Carnegie Mellon University
Starting at CMU

Starting at CMU

Prior to your first term


CMU does not provide graduate student housing. Pittsburgh has a good supply of pleasant and affordable rentals within easy commuting distance of the campus. Many of our graduates live within walking distance of CMU. But the best locations are taken quickly. We strongly advise students to secure a place prior to arriving for your first (Fall) term. The Graduate Academic Coordinator can help find on-line rental services, and to connect students with senior students whose current knowledge of the rental market is invaluable.

TA/Grading duties

If you are serving in the Fall term as a grader or teaching Assistant (TA), then the Director of Undergraduate Studies will match you with a suitable course and faculty instructor during the summer prior to your arrival. It is vital that you respond to emails from the Director of Undergraduate Studies regarding your abilities and preferences for grading and TAing so that the Director can match you with a course. It is your responsibility to contact that faculty member in order to know the details of your duties and to be prepared to help in the delivery the course.

Language testing for non-native English speakers

As required by the University, all graduate students who are not native English speakers are required to undergo an assessment of their English language skills through a test administered by the University’s Intercultural Communications Center. Based on the Center’s evaluation, you will be judged eligible for one or another level of grading or TA duties. Also, the Center may require you to attend classes to help you accelerate attaining fluency in English.

Orientation for new graduate students

All incoming students are required to attend a departmental graduate student orientation, which is usually held on the Thursday and Friday before classes begin. This orientation provides information about a number of important features of the department and is also the setting where a number of administrative matters will be sorted out. There is also a university wide graduate student orientation. The Director of Graduate Studies will contact you in the summer regarding the timing of graduate student orientation.

Offices and computers

The department will provide all graduate students with a (shared) office and a desk. These are assigned by the Director of Graduate Studies. When you first arrive on campus the Graduate Academic Coordinator will help you to find your office and desk and assist you in obtaining an Andrew ID which will give you access to the network and public computers on campus. The department does not provide all graduate students with a computer, however we may have a spare computers available if you do not have one of your own.

Registering for courses

Prior to your arrival, the Graduate Academic Coordinator may pre-enroll you in several core and/or required courses. This is done to provide you with enrollment options for when you arrive. For example, students are usually pre-enrolled in the Core Seminar. You will revise your selection of Fall term enrollments once you arrive on campus. These decisions are made in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies, who helps you to form both short and long-term plans for completing your degree requirements.

Important Note: Full-time enrollment requires a minimum of 36 units/term. Our graduate programs are designed so that they may be completed on time by enrolling in 36 units/term. Typically, graduate courses count 12 units each, and undergraduate courses count 9 units each.

During your first term

Adding and dropping courses

The university only allows you to add new courses during the first two weeks. You may drop courses after this time, but you will not be allowed to add new ones to replace them. Students are required to maintain “full time” enrollment throughout the semester. Many departments, including ours, offer short “mini” courses. There is a first and second mini term during the semester. Be aware of this when choosing classes, especially in other departments.

You are encouraged to discuss any changes in your enrollment with the Director of Graduate Studies.

Registering for Spring courses

Registration for Spring term courses typically occurs during late Fall term, at about the time of the Thanksgiving break. By then, you will have a better idea of which members of the faculty might eventually serve as your research/thesis advisor for your Masters thesis. We recommend planning to study with one of these faculty in your Spring term, either through a course or an independent study. You should discuss your interest with your potential advisor during the fall.

During your first Spring term

Faculty evaluation of graduate students

Twice each year the faculty meet to assess all the graduate students’ achievements and their performance as graders or teachers (where appropriate). After the evaluation the Director of Graduate Studies will provide feedback to each student so that he or she is aware of his or her standing, progress toward a degree, and any possible change in financial support. The first meeting is held in January, after grades from the Fall term are available. The second review is in May at the end of the Spring term.

At the end of the fall term, students will be requested to fill out documents about their progress in the program and plans for the future. This document will be sent by the Director of Graduate Studies, and must be returned prior to the faculty's evaluation meeting.

During Spring term, each student receives a letter summarizing the results of the faculty discussion at the end of the Fall term. In addition to offering an evaluation of a student's academic progress, the letter contains information on financial support for the next academic year. This document may detail specific requirements that a student must meet in order to have his or her academic status and financial support continued beyond the current academic year. The faculty may decide to put a student on probation for a term to allow him or her to satisfy academic requirements. In rare cases, a student may be asked to withdraw from the program, if he or she fails to meet and maintain program standards. The same message also is communicated in a conversation with the student’s research/thesis advisor, or with the Director of Graduate Studies, if no research advisor has yet been chosen.

Planning summer teaching

There are no philosophy graduate courses offered during Summer term. Instead, you may have the opportunity to do autonomous undergraduate teaching, provided that you have prepared by serving as a TA or grader for the course in question. The Director of Undergraduate Studies organizes summer teaching assignments. You should communicate your interests in summer teaching to the Director of Undergraduate Studies early in the Spring term. We do our best to make summer teaching available to all interested and qualified students, but it is not guaranteed.

Planning summer research

For masters students interested in the thesis option and for all Ph.D. students: The summer is an important time for moving ahead on your research. By end of your first Spring term, you should have selected a prospective faculty advisor and coordinated with her or him about your summer work. This may include focused readings, preparing a paper for presentation to an academic conference, or assisting in the faculty member's ongoing research. Summer research assistant (RA) support is not automatic; however, the Department tries to assist faculty in providing some summer RA funds.