To stay or not to stay: One graduating senior’s decision
As of this editorial’s printing I have 49 days to figure out my life.
That may sound overdramatic, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way. The list of considerations a senior undergraduate student must take reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure book or an especially diabolical version of that study-hall favorite, M.A.S.H.:
• Will you choose graduate school or work?
• If you chose work, what kind of job do you want to have?
• Are you actually qualified for any of those jobs?
• How much a year do you want to make?
• Will that ever actually happen?
• Where do you want to live?
• Can you conceivably afford an apartment there?
• What kind of a car do you want to drive?
You get the idea. It’s a lot to think about on top of regular work and extracurricular demands. There’s definitely a reason that a large number of students start attending Counseling and Psychological Services in their senior year. Just when you start to feel as though you’ve settled into a tolerable groove, you plunge headfirst into uncertainty.
It was earlier this semester, as I floundered around with my vague future plans of Making Money and Saving the World, that someone offered me a novel suggestion: Stay where you are. Remaining in Pittsburgh would at least let me keep my feet on the ground, rather than graduating and uprooting myself all at once.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. I like Pittsburgh just fine (in fact, while in a cooperative program in Washington, D.C. I wrote an editorial extolling the ’Burgh’s virtues) but never once had I considered staying here post-college. I’m not alone. For years, Pittsburgh has suffered from an infamous “brain drain,” as bright young whippersnappers from the city’s colleges and universities walk down the aisle and then bolt out of town, diplomas clutched in their sweaty little fists.
For a college graduate in a highly transitional time of life, Pittsburgh is actually ideal. I finally sat down and decided to formally weigh the pros and cons of a fifth year in the Iron City.
First, the pros: One of the most appealing factors is that Pittsburgh has an absolute ton of available and affordable housing. You can get a swank apartment near a commercial center for $800 a month. Compare that to my home state of New Jersey, where an apartment in the middle of the suburbs will run you $1000 a month, and you’ll probably have to pour water down the toilet to get it to flush. If you don’t like apartments, there’s plenty of single-unit dwellings with green space for rent.
Yes, yes, I hear you all saying, but what about a job to pay the rent checks? Carnegie Mellon students seem to be infatuated with the idea of a decrepit, desolate, jobless Pittsburgh populated only by crumpled retirees. Has anyone actually looked for a job in Pittsburgh? Its labor market might not have the breadth of New York’s, but keep in mind that there are few urban centers that do. Pittsburgh does have jobs. A fair number of them, in almost every field. As I searched for jobs in the nonprofit sector, I was pleased to find that there were a number of positions available in museums, policy centers, foundations, and charity groups.
Here you all chime in and tell me that once I get out and start working, I’ll never have any fun, because there’s nothing to do in Pittsburgh, guys. You may also bring up the recent story of actress Sienna Miller and her less-than-flattering description of the city. Well, Sienna never got off her bony derrière and left her hotel room, and you’ve clearly never ventured past Oakland. There are a seemingly endless number of cool places to eat, more bars per capita than any other city in the United States (at least it feels that way to me), a cultural district, sporting events, movie theaters, a handful of concert venues, clubs (of little consequence to me, as I’m not a huge clubgoer), and galleries. Thanks to the collegiate population, Pittsburgh’s social scene is not only vibrant, but safe and manageable. It’s not completely overwhelming, as the New York scene can be. And unlike New York, people here are nice. Don’t underestimate the power of friendly locals.
Lest I sound too much like a Pittsburgh networking brochure, let’s talk about the cons. Because there are cons. For instance, everything I wrote above has a major caveat: You need a car to get anywhere worthwhile. That includes everything from the supermarket to Kennywood. Pittsburgh does have a transportation system, and while it’s perfectly adequate for a workday commute or simple errands, the buses aren’t timely and the routes seriously curtail a resident’s ability to explore lesser-known neighborhoods.
And for people used to a larger urban or suburban setting, Pittsburgh can sometimes feel provincial. My first year at Carnegie Mellon, I remember being frightened by the surreal hush the city had during Sundays and religious holidays. On Easter I couldn’t even find an open supermarket or convenience store, let alone a place to have lunch. Pittsburgh isn’t the proverbial Pennsyltucky, but it’s also not very far away.
There are other things about Pittsburgh that I love, like the gravity-defying way houses seem to grow out of hillsides. And there are plenty of things that drive me crazy: the weather, the serious deficit of Dunkin’ Donuts. Even now, with the clock literally ticking away, I don’t know if I will be able — or choose — to stay here. But while I feel as though all of my plans are up in the air, it’s good to know that I have the option of staying rooted, and won’t lose anything for it.