A Day in the Life at University of California, Irvine

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Wyatt is currently a junior at University of California, Irvine majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He is a Los Angeles tutor specializing in AP English tutoring, Calculus tutoring, Essay Editing tutoring, and more. Check out his review of his school: 

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?

Wyatt: I go the University of California, Irvine (UCI), and the campus is definitely very beautiful. It is centered around Aldrich Park, which is a large circular area roughly one mile in circumference with trees, open grass, and paths snaking through it. This makes it easy to get anywhere on campus; simply walk through the park and you'll reach basically anywhere in five minutes or less. 

The main options for transportation are commuting (which I do), living in on-campus dorms (and therefore needing no vehicle transportation), and living in  slightly off-campus dorms. For the slightly off-campus dorms, and for anyone who needs to use them, there are shuttles that go from UCI to various housing areas to enable faster transportation. There are also bike racks on these shuttles so that you can ride your bike down to campus and then have the bus carry the bike back up when you aren't in a hurry to get to class. The downside to this is the shuttles are packed, and unless you have the schedule memorized, you can arrive at a bus stop right after a bus has left, and you have to wait for the next round. Personally, I have to deal with commuting and parking on campus very frequently, and I find that to be the one thing I like least about the campus. You have to pay a pretty hefty amount each month to get parking, but unless you actually live on campus, you cannot buy overnight parking without paying $14.00 each night you do so. This makes studying all night with friends very costly, even though it is quite necessary sometimes.

In sum, you do not “need” a car or bike, but having a bike is definitely nice for those times when you're out of sync with bus arrival, and having a car is great for exploring Irvine, as there are many great places to go if you just look around!

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

Wyatt: The professors and TAs (teaching assistants) are very helpful in general when you go to their office hours and e-mail them. There has only been one professor that I've had so far that didn't respond to me within three to three hours via e-mail during the school week (of course, on the weekends it can take a little longer), and I am currently finishing my junior year here. Oftentimes, TAs are extremely crucial to your learning, and I've found that the people who think TAs and professors aren't available are really the ones who haven't taken the time to go meet them at their office hours or talk to them after class about their problems; most people are very shy in that regard. My advice, regardless of where you end up going for school, is to make sure you ask questions the second you don't understand something. “The only dumb question is the one that isn't asked,” and if you don't get it, there's a high probability your classmates don't either (unless you're consistently missing class). 

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

Wyatt: I have commuted for all three years, so I do not have a great deal of information on dorm life. However, rooms are shared generally between two to three people, and are rather small. Dining options are usually pretty good, since it is a buffet at most places, and the food has a lot of variety, including themed buffet bars like Mexican food day, Chinese food day, etc. However, some days their food of the day can be underwhelming, but their burgers are always really good!           

Dorms are located on either side of Aldrich Park, although between the complexes “Middle Earth” and “Mesa,” there is a trade-off. Mesa has much nicer dorm rooms, but is about five to ten minutes further from everything (except for the School of the Arts) than Middle Earth is. Middle Earth is close to most things, but the dorms are much smaller. However, each dorm has Resident Advisors, RAs, who keep you involved in various dorm activities and provide socialization options, so the dorms are very rich in that regard.

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?      

Wyatt: I am not exactly sure which majors are best represented/supported. I know there are many Biology majors, and many Engineering majors, but that could be simply because I basically live my life on the Engineering side of campus. I study Mechanical Engineering, as it is a field in great demand in society today, and there should be a good amount of jobs open when I graduate. I think there are many options open for people to get involved in extracurricular activities and learn more about new facets of their major, including ESC (Engineering Student Council) events, ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) events, Engineering fairs, and many more activities, so in that sense I think the university cultivates great interest in my major, and supports it 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?           

Wyatt: It was very easy for me to make friends as a freshman. I looked at the club fair when I was a freshman, and immediately found ASME and VeVo (Vermillion Vocalists, an acapella group). Once I joined ASME and auditioned for VeVo and made it in, I made many friends, and also made friends with classmates in my major-specific classes, as we began to see each other every quarter for freshman year (and for the next two years). So making friends as a freshman is not difficult, it just requires you to go out and explore your options, and do what interests you. By doing that, you'll automatically find people who share hobbies with you, and that can be the beginning of a great friendship.           

Greek life can be either a big deal and a huge commitment or almost non-existent, depending on the people you hang out with and what you choose to do with your spare time. I personally am not affiliated with any fraternities, and so it does not impact my life at all. However, a friend of mine is in a fraternity and spends much of his free time planning and going to events for it.

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

Wyatt: I've heard many great things about it, and have been meaning to check it out, but I personally have not been to the Career Center. They do have a lot of information, though, and companies do recruit on campus at places like the Engineering fair.

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

Wyatt: The libraries are usually pretty empty in the early weeks of the quarter, but from weeks five through eight (midterms I and II) and week 10-finals week, the libraries can get very packed. You can always find space there, even if it is very packed—you just might not get to go to your favorite spot. There are many other random places on campus that have lounges, however, and some are quite comfy, quiet, and conducive to studying. I have a personal favorite place that I go to that has excellent wi-fi signal, free printing, long, luxurious sofas that I frequently nap on, and tables for working, but I seldom reveal where that is; I don't want it to get crowded! If you end up going to UCI, you'll have to explore to find it.

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? 

Wyatt: UCI is set in a very urbanized area, with downtown Irvine nearby, and many food options within a five to ten mile range of the campus, especially at the Irvine Spectrum, Diamond Jamboree, and The District (shopping centers). Here are a few suggestions for delicious food or a fun night that most people don't know about:     

-Mick's Karma Bar, about six to seven miles away. This place has burgers that are absolutely off the hook, amazing steak fries, and is set in the middle of a bunch of big business buildings, with a huge ring of palm trees encircling two half-circle pools of water, with neo-art benches situated on the outside. It is absolutely beautiful, and needless to say, it is a great place to take a date. My favorite is the fiery habanero burger with the strawberry-basil lemonade.           

-Cafe Rio, about ten to twelve miles away. A little bit further than Mick's, but this place is insane. Think of it like Chipotle, but with authentic Mexican food, even bigger portion sizes, and handmade real flour tortillas. Furthermore, they feature a delicious, creamy queso sauce that addicts every single person that I've had try it (including my lactose-intolerant girlfriend).           

-ImprovCity, less than five miles away. Located upstairs in Irvine Lanes, it's a little hard to find. However, for $10.00, you can have two hours of straight laughing, as these guys put together a great improv comedy show. Definitely merits a visit.     

These are just three places that stand out to me, but there are almost infinitely many to go to if you just drive down a major street like Jamboree and look at the places you pass. In sum, UCI is situated very nicely, due to its close proximity to many exciting, fun, or delicious establishments.

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

Wyatt: The student body is pretty huge, sitting at about 27,000 students. My class sizes really vary depending on what class it is. For a lot of Math and Physics classes, the classes were anywhere from 100-300 people. However, for Writing classes, I had 30 people in there, if that. Major-specific classes tend to be big as well, since everyone in that major has to take them, so an average Engineering class has about 300 students. This is good when you want to text or look up something on the internet or accidentally doze off, because it’s harder to be noticed, but this is bad for the same reason. I would advise, as I stated before, going to the professor's office hours to at least get some sort of facial recognition going (and to not sleep in class—you don't want to be the guy the professor notices and calls out in front of 300 people), so that you can possibly ask the professors for research advice/positions in the future.  

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

Wyatt: While good experiences are definitely enjoyable and worthwhile, I find the most learning through my mistakes, and so here is the thing I most regret.      

The first quarter of my freshman year, I took entry-level physics (which everyone needs for general requirements). It was exceptionally easy, and without even studying, I aced the final and the class. To top this off, I had done well in all of my other classes that quarter, and so I grew complacent with Physics. The next quarter, I took Newtonian Mechanics. Still in an over-confident mindset from the past quarter's success, and unwilling to wake up in the morning at 6:00 or earlier in order to get to campus in time for my 8:00 a.m. class, I put the class on the back burners and missed many lectures. I scored a passable grade on the midterm, but still didn't realize I was making a huge mistake. Once the final came around, I tried to cram a bunch of end-of-quarter material, but was unable to do so, as Physics picks up in difficulty very quickly. I ended up doing very poorly on the final, receiving a D+ in the class (my first and only failing grade). I was absolutely livid (at myself) for having done this. I spoke with my counselor, who said that a D+ in Physics was actually “passing” by the standards of the Physics department for that course, but I was obviously unsatisfied. I ended up retaking the course, actually trying this time, and got an A. From then on, I almost never missed class, and I take each class very seriously.      

The moral of this story is simply to not be lazy or complacent with any class, regardless of previous performance. Waking up for class at 8:00 is a real drag in college for some reason (it wasn't this painful in high school...), but it's just something that has to happen. Being there at every class is the only way to ensure that you can be as prepared as every other student in the class, and that you can therefore beat the curve.

Check out Wyatt’s tutoring profile.

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