A Day in the Life at Stanford University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Kenneth is a New York City tutor specializing in Calculus tutoring, Algebra tutoring, Geometry tutoring, and more. He is a graduate of Stanford University with a Bachelor’s degree in Physics. See what he had to say about his 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? 

Kenneth: The campus is absolutely beautiful, and between the Spanish architecture and the immaculately maintained gardens and other green spaces, any walk from place to place is sure to be an enjoyable one. And if you're not in the mood to hoof it, Stanford maintains a free shuttle bus service called the Marguerite, which makes transportation fairly convenient. The school itself is fairly sprawling and the surrounding towns are quite suburban, so the atmosphere on campus is quiet and very safe – and San Francisco is just an hour and change north on the Caltrain, if you've got some free time and an itch for some city excitement. 

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

Kenneth: The teaching community on campus is in general very engaging, available and supportive. My advisor would actually check in with me on his own more frequently than I reached out to him during my first two years, and nearly every professor and TA I had would personally invest themselves in their students' success.

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

Kenneth: The dorms at Stanford are all very well maintained, with generally spacious rooms (as dorm rooms go), plenty of options in the dining halls, and homey common spaces, which more often than not are equipped with a piano and big screen TV. The dorm common areas were often the sites of little get-togethers whenever a few dorm-mates felt they needed a respite from coursework.

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?

Kenneth: Stanford puts quite a bit of effort into making every program world class in its respective subject area, and the school offers a wide range of opportunities for students to design their own program of study. I did a double major in Physics and Philosophy, really just because I was the contemplative type and wanted to ponder the “big questions.” Both programs are very well supported, and in fact, Stanford is consistently rated as one of the best schools in the country to study either subject. 

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?

Kenneth: The school goes out of its way to cultivate a fun, social atmosphere for undergrads (especially freshmen), operating under the philosophy that the people you meet there will both be lifelong friends and valuable professional networking assets in the future. And the results are pretty undeniable, I must say. I was always very (VERY) introverted when I was younger, but my initial sheepishness as a freshman was shortly swept aside amidst the flurry of activities, social gatherings, etc., available to students, and years later, many of the people I met in my first year at Stanford are still some of my best friends. Although the Greek community drives a lot of the social activity on campus, there was always a pretty wide world of social events and what have you going on outside of the fraternities.

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

Kenneth: The career services offered by Stanford, through a variety of avenues, were invaluable as a student and even for a couple of years after graduating. Furthermore, every quarter, there is a job fair that invariably attracts many big name corporations and non-profits. The school invests very heavily in making sure students are well prepared to put what they've learned to work 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?

Kenneth: There are many subject-specific libraries, lounges, and other study spaces available all over campus, and as a result, most of them are rarely crowded. Around finals season, the main computer center in Tressider Student Union, and in the two biggest libraries, Greene and Meyer, can tend to get a bit stuffed. But for the most part, there are plenty of options for quiet, comfortable spaces to hunker down and labor through a problem set or reading assignment.

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? 

Kenneth: The adjacent town is Palo Alto, which is a pretty suburban, though quite affluent, town. There are a number of shops and restaurants in “downtown” Palo Alto, which is easily accessible from campus, and which offers the occasional easy distraction if you just want to take a brief breather from campus life. But If you'd like to check out something more exciting than the restaurants on University Avenue, I'd say a trip up to San Francisco is what's called for, which from most dorms takes around two hours total. Freshmen tend to stick more to the campus, but as upperclassmen, my friends and I became regulars at our few favorite spots in Palo Alto, and as often as we could, we'd make time to head up to SF to find something more fun to occupy ourselves with. 

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

Kenneth: The student body is quite large, but due to the range of programs and courses offered, I had very few large classes, which seemed to be most people's experience as well. Of course, this will depend on what area of study you go into – Psychology and Economics lectures tend to be pretty huge, for instance – but in most majors, the student-teacher ratio is very desirable.

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

Kenneth: Before I decided to tack on the Philosophy major, and I was just a simple budding physicist, a friend of mine leaned on me to take a course on Existentialism with him, which was taught by Professor Lanier Anderson. Professor Anderson was widely acknowledged – even outside the Philosophy Department – as a brilliant and inspiring lecturer, and he lived up to his reputation. He gave incredibly rousing lectures on the works of Kierkegaard, Nietsche, and Sartre, and connected their ideas with present day examples of what it means to lead a passionate and authentic life, often drawing upon the experiences of an old departed friend of his as an exemplar. The final lecture of the course was so gripping and emotionally vivid, it elicited a standing ovation. I added the Philosophy major the following quarter.

Check out Kenneth’s tutoring profile.

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