Benches and Tables and Chairs, Oh My! The World of Studying on Campus at Pitt

As the end of the 2021-2022 academic year looms at the University of Pittsburgh and final’s week quickly approaching, students at Pitt are studying on campus now more than ever.

The Spring 2022 semester is only the second semester since classes returned to in-person status since the campus’ initial shutdown from COVID-19, and many students are now taking advantage of on-campus spaces to get their work done.

In addition, with masks now being optional just enacted this semester, this means students who would previously have been uncomfortable spending hours in a mask can now pass more time inside campus buildings.

Caitlin Aloisio, a junior psychology major, said when interviewed while studying in Posvar that she felt more comfortable studying on campus this year than last year, and so she does it more often.

“Last year all my classes were virtual, so I would usually just stay in my room,” Aloisio said. “And this semester my schedule has just been more rigorous, I guess, so I’m out of the house a lot more, so I usually study on campus.”

Some of the most popular places to study on campus are Hillman Library, Wesley W. Posvar Hall, and, of course, the Cathedral of Learning. These three buildings are so popular, in fact, that finding a place to sit can oftentimes take some time, though not for lack of space. There’s plenty of room in each, but they can definitely get crowded — especially at the end of the semester.

Still, these buildings remain favorites. Bob Zhang, a student enrolled in the Public Health master’s program for human genetics, enjoys studying in the Cathedral (affectionately dubbed “Cathy” by Pitt students over the years) in between and after classes.

“I commute from the Friendship area, so whenever I’m here in class, I just stay here,” said Zhang. “Every time I’m here, [I study for] like an hour or so on campus.”

Zhang also stated that he studies in the Public Health building occasionally, but the general preference for Pitt students seems to be in favor of Cathy. One student in Hillman Library also mentioned the Cathedral of Learning as another favorite study location.

“I study on campus pretty much all the time because I live off campus,” said Duerre Mueller, a junior majoring in social work. “I would say I just like it because it’s good to have home/school balance, I guess.”

An image of Hillman Library from the outside on a sunny day, with a construction fences set up outside.
The Hillman Library is one of the most popular study locations on campus, but is it really the best spot to get work done?

Mueller also said that they find studying on campus more convenient than going back home in between every class, as well as less distracting. Aloisio added that she studies on campus four days a week for these exact same reasons.

“In between classes I don’t have time to run home and go to my room and study,” Aloisio said. “I have a hard time studying in my room because I feel like there’s more distractions there, so I’m more likely to stay focused on my work when I’m in a school environment.”

However, some on-campus study locations are better for this purpose than others. Though there are plenty of places to go for food and drink both on campus and within campus buildings, they don’t make for ideal study spots.

What about campus buildings that are distracting?

Mueller mentioned Starbucks.

“I never study there, because it’s really crowded.”

Aloisio said that she mainly studies in Posvar and Cathy, but that she finds noise distracting when studying on campus.

“It’s been a while since I studied in those noisy places because now I know to avoid them,” Aloisio said. “I used to go down and eat lunch in the basement of Cathy, and that was always super distracting for me.”

If a student wants to avoid crowds altogether, though, even Cathy, Hillman, and Posvar may not be the best option.

Hillman has four floors all of varying noise level, with the fourth and final floor being completely silent. It’s a great study spot with no distractions, but I personally don’t enjoy everyone turning to look when I unzip my backpack.

Many students stick to these three buildings — and the areas surrounding them outdoors such as Cathy Lawn and Schenley Plaza, when the weather permits — as study spaces, but they may not know that within the University of Pittsburgh’s campus are several hidden-gem study spots.

Corie Bocien, a senior majoring in Natural Scienes who spends about 10 hours a week studying on campus, finds Hillman Library — arguably the most common study spot on campus — is the most distracting one.

“I think I used it too much freshman and sophomore year,” Bocien said. “And especially with the construction going on it’s really loud and a lot of people aren’t really doing work.”

In terms of hidden gems, however, Bocien said that while she was studying in the O’Hara Student Center, she was the only student there on the second floor. Much like the other students, she enjoys the minimal distractions involved in studying on campus, and she likes studying in O’Hara specifically.

“These seats are comfortable,” Bocien said. “I like that there’s a little bit of background noise, but not usually too much.”

O’Hara is definitely an underrated on-campus study spot. There are cushioned chairs and tables on all three levels, and there’s always plenty of space with peace and quiet. However, almost no one makes use of it.

An of image of the seating on the second floor of the O'Hara Student Center. There are cushioned chairs at high and low tables as well as couches against the wall. There is no one sitting on any of them.
The O’Hara Student Center has much more comfortable chairs than many other campus buildings, and yet most of the time it remains empty.

Cathy, on the other hand, is a favorite study spot among students that people rarely use to its fullest potential. If you’d rather not walk around aimlessly in search of a seat for a while and you’re willing to wait for the elevators, you might find more space and seclusion on the upper floors.

Floor 23 is a personal favorite of mine, and the seats there are much more comfortable than those on floors 1-3. Pitt students’ days of awkardly walking into full classrooms are over.

Bocien mentioned the William Pitt Union as her personal favorite ‘secret study spot.’ “The first or second floor of the Union has these comfortable seats with desks outside these random rooms,” Bocien said.

Outdoor study locations such as Cathy Lawn and Schenley Plaza almost always have space available, though this can depend on the weather. However, these locations can provide distraction, since students also use green spaces on campus to play sports and picnic as well as study.

One of my other personal favorite places to study is the plaza between Posvar and Hillman, but the limited number of tables and benches means that it can be tough to snag one at certain points in the day.

However, the tables behind Posvar — though a little more out of the way — provide a much more spacious and quiet study location. The benches located outside of the Foster Memorial on the Forbes side of Cathy are also a great space for students, especially on sunny days.

Whether you live in a dorm or not, campus buildings may very well be much less distracting than staying at home, but there are also plenty of more private on-campus study spaces you can take advantage of if you’re just willing to look.