A Day in the Life at University of Southern California

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Chris graduated from University of Southern California in 2010 with a Bachelor’s degree in Theatre. He is an Atlanta tutor specializing in Algebra tutoring, Spanish tutoring, Grammar & Mechanics tutoring, and more. See what he had to say about his undergraduate experience:


VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Chris: USC is three miles from downtown Los Angeles, so it’s about as urban as schools get. The neighborhood in the few blocks around campus is not great, but isn’t as bad as it was 20 years ago, and the school is constantly working on improving the area. LA has an extensive public bus system, but only a few subway and rail lines. The campus itself is very small. Everyone walks or bikes. For the most part, the students live within a few blocks of campus, so they walk or bike to and from school as well. There is a bus system that connects the satellite campuses. A great transportation service is Campus Cruiser, which are cars run by the university that you can call for a ride at night. If you’re going to or coming from the library, or just from house to house and don’t want to venture into the sometimes-imposing urban night, Campus Cruiser will give you a free lift. 

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants? 

Chris: I studied in the Theatre department, which is very small and based on interaction, so I was always able to get ahold of my teachers. My academic advisor, Leon, was extremely helpful, available, and open. In the few classes with TAs that I had, they were usually reachable by email. I never tried to set up a meeting, so I can’t testify to how that goes.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Chris: Dorms are at the corners of campus. I lived in Birnkrant, which is right near both Leavy and Doheny Libraries and Everybody’s Kitchen dining hall. Parkside is the international dorm (though it also serves native students). Flour Tower is mostly made up of athletes, as it’s near the athletic facilities. Webb Tower has apartment-style dorms.Off campus are some university-run apartments, usually occupied by upperclassmen. The school only guarantees housing through sophomore year, so many upperclassmen find private housing nearby.There are a couple of different dining plans, which mix meals at the dining halls and “dining dollars,” which can be used there or at the fast-food style establishments on campus. The plans balance the two types differently.The two main dining halls are Everybody’s Kitchen (EVK) and Parkside. Parkside tends to be better and more diverse, but is on the opposite side of campus from about 70% of the dorms. Below the Flour and Webb Tower dorms are a few take-out style places. The centerpiece of campus is the Ronald Tutor Student Center, which I’m told has food, but I graduated the year before it opened, so I’m not sure about it. Definitely, my favorite place is Ground Zero. It’s a student-managed coffee shop and performance venue that makes the absolute best milkshakes in the world.

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Chris: I was in the Bachelor of Arts program in the School of Theatre (now called the School of Dramatic Arts). I do Theatre because I love it. (And, clearly, for the embarrassingly large stacks of money it will make me.) The university did a pretty decent job supporting us, as far as Arts support goes. The SoT management was not particularly great. 

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Chris: USC does have a pretty active Greek scene, located on The Row on 28th Street. I wasn’t in that scene, so I can’t tell you much about it.

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus? 

Chris: I never visited the Career Center, because a career in the Arts has such an unconventional, circuitous path that I never felt the need to. There were job and recruitment fairs on campus with some regularity, though I never paid them much mind. I expect that the best companies in the world come to USC, given our high national ranking, our location in a world business hub, and our large graduate and undergraduate student body.

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Chris: Leavy Library and Doheny Library are the main general-use libraries on campus, and both are huge and deep. There’s always room to read and there are large computer labs, as well as conference rooms available for reservation.Dorm lounges vary by building. Birnkrant had a “fishbowl” on each floor, but it was pretty small.The student center got torn down pretty early in my schooling, and the new one wasn’t completed until after I graduated. From what I’ve seen of it, though, it’s massive and beautiful.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus? 

Chris: Los Angeles has to be the most diverse city in the world. There’s no question in my mind. If it exists in America, you can find it in LA. The range of food, cultural attractions, and even natural settings is unrivaled. We’re 10 miles to the beach, two hours to Joshua Tree, a few hours from mountain skiing – all while being in the middle of a metro area of 14 million. We have Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Little Armenia, Little Ethiopia, Little Thailand, West Hollywood – Los Angeles has everything.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Chris: When I was there, USC had about 15,000 undergrads and 15,000 grad students. A large part of the grad students were on satellite campuses (the medical school is not on the main campus, for example), but it never felt crowded. The School of Theatre had pretty small classes, since most of it is participatory. My general education classes tended to be large lectures, maybe 150-200 students, but never more than that, and most or all of them had TA-led discussion sections that were usually 20-25 students.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Chris: Advanced Movement for the Actor with David Bridel in the spring of my sophomore year. He used the class to teach us clowning, which is the most freeing, joyful thing I have ever done. We learned that mistakes are not only inevitable and permissible, but can be beautiful as well. We learned that one’s natural, authentic impulse is vital and vivid and moving. We learned that the truth – about ourselves, in this moment, with these people, in this place – above all else, is the most important thing to an actor. That class didn’t just make me a better actor, it made be a better person.


Check out Chris’ tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.