1. Traveling to Pittsburgh
Traveling to Pittsburgh
Booking Tickets – When to reach Pittsburgh
Try to land in Pittsburgh during the day so that you don’t have problems reaching your hosts/hotels. The buses from airport to CMU (bus number 28X-Airport Flyer) do not operate between 12:41am and 5:20am. So you might have to wait for long hours/take a cab to your destination (with extra night fare). Try landing on a weekday so that you can get your CMU ID as soon as possible. The CMU student ID gives you free access to all public transport in Pittsburgh, which is very useful in the first few days when you need to apartment hunt, go around shopping etc. You need CMU ID to open bank accounts, enter buildings and computer clusters at CMU after working hours and during weekends.
Make sure you check the baggage allowance for ALL legs of your journey. Sometimes you may use multiple carriers and different airlines can have different allowances. Recently certain size restrictions have been enforced on suitcase sizes, and you will be charged if your bag is oversized. As long as you carry suitcases or bags which are of standard sizes, you need not worry about the exact dimensions. An inch or two more than the allowed dimensions is usually not an issue. If you are buying a suitcase, ask the shop keeper if the suitcase dimensions comply with US carrier specifications. In most cases, he/she will be able to tell you. Weight constraints should be strictly observed. Otherwise, you might have to take out stuff at the airport, or pay for the extra weight.
Carry an extra dress, all documents and any other thing that you cannot live without for 3-4 days in your cabin bag. It is possible that your luggage gets delayed (it might be coming on another flight!) and sometimes you may not get it while checking out. It is safely delivered to your home by most airlines, but you should be prepared to live a day or two without it. In case you luggage is misplaced, before you leave the airport contact the corresponding airlines counter at the airport. They will give you a receipt and you'll typically need to give them a way to contact you. You can use your temporary host's (in case you need temporary accommodation) contacts for this purpose. Do let your host know that he/she should expect a call from the airline about your luggage.
On the Move
Clothing - Weather in Pittsburgh
The weather here is highly unpredictable. It should be quite pleasant when you arrive here in Fall, but you never know :). So bring an umbrella along, and keep it handy. Summers in Pittsburgh are pretty warm and sunny, like a typical Indian summer. And winters are very cold. Keep a sweater or light jacket handy. You can buy snow boots (if necessary) after you land at Pittsburgh. Having many layers of clothing on keeps you warmer than wearing just one thick layer of cloth. So plan your clothes accordingly. Plan to buy your winter coat and shoes in Pittsburgh, because they are tailored for harsher climate than what you might find in India.
Carry upto $300 (maximum) in cash and the remaining as Traveler's Cheques (carry at least $1500 in traveler's cheques). Carry change - about 10-15 $1 bills, about 5 dollars of 25cent coins and a few $20 bills are recommended. You will need them for miscellaneous things like phone calls from public phones, renting trolleys at airports, exact change to travel on the public buses.
Keep a gap of at least 4 hours between your port of entry flight and the next connecting flight to Pittsburgh. It takes about 2-3 hours for deplaning, immigration, luggage collection, check-in for the next flight, security check etc. If you miss a flight, it is the responsibility of the carrier that was late, to get you on the next flight and provide you a place to stay if you are required to wait overnight.
On Arriving in Pittsburgh
At the Airport
You need to keep all your documents handy at your first port of entry into the US. This article is only meant to be a general guideline. For official documentation, please go through the website of the Office of International Education at CMU, and contact them if you have any queries.
The passport is the legal document issued by your country of citizenship. It must be kept valid at all times during your stay in the US and must be valid at least 6 months into the future to re-enter the US or apply for a visa. The passport can usually be renewed through your home country's Embassy or Consulate in the United States.
Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019)
The I-20 (for F-1 status) or DS-2019 (for J-1 status) is the document issued by your school or a sponsoring agency. It is specific to the institution and program of study you will attend in the US. It must be presented to the US Embassy or Consulate abroad to obtain an entry visa and to immigration officials to enter the US in student status. Extensions or updates may be made by contacting OIE or your sponsoring agency. After your initial entry, a travel signature less than 6 months old is required in order to re-enter the US in student status. Signatures can be obtained at OIE.
I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
The I-94 is the white card given to you when entering the US. It will be completed before passing US immigration officials upon entrance to the US. It will be stamped with your date and port of entry. Your immigration status and expiration date will also be noted on the card. For F-1 and J-1 students, the "expiration date" should be D/S, or duration of status, not an actual date. This means F-1 and J-1 students are permitted to remain in the US as long as they have a valid I-20 or DS-2019, are enrolled in the institution and academic program listed on the form, and have otherwise maintained their immigration status. Students who receive an I-94 card with an actual expiration date should contact OIE immediately. The number at the top of the I-94 card that you receive upon each entry, is called your Admission Number or I-94 Number.
The US entry visa is a sticker on a page of your passport
which permits you to enter the US. Students will have either
an F-1 or a J-1 entry visa. The visa may expire while you are
in the US. You cannot and need not renew it while you are
here. A new entry visa will be required if the original
expires and you travel outside and then wish to re-enter the
US in legal student status.
Find your luggage in the baggage collection area. In case it has not arrived, find the baggage clerk and talk to him for further instructions. Trolleys to carry your luggage are available at the airport from an automatic machine. You need to pay $3 (exact change required i.e. 3 one dollar bills). You can use the trolley as long as you want in the airport and you will leave it at the airport when you take a bus or a cab. Using a trolley will make carrying your luggage around very convenient.
Leaving the Airport
If you do not have a friend/relative picking you up from the airport, you’ll need to be aware of the public transportation options available to you.
Bus - 28X Airport Flyer
An inexpensive and convenient option is to take the 28X
Airport Flyer from the airport to get to campus. To get to the
bus stop, look around for Ground
Transportation signs. It is
a good idea to keep a copy of the 28X schedule
when you leave
home, you can access
here . The bus has sufficient space to keep your luggage
and the luggage needs to be loaded on to the bus by you. Don't
expect the driver to help. The fare is $3.25. You have to pay
exact change (remember in the buses here, you don’t get back
change). The last stop of the bus is CMU. You don't need to
rush while boarding the bus or getting off. It’s ok to
load/unload your bags one at a time and the bus drivers
usually waits patiently - no one will run away with those 23
Super Shuttle is a shared cab service that clubs several passengers together. The advantage of using Super Shuttle is that it is cheaper than a taxi and you get dropped at your/temporary accommodation's door step. They can be booked in advance, or at the counter in the airport. Typically the fare for the first passenger is $30, and $8 for every additional passenger to the same address.
Yellow cabs are usually parked outside the arrival terminal. To get to the cab stand, look for signs directing you to “Ground Transportation”. In the unlikely event of there being no cabs, you can call a cab. One popular cab operator in Pittsburgh is “Yellow Cabs”. You can reach them by calling 412-321- 8100. Be sure to know your destination before you enter the cab. If you are unsure of your destination, direct the cab driver to the “CMU UC Turn Around, 5032 Forbes Avenue”. This place on campus has some rain shelter and it is easy wait here to meet people. A cab from the Airport to campus costs around $50 and can easily transport 2 people with luggage. You are expected to load your luggage into the cab yourself. A minimum tip of 15% is expected. Be sure to have change for the tip. Make sure the driver starts the meter when you start moving.
If you have a friend or relative in the city, inform them of
your flight’s timings so that they will be ready for your
arrival. Co-ordinate your meeting with them beforehand to
avoid delays, confusion and frustration. If you will be
staying as a temporary guest through IGSA,
you MUST inform your host about your arrival while at
the airport. At the airport you can find pay phones near the
baggage collection area. Make sure you have change and contact
Of course you want to go out and explore the city with your new friends. But wait! There are a couple of VITAL things you must do before you start having fun.
Get your CMU ID
Get this first. Go to the Warner Hall building basement. Warner Hall is that building next to ‘Walk to the Sky’ sculpture (there is no way you will miss this). You can start using your CMU ID as a bus pass- with your CMU ID, all buses in Pittsburgh are FREE! Anyways, you need it almost everywhere - to swipe at building entrances, for a bank account, a cell phone etc. You need to carry the I-20 and Passport for first day.
Open a Bank Account
PNC bank is usually the preferred choice, although others such as Citizen’s Bank are available. PNC has a small extension office located at the basement of University Center. Again, you will need documents and CMU ID here. You will be able to get a debit card which is very convenient for most transactions, instead of having to carry cash everywhere.
Get a Cell Phone Connection
We don’t need to tell you why you’ll need a cell phone, do we? To get a connection, you will need proof of ID (eg passport). Here are some pointers:
Immigration Check in at OIE
You’ll need to check-in with the Office of International
Education within the first week of classes in order to
maintain legal status within the US. In all likelihood, you’ll
do this during your international student orientation. If you
miss your orientation, make sure you go to the OIE personally
to do this. Don’t wait to get into trouble with the
Immigration Services before you check-in.
CMU does not provide the option of on-campus housing to graduate students, so you will have to rent a house outside of campus and commute to the campus every day. Unless you are well prepared, house hunting in an unfamiliar city can easily turn out to be a very stressful experience. Please read this guide carefully before you arrive in Pittsburgh to make it as smooth as possible.
Popular Areas near CMU
Most graduate students live within 2 miles of campus unless they have cars to travel, since the CMU shuttle and escort system cover regions within 1.5 miles to campus. Squirrel Hill and Shadyside are the most popular areas since they are near to and well connected to campus.
Squirrel hill is located around a mile east of CMU. Most graduate students live on or off Wightman, Murray and Shady avenues. There are many PAT bus routes connecting the area to CMU and there are also CMU shuttle and escort routes that run in the evenings. Most Squirrel hill houses are town houses (the sloping roof bungalow type houses you usually see in movies). Each town house has 2 or 3 floors. Each floor is a separate entity and is usually rented out separately. Each floor consists of 1-3 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, bathroom(s) etc. The houses are older as compared to Shadyside, but are more spacious. Apartments are also available, which may be slightly more expensive. The area has many restaurants, a public library, grocery store, movie theatre, etc.
Shadyside covers a large area to the north and east of CMU. Most graduate students live between Fifth and Center Avenues. There are multiple CMU shuttle routes connecting Shadyside to the main campus through the day, and PAT bus routes which can bring you to within a block of CMU. Shadyside mainly consists of apartment complexes with 4 or more floors, and many units on each floor. The construction is new as compared to Squirrel Hill, but the rents are slightly higher too.
These include: Bloomfield, Greenfield, Friendship, East Liberty, Braddock & Point Breeze. Most of these areas are beyond the reach of the CMU shuttle & escort system, and hence not as popular with graduate students who do not own cars. However, they are well connected to campus by PAT buses and rents in these areas run generally much lower than Shadyside / Squirrel hill. However, some of these areas are not particularly safe, especially at night. If you are planning to live in these areas, make sure you do some background research or contact senior graduate students about it.
Commuting to/from CMU
Most graduate students commute by the CMU shuttle/escort system and the Pittsburgh port authority (PAT) bus system. Both these commuting options are free to CMU students. The CMU shuttles follow fixed routes and run through the day in Shadyside and evenings in Squirrel hill at regular times. They are generally convenient and dependable. CMU escorts are pretty convenient to travel at late night, run from 6 -30 pm till 6:00 am, and will drop you at any road intersection within 1.5 miles of campus. For more details on the CMU shuttle & escort routes, timings, etc., go here. The Pittsburgh Port Authority (PAT) bus system is an excellent and free mode of transportation for students. The buses run from around 5AM through 1AM, and can get you almost anywhere in and around Pittsburgh. Buses are usually not very crowded (except at peak hours on some routes), and quite safe. For more information on the bus system, go here.
Looking for a house
You will most likely use Craigslist and the CMU Community Housing website to find a house for yourself. There is a nice house listing aggregator called Padmapper which can be useful too. Quite often, just by walking down the streets of Shadyside and Squirrel hill, you can find “For Rent” signs in front of houses / buildings. Another good way to secure a house is to contact current students who may be moving out around the same time that you will be moving in (this method also has the advantage that you can get to know the house before moving in yourself).
When to look for a house
Last minute house hunting is a very bad idea. Keep in mind that in most cases you will be required to sign a year-long lease, so it’s important to find a good house, you can’t just move in a couple of months if you don’t like it.
How to look for a house
The number one rule in looking for a house is: don’t be too picky. There is no limit on the number of parameters you can optimize. The main idea should be finding a house and finding it quickly. Typically you should look at the online resources given above to shortlist 3-4 apartments. It is recommended that you speak to the contact person about these places by calling them from India. (Time here is ~10hrs behind Indian Standard time) Make sure the place is still available and clarify issues like electricity, heating bills, Internet, furniture etc. Keep your queries brief on the phone. If you have decided your roommates, consult them and make sure you all agree. All houses come with a fridge, stove etc. But generally you have to purchase your own Internet connection and buy furniture (bed, sofa, table etc). Try and look for a place with laundry facilities within the building or pretty close by. Walking to the nearest Laundromat with a basket full of clothes in winter isn’t the easiest thing.
Make sure you contact fellow incoming graduate students or current graduate students early and decide on roommates. By the time you come here, you will find that most other students have already decided on roommates, making your search tougher. You could join a group on a social networking website such as facebook to find other incoming graduate students.
Temporary Accomodation Guide
CMU Transitional Housing
CMU provides temporary accommodation in their dorms for incoming graduate students at a nominal price. Space is limited and hence requires a reservation. For more information regardins CMU's transitional housing facilities, please visit Summer Housing and Conference Accommodations .
Hotels Around CMU
In case you are travelling with family or a large non-CMU group, you might want to consider looking for hotel accommodation. Here is a list of hotels in and around the CMU campus.
IGSA Temporary Accommodation
Every year, IGSA makes an attempt to provide temporary accommodation to the new, incoming students. IGSA heavily depends on the goodwill of current graduate students to host the incoming students. With each passing year, the number of students coming in has been increasing, and not every existing graduate student will be willing or will be in a position to host someone. Therefore, it is not possible for us to provide accommodation to each and everyone. So prospective students are strongly encouraged to find a host through their own network of friends and relatives in Pittsburgh. They are also expected to check summer translational housing option and the sublet form before they approach IGSA for temporary accommodation. Note that temporary accommodation is for the first few days of your stay and is for a maximum of 3 days.
How Temp-Acco Works
The process for Fall starts sometime in July, when incoming students, with no other option of accommodation, are required to fill a form. The relevant information is posted on the IGSA website at that time. Temporary Accommodation is a community effort led by IGSA at CMU. Current students come forward to accommodate new students for a maximum of 3 days so that it aids new students in finding their permanent accommodation. The current- students sign up on a voluntary basis and are not forced to accommodate new students. It's a gesture of goodwill on their part, which is many times driven by the fact that they too used temporary accommodation when they arrived at CMU. The role of IGSA here is to create the channel for communication and ensure everything moves smoothly.
Guidelines for Students
Though it might sound obvious, from past experiences, we at IGSA feel it necessary to make the following points explicit:
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