to PNC branch in University Center and open my account and get a Checkbook, then went to get my phone and stuff.
For phone, there are soooo many options, and things change all the time so ask your friends and classmates when you arrive for the current best options. Basically there are some carrier companies (i.e. AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, etc.) who sell you some phone plan (with option of buying the phone device too). Some plans have yearly contracts and you pay a fixed amount per month, and some other plans are called pre-paid and you charge your account and pay as much as you use.. there might be other plans which I don't know, so as I said be smart and ask your friends and classmates about it.
Houses here usually don't have internet on their own, so you have to buy your service. The two main options are Comcast and Verizon. Their website usually have lots of information and you can also ask your friends and neighbors about their opinion, and make your decision. It's easy but it takes a couple of days. Of course you always have internet access at the university!
8) ANYTHING ELSE?
I just think you should use your common sense and be smart and you’ll be fine. The most important thing is, if you have any question about a house, just ASK your landlord by email! If you have any question about your university, ask your department. Asking is perfectly OK! Also, always know that if you take care of the basics, you’ll be fine J