Debate FAQs

Is previous debating experience required to join the team?

No. If you have not debated 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 policy debate and participate in the novice division at intercollegiate tournaments.

Debaters 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 policy 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, lodging, and meals.           

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?

No. We concentrate on debate and do not recruit or coach for individual events competitions such as original oratory, dramatic interpretation, or extemporaneous speaking.

Who are the coaches?

All of the coaches are scholars associated with the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Communication. The Director of Debate and the Director of The Union are both tenure-stream professors and the assistant coaches are graduate student teaching fellows in the Department.

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

On average, our debaters travel to 3-5 tournaments per term (or 6-10 for the entire year).

We have found that this range of tournament activity is optimal for maintaining sharpness while leaving enough time for schoolwork. Typically, college tournaments run from Friday to Sunday or Monday. Therefore, debaters have found it useful to concentrate their course meeting times in the middle of the week.

Which debate tournaments does the WPDU attend?

Our teams travel to a mixture of national tournaments (e.g. Northwestern, Wake Forest); and regional tournaments in NDT District VII (e.g. Richmond, Navy) and CEDA East (e.g. Rochester, West Point).

Are there scholarships available?

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

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

While on the team, can I do multiple kinds of debate?


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

Do debaters have to maintain a minimum GPA?

Yes. In order to be eligible to represent the WPDU at intercollegiate policy debate tournaments and retain debate 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 policy debaters 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 late March and early April. Public debates and debate outreach activities are organized throughout the year.

Is there a debate class at Pittsburgh?

The Department of Communication offers three sections of CommRC 0500 Argument each term. This course provides students the opportunity to develop a basic command of argumentation theory and practice.

One section of CommRC 0510 Debate, offered each spring term, features episodic treatment of key themes relating to argumentation. For example, recent versions of CommRC 0510 included "Documentaries and Debate" and "Cooperative Argumentation."

Typically, current and former WPDU graduate student teaching assistants teach these courses, which are open to both debaters and non-debate students.

I'm interested. What's next?

Contact the WPDU's Program Administrator 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!