Pros: good overseas program, fun social environment, wide academic selection (shares resources with other colleges)
Cons: poor reputation, heavy price tag, drug use, not a school for science majors.
I went to this college for my freshman year before transferring to Claremont McKenna (CMC), which is literally next door. In that time, I would say there are significant pros and cons about Pitzer. However in the end, for the $38,000 price tag on this college, the cons outweigh the pros unfortunately. Here's a break down for you prospective students:
Excellent social environment. Pitzer has some great people. The mix is mainly 50% native Californians with a variety of international students (a lot of Japanese students from abroad), assorted East coasters and a good share of Northern Californians and folks from Oregon. The combination makes for a rather comfortable social atmosphere, one that is excessively laidback and in general, predominantly liberal minded. The way the dorm life is set up in decent sized coed buildings make for some close relationships with most of the people around you. All the people I have met at Pitzer for the most part are still my friends to this day, and will likely continue to be so. If there is anything I miss from Pitzer the most, it is the laid-back atmosphere, where competition among peers is hardly an issue.
Few requirements for graduation. Out of all the five colleges within Claremont, and unlike most small liberal arts colleges, Pitzer probably has one of the most lenient graduation requirements ever. As my friends have counted it out, you could probably graduate here in two years and save a load of cash. All you need to do is go overseas once (which takes care of about 5 requirements in one swoop), take a math and science course, attend your freshman seminar and you are done. With that given, you can use most of your free spaces to actually take courses you want or travel and go all over the world as much as possible. At CMC, or any of the other five colleges here, such a thing is impossible. Youre likely fixed on some kind of track the college dictates and you may be able to take 1 or 2 fun classes, while having to fit your classes to satisfy your major. That said, Pitzer has a huge advantage in class selection and flexibility, as you can take classes at Pomona or Claremont McKenna and receive a quality education doing so, without actually having to enroll in the other schools. Heres where Pitzer receives the reputation as a backdoor entrance into the top ranked schools of Pomona, Harvey Mudd, Scripps and CMC.
Excellent study abroad programs. Given that the 5 colleges (5-Cs) share a lot of their programs, Pitzer students can take advantage of their minimal requirements and go overseas more than any other student on this campus. As a result, you can go on rather reputable overseas programs in all parts of the world. This is a very important part to consider, as most other schools are not so lax in getting their students overseas.
Dorms are decent. There are cons to the dorms which Ill get to later, but for the most part here are the pros. This is what most freshmen get, the only exception to this housing description are the apartment style collective housing at Mead. The dorms are spacious compared to most colleges all over the nation with two closets, and a sink and mirror (for each room!). Every two room share a toilet and shower, and the sexes are mixed up so that males are on one side of the hall and girls are on the other. The biggest perk is really just getting to wake up and have a sink less than 3 feet away from you, which reduces the pain of having to trudge down to a shared facility in a hallway as Ive seen in many other colleges.
Food options are good. Although Pitzer is not the crowning example of dining in the 5-colleges, given that you can eat at any of the 7 dining halls there is plenty of selection. For the most part though, Pitzer kids tend to eat at Pitzer for the sake of convenience, it is perfect match for those vegan and vegetarian, and a little less so for meat eaters (although as I said there is enough selection at the other halls to balance out any ones tastes, from sushi to fried noodles to whatever). As far as food goes in terms of other colleges, Claremont Colleges has a great although expensive dining system. Each meal approximates to $10 but is as much as you can eat (or carry out) and offers a fairly good selection and variety to satisfy most people.
Pitzer does not have the study environment that some colleges do, and does not support science majors all too well. The people here are hippies, though that image has changed with these recent years as Pitzer has raised their academic bars slightly higher and are trying to change their image of a drug-party school to an alcoholic (study hard, play hard) school that most of the other campuses have. The biggest problem with most people who come here is the use of drugs, such as pot. Pitzer sponsors (unofficially) the Smoke force five event of the 5-Cs, which is a day where all the smokers go gather somewhere randomly at night and just have a total smoke out. The study environment is minimal as Pitzer tends to support predominantly psych and art majors, so they do not need to work as much. As a science major myself I found it difficult to survive at Pitzer, people at Pitzer just do not get much work done.
Huge loss in student body after freshman year. Another disturbing thing about Pitzer is also just how many people transfer out. On average there is a 50-60% student retention rate for the first year, which just shows how many folks leave this college after realizing they are being ripped off. Most people find their home community colleges suitable after attending Pitzer, and prefer to save $30,000. That is the primary reason why people leave Pitzer. For those staying through, youll likely feel less and less welcome as the freshman population grows and maybe some of your friends transfer and leave the place for their home colleges or for other schools.
Poor reputation. One of the things I faced the most when attending Pitzer actually was simply that no one has ever heard of this school. While its reputation is gradually improving, and it has begun to attract a higher standard of students, its still lesser known even for those familiar with liberal arts colleges. Most folks you tell about your college will be reply with, Pitzer wheres that? and that is that. Compared to the other schools around here, youll be going to the least respected institution.
Lack of resources. As Pitzer is the youngest of all the 5-Cs here it lacks the most resources. Ive noticed this especially attending CMC now. CMC students have access to a huge job network, a vast variety of internships and scholarships that are a result of their extremely huge and successful alumni program. Pitzer lacks this because sadly enough, most their alumni end up doing things that are not quite so entrepreneurial as they are humanitarian, and as a result the college is the poorest of all the colleges in the 5-Cs. That means, they have the least financial aid, the least money available to pay for speakers to speak at their school, the least money to organize events, and the share most of their sports facilities with Pomona which is on the opposite end of the campus. This means a long hike for those dedicated enough to be part of a huge Pomona crowd. In terms of financial aid, the giving is somewhat noticeable. At Pitzer I was only going to receive a $5,000 scholarship for one year, at CMC, I will receive $8,000 for every year till I graduate.
Poor dorms in comparison to the colleges located in Claremont Singles are fairly abundant for the other schools, and those seeking singles at Pitzer will have a tough time. In addition, compared to the quality of dorms offered at the various other schools, Pitzer easily has the cheapest dorms with the least amount of maintenance. Other dorms, such as the ones as CMC now, have actual room cleaning, which is a perk if anything, but still something that one would expect from the high price of about ~$8000 one pays for the housing here.
The bottom line:
If youre looking for a good liberal education you will find it in the Claremont Colleges. Pitzer is an excellent school not because of its own merits but because of the resources it shares with the other colleges. Given that you can participate in challenging classes that take place at Pomona, go overseas, and attend talks at any of the college sponsored events makes the experience worthy. Although the sad part is that most of these events will not be hosted at Pitzer, it still makes for an excellent college life both academically and socially. However, given the hefty price tag, the extremely low retention rate, and the drug use (although that image is changing); there should still be some reserves when attending this school. If you are not a science major, and do not have financial concerns, I think you will enjoy this school very much. This is especially if you are a liberal minded student looking for a strong social environment and fairly good art resources or a fantastic psychology program. If you are a science student or if financial costs are a concern, it is probably better to pass Pitzer up as one of your choices. With the costs haven risen from $37K to $38K in just this past year, it is probably better to attend a more cost effective college.