The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Albina is a New York City tutor specializing in Anatomy tutoring, Physics tutoring, Biology tutoring, and more. She graduated from the University of Buffalo in 2010 with a degree in Biological Sciences. See what she had to say about her alma mater:
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?
Albina: The campus was very large and has two campuses: North and South. South Campus is located just on the edge of the city and has a very suburban look. This campus is mostly the medical school with laboratories, the medical technologist program, and some program advisers in the sciences, such as Biochemistry and Biomedical Science. Undergraduate students don't generally have many classes here, but some student end up dorming on South Campus, and the fraternities/sororities are also located nearby.
The North Campus is outside of town and is its own small city, with modern design, excellent facilities, and anything you need (its own pharmacy, restaurants, etc.). This campus is surrounded immediately by parking lots and bike racks to accommodate bikers and commuters. Immediately after that (across the street), it's surrounded by two separate building complexes and several "villages." The building complexes are the student dormitories, a smaller one for honors students in special programs (Governor's), and a larger one for everybody else (Ellicott Complex). The "villages" are student on-campus apartments, with full kitchens, personal bathrooms, etc.
There is a bus that travels between the dorms and main campus every 3-5 minutes. The bus ride itself is only about 5 minutes and runs in a loop. There is a second bus that runs between the Ellicott Complex, Governor's Residents Halls, and South Campus, which comes about every 10 minutes on weekdays, every half hour on weekends. The bus ride itself is about 20 minutes and runs in a loop. Once on South Campus, you can also get on a train which runs into the heart of Buffalo. I don't remember how long that ride was, but it wasn't longer than about 30 minutes to get to Greyhound/Amtrak/etc. In addition, there are a number of mini buses that just drive around campus for people who just don't want to walk from one end to another. I didn't have a car my first two years on campus, and certainly didn't need it, but it's definitely convenient to have one for places not on campus.
There is on-campus police which is easily accessible, with phones on just about every corner that connects directly to them. Within my time there, there have been no issues that required the campus police, and you definitely feel safe walking around at night.
VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?
Albina: Academic advisers are very available. Some departments require an appointment, but most allow walk-in's. Information regarding programs of study, study materials, and help is readily available. Not all professors are very accessible. Again, it depends on the department. Professors associated with the Anthropology, History, English, Arts, and Biology, in my experience, were very accessible. Chemistry professors, both in my own and others’ experience, are the least accessible professors on campus, but they provide tutoring hours run by teaching assistants for students who need help. The school also has Blake Center, located on the bottom floor of the Ellicott Complex, where students can go study and get tutoring in subjects they are having trouble with.
VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?
Albina: The dorm life is very average. First and second year students dorm either on South Campus, Governor's, or Ellicott Complex. Regardless of where you dorm, the experience is very similar. Rooms are small and furnished with twin-sized beds, a closet, a desk, chair, and drawers. All buildings are co-ed, and students have one or two bathrooms per floor, each with several toilets, and showers (separated by gender with a security code on the door), and one or two kitchens per floor. Sophomores and juniors have the opportunity to live in apartments with roommates, if they choose, with personal kitchens and personal bathrooms. There are laundry rooms on the bottom floor of every building in the complex, and there is one large cafeteria per complex for meals. This cafeteria utilizes meal plans and is a buffet with all kinds of things, including vegan, kosher, and vegetarian opportunities. I loved the wokery which allows you to stir-fry anything you want, and use the waffle-maker in the mornings. For students who didn't want to utilize this cafeteria, or had classes that interfered with its schedule, the school offered the opportunity to use the meal plan money at any restaurant on campus. This includes everything from wraps, Tim Horton’s, Chinese food, Japanese, Mexican, etc. You definitely won't go hungry.
Each floor has one or two RA's (resident advisor's). These students help with any issues you may have with other students, and are required to have at least one socializing activity per month, be it video game night, karaoke, or floor-wide Thanksgiving dinner. Freshmen tend to be roomed close to students in the same program of study, giving them the opportunity to make friends with people who share the same classes. On most occasions, you will make friends your first month in school, which will last throughout the four years at Buffalo. Second year, you get to choose the exact room you dorm in, so that will no longer be the case. In general, students tend to be very social. Leaving your dorm room open when you're there basically invites anybody to stop by and hang out, and believe it or not, they do! I've made plenty of friends from just keeping my door open and doing my own thing.
In addition, there are plenty of clubs and organizations, run by both students and staff. There are also fraternities and sororities, if that's something you are interested in.
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?
Albina: Some of the most represented undergraduate programs at the university were the pre-med students, pre-pharm students, and Engineering students, primarily due to the Medical and Pharmacy school, but UB offers significant amounts of support to all fields of study at the university. I studied Biological Sciences because I love science and wanted to go into medical school. The school offers many programs, including comprehensive Anatomy classes, hospital shadowing programs, tutoring sessions, and much more to help out, but entering students should keep in mind that pre-pharm and pre-med programs are very popular at this school, and so the early prerequisite classes are especially competitive and grueling to weed out as many students as possible. The key is to not give up and seek help if you need it, before it becomes a problem.
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?
Albina: Meeting people and making friends is incredibly easy, as a freshman, commuter, nontraditional student, etc. Greek life is very popular but it's not overwhelming. You certainly don't need to be involved to get the most out of college, but the option does exist if you want it. There are so many clubs, organizations, concerts, and even academic departments and residential advisers constantly planning events and get-together's, that it would be quite difficult to go through a week without having made a friend somewhere – especially as a freshman. Freshmen tend to be the most open minded. You have to understand they are all in the same boat you are, so everyone is just as eager to meet someone new. In addition, larger lecture classes tend to have associated recitation classes, run by a teaching assistant (small hour-long classroom sessions for questions, with more individual attention), and those feel very similar to your high school classroom. You will see that same group every single week, and likely in tutoring, or in the library studying.
VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?
Albina: Our Career Services Center at UB was very proactive. Of course it always had its doors open to students, but it also went out to host panels and help. The school would host days for recruiting companies to come on campus and meet with students, discuss their resumes. UB held public workshops regarding how to make yourself most competitive to companies in various fields. If you needed an internship, research experience, shadowing, etc., they were very helpful in helping you find and acquire this opportunity. It's an incredible resource, widely advertised, and should definitely be taken advantage of by all students who attend.
VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?
Albina: The student union closes very late, with all of the shops, but it's definitely open well beyond normal business hours due to certain classes. Our libraries and dorm lounges are open 24/7, and easily accessible. We have so many places to study, from lounges, to the Blake Center, to three separate libraries, that you will never have a problem finding a quiet place to study. Computer terminals in the library tend to be difficult to acquire, but there are something like 16 stations near the entrance with 15-minute timers, for students who want to print out documents or class notes. Printing fee is included in your tuition, and I have spent many semesters printing exclusively from the library. The only flaw in this is the wait. Some days are better than others, but I wouldn't recommend last-minute print jobs. Dorm lounges are smaller and easily crowded, but there's so many of them (at least one on on every floor) so you could just go to the one down the hallway or one flight down. I graduated in 2010 and I am not sure how much the facilities have been updated, but I personally felt the seating accommodations in the library were due for an upgrade.
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?
Albina: Coming from New York City, my opinion is somewhat biased, but there's definitely plenty to do. No student really stays exclusively on campus, but they also rarely venture into Downtown Buffalo. On campus, people generally participate in Greek events, school club event, sports, free concerts hosted on campus (All-American Rejects, Sean Paul, Ludacris, etc.), guest speakers (we had Bill Nye, Stephen Colbert, Al Gore, Michael Moore, the Dalai Lama). Off campus, students went up to Clifton Hill, across the border into Canada, which is a popular tourist attraction zone. There's dance clubs, an indoor water park, Ferris wheel, casinos, wax museums, and much more. Buffalo takes its haunted houses very seriously, so don't miss your opportunity to visit at least one on Halloween. There's the usual bowling alleys, pool halls, laser tag locations, as well as several local wildlife reserves for nature people. The city is full of spirit, with frequent local concerts, and sports fans: Buffalo Bills Football, Buffalo Sabres Hockey, and Buffalo Bandits Lacrosse. Finally, this is the birth place of buffalo wings, so one should definitely never leave this place without getting some. I felt the environment had something for everyone, but you definitely get more out of it by either having your own car or knowing someone who does.
VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?
Albina: The student body is huge. The chances of running into someone on campus you know, while not heading to or from the same class, isn't impossible, but unlikely. However, despite that, you really get to see most of the same people, based on your program of study, so you never really feel odd or uncomfortable. Generally, prerequisite basic classes are very large. You can expect your basic Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics, World Civilizations, and a few others depending on your field of study, to have something like 200 students. However, these classes then have smaller recitation meetings of 15-20 students which allows you to review the material and answer any questions you may have had during lecture. Most English, Writing, Art, History, and upper level classwork classes are quite small. I've had a Genomics course with only 10 students, seated in a circle. Large lecture halls are definitely more difficult if you ever need to request a recommendation, because you need to put a lot more effort to stand out, but in terms of the education itself, I never found it very problematic. We are all grown adults and we pay a lot of money for this education, even with the reduced rates for state residents, so taking advantage of the large numbers as a reason to cut class is just silly and not recommended.
VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.
Albina: Many classes were memorable at UB, but my favorite professor was Dr. Boyd who taught World Civilizations. He would not only teach effectively, but he was very engaging in his lessons. Along with video clips to show important aspects of a lesson, he utilized volunteers to reenact battle tactics from wars, how certain tools were used, and much more. This was the most hands-on History course I have ever been a part of, and with his enthusiasm I was considering pursuing a minor in History/Anthropology, just to have a class with him again.
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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.