The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Caroline is a Washington D.C. tutor who specializes in ACT prep tutoring and Biology tutoring. She is a 2013 graduate of Virginia Tech with a Bachelor’s degree in Microbiology. See what she had to say about her 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?
Caroline: A lot of the charm of Virginia Tech is its rural campus. The town of Blacksburg is small and friendly, and I have never felt threatened walking across the campus or down Main Street. There is a fantastic, free bus system for students that runs to the major apartment complexes and to several stops on campus. There are also many bike racks and fairly light traffic so that biking is not daunting. Tech is also unique because freshmen are allowed to have cars on campus, which is a bit of a rarity in larger universities.
VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?
Caroline: People are daunted by the class size of Virginia Tech, but the professors are remarkably available. They are required to have set office hours that you can attend with questions and most professors frequently encourage their students to take advantage of them. Most classes have TAs, though you will interact the most with them in lab classes (I was a Biology major, so I had lots and lots of labs). My academic adviser was my best resource at Tech, and also became my boss when he allowed me to work in his lab. We are still in contact and he is always available if I have questions or need advice.
VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?
Caroline: Virginia Tech freshmen are required to live on campus their first year and I believe that it was a very valuable opportunity for me. The freshman rooms are typical, small dorms with two people per room. Some have air conditioning, though most don’t. This is really only an issue at the beginning of the year however, because by September it’s usually cooled off and all rooms have very efficient heating. If a student decides to stay in dorms for the rest of their academic career, they can live in very nice suite- or hotel-style dorms. All of the academic buildings are on one side of the campus and dorms (and food!) on the other, so it really does feel like a large community when walking around on the student side of campus. No dorm is more than a 15-minute walk away from class and no more than five minutes from food. The dining halls are amazing, and include one buffet-style and many other a la carte options in multiple dining halls including lobster, Chik-Fil-A, Pizza Hut, and Dunkin Donuts!
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?
Caroline: The largest majors at Virginia Tech are the Natural Sciences (Biology, Chemistry, and Physics), Engineering (Mechanical, Electrical, and Computer), and Design (Industrial and Architectural). I was a Biology major with a focus in Microbiology. Virginia Tech is a research university, meaning that many professors are required to perform research as part of their job. Finding research opportunities in Biology was simple and really has helped my career potential after graduation. Professors of Biology were passionate and engaging, and were some of my favorite people outside of the topics they discussed. There are many clubs for all Natural Sciences and Engineering as well.
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?
Caroline: Freshman year was a rush of meeting new people in my dorm, classes, and clubs. Every freshman is there to look for friends and with over 20,000 undergraduate students, there is very likely to be someone at Tech whom you will become close with. Greek life is present and very active at Virginia Tech, with many of the major organizations represented, but it is not overbearing. The houses are set apart from campus and I never felt any pressure to follow the typical Greek path. I became a brother of Alpha Chi Sigma, the professional chemistry fraternity, and still keep in contact with other brothers and miss the many events that we sponsored in the Blacksburg community.
VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?
Caroline: Another perk of a large research university is the diversity of well-known companies that recruit at Tech. Major STEM companies recruit frequently, and there are separate job expos for engineers and other well-represented groups on campus. The Career Center is a very good resource to use to prepare for the interactions at these expos as well as for interviews after graduation.
VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?
Caroline: Dorm lounges are frequently filled with groups of friends on the weekends, but tend to thin out and quiet down during the week. It is very common to see people studying on weeknights, though it is still a more active area than the library would be. The student union is very nice and spacious, and many students choose to meet in small groups there to work on projects or grab some food while they study (there is a Sbarro for tasty pizza, as well as a couple of other food options). The library is an excellent place to study and is truly massive. It has more than enough computers for everyone and tons of table space. The wi-fi is strong across campus and very fast in the library, so you can bring your laptop and scope out a table quickly. There are even study rooms that are free for any student to use. You can shut the door for an intense study session, and they even have large whiteboards for working on practice problems or organizing your ideas.
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?
Caroline: Blacksburg is a small, rural town with many less people than the student body of Virginia Tech. If you want a large, fast-paced, urban environment, then Blacksburg is not for you. However, I adored it because of the numerous hiking opportunities nearby (you’re literally in the Appalachian Mountains and will often run into hikers doing the full Trail or parts of it). My favorite doughnut place in the word was right down the street from my apartment, and was a local business that had been there for decades. The restaurants downtown are fantastic. Downtown Blacksburg really picks up on the weekends and especially on game days. I absolutely love going to Hokie Football games, and the town swells in size as alumni flood in from every bordering state to support their favorite team. If downtown and sports aren’t your thing, however, you can always hang out on the Drillfield (a massive quad) in the middle of Tech’s campus and read or participate in club sports that practice there every evening.
VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?
Caroline: As I’ve mentioned, Virginia Tech is a pretty large university. Coming from a small private high school, I was afraid the large class size would be daunting and uncomfortable. Instead, it pushed me to work harder and try to stand above the average. In more general classes, like Intro Chemistry, a class size of 300-400 is not uncommon. However, as you become a more specialized student, your classes will shrink. My 400 level senior Biology classes frequently had 30-50 people, which was an ideal learning environment for the more challenging material.
VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.
Caroline: In one of those large classes I was talking about, Ecology, there were about 300 other students. The professor was gregarious, passionate, and engaging, but the material was difficult for many people. He would make a point to test you on your understanding of concepts, not memorization of facts, and most of his test was reasoning through questions that you hadn’t been hyper exposed to in lecture. I would study as much as I could, take tests, and go home feeling like I had failed. Somehow, the subject just clicked with me, though. I got high scores on all of my tests and ended up explaining concepts to classmates when they realized that I understood them. At the end of the semester, I placed out of my final exam because of my high average grade.
On the last day of class, our professor walked in with an armful of roses. He told us that it was his tradition to give something back to the hardest working students in his class every semester. He called out names one by one, and gave out a rose to the students (male and female!) with the highest averages in the class. When he finished giving out single roses, there was one full bouquet sitting on the table in front of him. He called out my name, shook my hand, and gave me an armful of flowers in front of the class. I had managed to get the highest average score and I could not have been prouder of any experience at Virginia Tech.
Check out Caroline’s tutoring profile.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.