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Speech and Debate FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

Is previous speech and debate experience required to join the team?

No. If you have not competed previously, we can train you.

With just a few practice sessions, you can jump right into a public debate on a topic of interest. If you want to compete against other schools, you can learn the basics of competitive speech and debate and participate in the novice division at intercollegiate tournaments.

Students with high school experience may find the transition to college debate easier to navigate, but many of our most successful competitors come to Pittsburgh from small schools without speech and debate programs.

How much does it cost to debate in college?

The Union covers all expenses associated with debate events, including travel to tournaments, entry fees, and lodging.

Does the WPDU do parliamentary debate?

We do not compete on the parliamentary debate tournament circuit, but occasionally we use the parliamentary debate format for public debates, especially when hosting foreign teams visiting the U.S. on exchange tours.

Does the WPDU do individual speaking events?

Yes. We are registered with the NFA. We currently emphasize platform and limited preparation events, but we are also exploring future opportunities for oral interpretation offerings as well.

Who are the coaches?

All the coaches are scholars associated with the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Communication.

If I want to compete at tournaments, how much can I expect to travel, and how much can I compete online?

On average, our members travel to 1-3 tournaments per term (or 2-6 for the entire year). We strive to offer a balanced schedule, with numerous online tournament offerings as well.

We have found that this range of tournament activity is optimal for maintaining sharpness while leaving enough time for schoolwork. Typically, college tournaments run for 1-2 days on weekends, with a few tournaments extending to Monday. Therefore, debaters have found it useful to concentrate their course meeting times in the middle of the week.

Are there scholarships available?

Yes. Speech and debate scholarships are available for incoming and returning students who are eligible to receive merit-based financial aid from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Decisions on scholarships are generally made in the spring of each year.

While on the team, can I do multiple kinds of events or participate in both competitive and public events? 


The Union's goal is to produce well-rounded speech and debate students who exhibit proficiency in critical thinking and research, can address general audiences, and are able to teach the craft to others. This comprehensive skill set is best honed through a combination of intercollegiate competition, public debate, and outreach activities.

Do debaters have to maintain a minimum GPA?

Yes. To be eligible to represent the WPDU at intercollegiate speech and debate tournaments and retain scholarships, students need to have achieved a 3.0 GPA in the previous semester and also maintain an overall 3.0 GPA.

When does the season start and end?

Intercollegiate speech and debate students gather in Pittsburgh for an August preseason work session that begins two weeks prior to the first day of classes. This prepares the team for its first tournament that typically takes place in late September.

The final tournaments of the year are held in March and April. Public debates and debate outreach activities are organized throughout the year.

I'm interested. What's next?

Contact WPDU at, to arrange a time when you can speak to one of our coaches and drop by for a visit. We'd be delighted to see you!