A Day in the Life at Northwestern University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Jasmine is a Chicago tutor specializing in numerous subjects including AP English tutoring, SAT prep tutoring, Essay Editing tutoring, and much more. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology and Legal Studies from Northwestern University, from which she graduated in 2013. 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?

Jasmine: Northwestern University is located in Evanston, Illinois—the suburb just north of Chicago. It is a 12-mile campus that can be both biked and walked. It also sits right next to Lake Michigan with its own beach. The campus has a main street, called Sheridan Road, which has free shuttles running for students and faculty throughout the school year. Car access to campus is limited, and students must pay parking fees to park on campus.

The Evanston campus is both urban and safe, which is one of the reasons many students are attracted to it. It has the hustle and bustle that makes it feel like a city, while being clean and safe.

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

Jasmine: Professors, advisers, teaching assistants, and other students are very available. Northwestern University is a great training ground for learning how to ask for help and take advantage of opportunities offered. Because it is a top research university that is consistently ranked among the best in the nation by the likes of U.S. News and World Report, it is very rigorous and requires students to mature as they navigate classroom, internship, research, and extracurricular experiences with some of the top people in various fields.

Teachers post their office hours on syllabi, content management systems, and their office doors, and they get very excited when students make use of their assistance.

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

Jasmine: Dorm life is very exciting. There is a residential college system that allows students to choose dorms based on common interests, such as public affairs, women’s issues, communications, and science. There are regular dorms for students wanting that traditional, movie-like dorm experience.

Once admitted, students must fill out a survey that asks about their housing preferences. From there, the residential staff does its best to place students where they choose. All freshmen are required to live on campus. After that, students are allowed to live off-campus, which is a viable option because Evanston is the perfect college town.

Dining rooms are central places for meetings, both formal and informal. They offer a variety of foods, including kosher, vegan, and cultural/celebratory options. Students buy housing plans at the start of the school year, and they are able to use points from those plans to purchase meals or to buy food from the small convenience stores located near every dining hall. Also, some dorms have small cafes. In the student center, called Norris, there are familiar restaurants like Jamba Juice, Subway, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Weekly, dining halls host firesides. At these residential events, professors, teaching assistants, and other expert guests visit students to discuss current events.

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?

Jasmine: I was a Sociology and Legal Studies major – a decision I made largely because of the relatively small sizes of both departments and the strength of the faculty members’ resumes. My work in both fields afforded me several phenomenal internships and scholarships.

In addition to the tremendous access the majors granted me, I chose them because they were broad enough to allow me career flexibility while both being focused on civic engagement and social justice. They laid a great foundation for the Master of Social Work I am pursuing in graduate school this coming fall.

Of course, Northwestern is a research university, so students interested in research gain a ton of faculty access. Also, programs involving research, like the natural and social sciences, are well funded. Northwestern has one of the best journalism program in the country, so its faculty and alum are very involved in ensuring students are prepared for and have access to the best internships and jobs. From conversations with students in other majors, what I’ve described is pretty much the experience across the board.

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?

Jasmine: Meeting people as a freshman is not difficult at all. Orientation week, peer advising groups, freshmen classes, and dorm staff are all dedicated to making the freshman transition period smooth. This means the people and programming inform you about the ins and outs of social and academic life, introduce you to all conceivable resources (from physical and mental health services to advisers, career services, and student group leaders), and remain available for any bumps along the way.

I worked as a minority recruitment coordinator in the Office of Undergraduate Admission. In this role, I set up programming that connected minority students to current students, so that they would have these connections on campus months before arriving and could sustain them throughout their college experiences.

Greek life is very visible on campus. Panhellenic, National Panhellenic, and Multicultural Councils are represented. They produce many student leaders and help support important campus initiatives. However, if a student does not choose to become Greek, he or she can still have a rich social life independent of those organizations and their programming. 

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

Jasmine: The university-wide Career Center and career support offices within different departments are indispensible. They connect with alumni in hiring positions and establish strategic relationships with employers in the Chicagoland area, as well as national and international businesses. These connections allow them to coordinate hiring fairs and other campus recruiting events, especially for those students interested in banking and consulting.

Individual departments tend to have their own career fairs or featured company meet-and-greets, which allow students to present resumes, hear from the hiring teams for top businesses, and network with other undergraduate, graduate, and faculty attendees. Many of these events are catered, which is important if you are a busy college kid not wanting to cook or buy your dinner. Also, alumni services and email listservs for different majors will post job opportunities almost daily.

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

Jasmine: All available study spaces are well decorated, spacious, easily accessible (and capable of being booked for meetings and programming), and close to at least one of the many dining options on campus.

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? 

Jasmine: Evanston is located just north of Chicago, so anything you could ask of a major city is at most a 30-minute train ride away. Also, Evanston is renowned for its diverse and delicious selection of restaurants. Shopping is a featured part of the Evanston experience, as Urban Outfitters, American Apparel, Gap, The North Face, and many other retailers call it home. Evanston has countless small restaurants that appeal to niche audiences. As I mentioned before, Evanston is the perfect college town with its food options, shopping, movie theatre, hotels (which are frequently booked for large campus events), and convenient housing for off-campus students.  

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

Jasmine: Generally, the undergraduate student body hovers around 8,000, spread pretty evenly across all four classes. The class sizes were suited perfectly to the types of classes I took. Also, in time, you learn that you want a nice mix of small and large classes because of the different energies the professors bring and because some subjects are better suited to lecture than discussion.

Practically every large class (meaning about 25 or more) had mandatory discussion sections, which are separate class meetings of between 10 and 15 students that meet to dig deeper into class material. They serve as great spaces to prepare for tests and to gain participation points for your final grade.

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

Jasmine: My greatest experience was a civic engagement course that was tied to an internship. The field studies class was quite innovative, in that the professor sat with us in a discussion circle as she moderated intensely engaging conversations about social injustice, community organizing, and personal responsibility. We read phenomenal, groundbreaking literature that solidified my interest in social engagement as a career. From our independent readings, students were able to lead classes as well, making it clear to me how much a successful classroom allows everyone to be students and teachers at different times. Finally, the connection between what was taught and what was needed for the internships was clear. Sometimes, what is learned in class can feel remote from what is needed for a successful career. That was not the case in this class, though.

Check out Jasmine’s tutoring profile.

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