It is interesting to see how this particular forum is moderated. It appears to be inconsistant with the rest of the site, as many people use the F word or say "a**hole" without any censorship. I have been a little more liberal with my usage of 'colorful metaphors,' but this is interesting, as it is the first time I have been censored. (Can you believe that they turned 'a**hole' into 'not so nice person'? Weak!)
Anyway, it occurred to me that many of the incoming class is not from Pittsburgh, and might not have rented an apartment yet. If this is the case, here are some nice areas to live that are not too far from Duquense (Duquesne is Downtown, and excluding their dormitories, about 3 people live downtown. So unless you have boatloads of money, forget about walking to school.)
Now, remember, Pittsburgh is large and spread out, and many areas are nice in places and lousy in others. This will give you a good start, however.
All of these places are within 10 mins of downtown via bus:
Squirrel Hill -> IMHO a GREAT place to live. The housing varies from mediocre to amazing, as do the prices, but it is an area that is virtually crime free, and if you are a practicing Jew, has MANY schuls to choose from, ranging from Chabad to Reconstructionist. Great bus access, good commercial district, two coffeehouses, good grocery store, and a good selection of specialty stores.
North Oakland -> many Pitt students live here, but 'party central' is South Oakland, and the two are completely geographically isolated by Pitt's campus. Solid housing, generally quiet, except for the occasional weekend party that rarely gets out of hand. Crime is low, the worst problem generally being cars that are broken into for money or CDs or whatever. Blends into a lower income area that has relatively low crime but colorful culture (if you've never heard of a jitney, you'll learn about them living here). Reasonable rent.
Regent Square -> just beyond Squirrel Hill, even better rates for rent, and great bus access, but lacks the diversion of the commericial district in Squirrel Hill. Frick Park, a very large and beautiful park, separates Squirrel Hill from Regent Square. An amazing art house cine is here, and a few cool stores.
Bloomfield -> An area that is rapidly recovering from urban blight, so it has cheap rent but a low crime rate. Never lived here, so I can't vouch firsthand for the living, but I know many people who live here and love it. A 'main street' commericial district offers a great selection of stores, a GREAT coffeehouse with an eclectic DVD rental collection available, banks, etc. Take a good look here.
Shadyside/Friendship -> I am currently in this area. Very solid housing on average, with very reasonable rent. Shadyside proper has a VERY Neveau Riche commercial district: If you drive a luxury car and like high-priced brandnames, a great place to visit. I also just learned that Shadyside is a nexus for the gay community in Pittsburgh; there is a gay bar and two vintage stores with a good selection of stuff. My coffeehouse is here as well, the Dancing Goat. It rocks... offers free wireless (as are an increasingly large number of coffeehouses in Pittsburgh). Housing in the area is generally solid, rent ranging from CRAZY for a hardwood panelled beautiful apartment in Shadyside to very reasonable rates in the Friendship area (there are numerous well-priced apartments and houses in Shadyside as well). Lots of grad students who are a little better off then they were as undergrads. The Friendship area is great in spots, and lousy in others. The ruleof thumb here is: drive around the area of the house/apartment you are considering and listen to your gut. You can get a great deal in a great area, but just look around first. Good bus access.
Point Breeze -> Borders Wilkinsburg, East Liberty, Homewood, Shadyside, and Squirrel. There are areas that are very good and areas that are not. Be cautious what part you walk through at night. There is a food co-op that is good for any granola heads out there. You might find a great place to live here, but again, listen to your gut. Great bus access to any house or apt near Penn Avenue. The houses along Penn Ave were the former homes of Westinghouse, Heinz, Frick, Mellon, etc. Again, some great places.
Highland Park: becoming in spots a focus for artistic students and families. Quiet, old neighborhood, beat up in some areas, rapidly improving in others, and just plain great in yet others. Has a great park as the name suggests, close to the Pittsburgh Zoo. A nice little coffeehouse, and a public pool. Residential, and as far as I know, not adjacent to a commercial zone. I like the area, but have little detailed knowledge about it. I like its broad streets and big trees.
OK: Now, places to avoid:
East Liberty proper - crime rate is still a little too high for my liking. Friendship blends into this area.
Wilkinsburg proper - border areas are OK, but the center is really really hurting economically, and many of the houses are literally falling apart. Crime rate has VASTLY improved, but there are better areas.
Northside - while it looks good, and has reasonable rent, the crime rate has really gotten out of hand in recent years. Avoid this area (I hate saying this, because the area has so much potential, but take my word on this). Not safe for women to walk at night... there have been several rapes. Urban redevelopment is saving this area, but... ARGH!
South Side - this area is proud to have the largest number of bars in the smallest amount of space in the whole US. It is a great place to catch a show or beer. There are sex shops, retro shops, book stores, you name it. A very very fun area that is absolute HELL to get out of. The traffic is MISERABLE, the bus is always late, and the area is loud and crowded on weekends. Not a good place for a studious 1L to live.
All of my recommended areas are close to the city and Duquesne, and at the very least are worth your consideration. If you have a car, there are many many options in the outlying suburbs, but I would highly recommend living closer to the city, in one of its neighborhoods. It will give you a more integrative environment and increase your pleasure in a hellish time.
NOTE: Northside and North Hills are entirely different places. North Hills is a region of suburbs. Same goes for the Southside and South Hills as well.