College Cousins: Syracuse University and University of Pittsburgh

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Syracuse University was founded in 1870 in the aftermath of the Civil War. We can count its founders as visionaries, not only because of the university they founded, but because they opened the doors of their fledgling institution to women, hardly a common practice in that day. Today, as Syracuse approaches the 150th anniversary of its founding, it is a highly ranked institution of 15,000 undergrads. Its excellence in both academics and sports has enhanced its reputation both at home and abroad, enabling it to attract students from all 50 states and 123 countries.

Academically, the 13 schools and colleges of Syracuse University create a broad reach too, as the school offers over 200 majors and 100 minors. Most people would agree, however, that the star of the Syracuse show is the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, which has been a leader in its field for years. Bob Costas, one of the Newhouse School’s most celebrated alumni, would attest to Syracuse’s excellence, as would former Vice President Joe Biden, a graduate of the university’s College of Law.

In comparison to Syracuse, the University of Pittsburgh is older (225 years old) and a bit larger (18,350 undergrads). In fact, it’s large enough to have four satellite campuses in addition to its main campus in the Oakland neighborhood of the City of Pittsburgh. Like Syracuse, Pitt too has famous alums: over the years, it has seen people such as Jonas Salk, Andy Warhol, and any number of celebrity performers and athletes. Pitt’s academics are structured around ten colleges and schools, but only four (Arts & Science, Business Administration, Engineering and Nursing) allow students to enter as freshmen. Students may transfer as sophomores or juniors into Pitt’s other schools. Both Syracuse and Pitt have honors programs, but Pitt’s has put an interesting twist on theirs: in addition to the usual option of simply enrolling in honors courses, Pitt students can elevate any major the university offers into an honors-level major that culminates in a Bachelor of Philosophy (BPhil) degree.

Students at both universities can round out their college experience with a host of activities in the form of on-campus clubs and organizations. When not studying, SU students can engage with one of the 300-plus organizations that offer activities from a cappella to Zipped Magazine, and the elite of SU’s Orangemen and Orangewomen are continuing the university’s long tradition of athletic excellence. Syracuse has enjoyed success in several sports but none more so than basketball. SU’s athletic department proudly posts the university’s cumulative (and impressive) .690 record of wins in basketball since 1900.

Pitt offers 400-plus clubs and organizations, and Panther students and alums have plenty about which to brag. Pitt has 19 Division I teams, representing a variety of sports, and it is one of five 1A U.S. schools to have won multiple national championships in both of the celebrated sports of football and basketball.

Clearly, there is plenty to occupy students at both of these schools on campus, but neither are they disappointed when they go off-campus. There is opportunity of all kinds in the nearby cities for which these institutions are named, and it’s worth taking note of what they are today. The City of Pittsburgh, long known as the “Steel City,” is still a manufacturing powerhouse, but it is also home to sites for some of our biggest technology firms and Fortune 500 companies. In addition, it has earned either the first or second spot in a number of rankings for most livable U.S. city, and in 2015 was named the 11th most livable city in the world.

The City of Syracuse has made its mark in one particular way. It has made it easy for students to venture off-campus thanks to the Connective Corridor, a network of pedestrian pathways, bike trails, and bus routes that offer free service on a broad loop of 70 stops that connects the university campus with downtown points of interest. So that students can take advantage of the network of bike trails, the buses are even equipped with bike racks, thereby creating a multi-modal transit system. This system is “green” too, featuring one of the most extensive urban networks of green infrastructure in the country. Sound innovative? We think so too, and we aren’t the only ones. This project has won several prestigious national environmental awards.

We think these highlights are worth noting. It’s no secret that prospective applicants are often as interested in where they will be studying as in what they will be studying, and those of us who call the mid-Atlantic region home may not be as familiar with what is happening outside our locale. The take-away here is that Pitt and Syracuse are two great universities located in two great cities, and each is worth a close look by those who are checking out their options for college.