A Day in the Life at The University of Chicago

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Jonathan is a Los Angeles tutor specializing in SAT prep tutoring, History tutoring, AP English tutoring, and more. He is a 2013 graduate of The University of Chicago with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. Check out his review of 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?

Jonathan: The University of Chicago is located in the Hyde Park neighborhood on the South Side of the city of Chicago, about a 10-minute walk away from Lake Michigan. Hyde Park has a sleepy college town vibe with lots of old houses and large trees. The campus itself is rather compact with the medical school, the business school, the law school, and all other academics all within a five minute walk of each other. Because of this, you don’t need buses or a bike to get between classes. However, dormitories and off-campus housing are more spread out in the neighborhood, such that the school does provide a comprehensive shuttle system that runs throughout Hyde Park. Enough valuable amenities such as drug stores, grocery stores, and fun restaurants are far enough away that if you don’t want to have to rely on the shuttle schedule, it is very convenient to have a bike, and cars provide the luxury of easily accessing downtown at a moment’s notice since we are remarkably close to Lake Shore Drive. The campus is very secure considering its location, but nonetheless, there is some local urban crime that does occur on campus and in the neighborhood.

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

Jonathan: Instructor and adviser availability depends on the class and the department. Generally speaking, almost everyone is available and wants to help. However, there are some high profile professors who teach large classes who are much less available. Luckily, they almost always come with TA’s who do their best to be there for every student. I never had a class where I felt I did not receive support that I was asking for.

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

Jonathan: Dorm life at Chicago depends greatly on where you end up housing. There are a lot of different dorms on campus in very different locations and with very different cultures. Some of them are apartment-style, some of them exclusively doubles, some of them tiny singles, some of them very close to campus, others rather far. Generally speaking, there is a dorm for everyone on campus, whether you are looking for a wide social circle, night-life, a quiet study space, or an intimate residential community. The dorms are varied enough that if you read the materials provided by the school during the housing process, you should easily be able to determine which dorm is right for you.

The dining halls are not great. Food is all you can eat and is not very high quality. However, the food is consistent and amenities like the salad bar, a sandwich station, and a cereal bar are always present and very nice. Students generally lament the meal plans and try to get off them as soon as they are allowed. Food on campus other than dining halls is generally good; there are a lot of nice student-run coffee shops that have prepared meals from local restaurants, as well as one nice food court that has multiple good options.

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?

Jonathan: Economics, Political Science, English, Math, and Physics are all programs with a lot of support and representation on campus, Economics being the most popular major. However, almost every area of study has a variety of course listings and programs on campus. I did not encounter anyone at Chicago that felt like their major was neglected. If anything most people found their programs to be rather demanding and to have a variety of options to the point that it could be difficult to know which of a host of good professors one should take a certain class in. I studied Political Science at Chicago because the variety and depth of courses offered let me craft a program of study that was suited directly to my interests. Chicago was very supportive of my desire to take a wide variety of classes and their graduation requirements were designed to allow me to do so.

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?

Jonathan: Chicago gets hard for many people as early as their first midterms in their first quarter. Because of this, making friends is easy, but keeping friends is harder as people’s schedules swell up with classes, work, clubs, and internships. Luckily, the student body is diverse enough that it is not hard to find a community that shares your interests. The main thing is to be willing to get involved. Many people at Chicago don’t leave much time free to do nothing, so the easiest way to meet people and make friends is to become active in a variety of activities and find the culture that best includes you.

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

Jonathan: There is a lot of recruiting on campus. Every kind of company you can think of recruits during our career fairs and through the school. However, full-time employment does not seem to be the focus of the Career Center; instead, they primarily focus on getting people summer internships, so if you want to get a great job, your best bet is to watch those internship job boards closely and apply to a lot of them. They are all decently competitive but there are so many that you will likely find one you like, and it is those experiences and connections that will give you a better picture of how to get employed.

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

Jonathan: The libraries and dorm lounges are almost universally comfortable, spacious, and easily available. There are tons of students who need to study, but also two giant libraries on campus where they can do so, as well as multiple other lounges and reading rooms on campus and in dorms. Chicago has spent a lot of time and money making sure people are able to study comfortably, and it shows.

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? 

Jonathan: The local town is pretty basic. There are some nice sandwich shops, some pharmacies, some takeout places, a couple of nice dinner restaurants, etc. Generally, Hyde Park has a lot of basic amenities but it is not very exciting. However, we are on a bus line that connects to the L-train system and the other buses, both of which are easy methods to get to downtown Chicago in about half an hour to 45 minutes. Between the hip North Side neighborhoods and the beautiful and well developed downtown, if there is something you want to do, you can find it in Chicago. You just need to make the time while doing lots of schoolwork, something the majority of Chicago students rarely do.

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

Jonathan: The student body is around 5,000 undergraduates, which is enough that there are always new people to meet, but not so many people that services are clogged up and it is impossible to distinguish yourself. Class sizes are usually less than 20 people, even if they are science or math classes, such that it is possible to get personal attention from incredible and famous professors.

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

Jonathan: I took an English class with 40 other people in which we close-read Lolita for an entire quarter. Our professor, Malynne Sternstein, was incredibly passionate and funny for the duration, and the class developed in to an exciting free-form discussion with an immense amount of participation. There were moments in that class when Malynne really gave her all, emotionally and intellectually, and made us think in ways we never had before. That class singularly validated the rest of my experience at Chicago.

Check out Jonathan’s tutoring profile.

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