A Day in the Life at University of California, Los Angeles

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Christine is a Los Angeles tutor specializing in SAT prep tutoring, French tutorinig, AP History tutoring, and more. She graduated from University of California, Los Angeles in 2013 with a Bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. See what she had to say about her 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?

Christine: UCLA sits between Bel Air and Westwood Village, a prime spot in the urban hub of Los Angeles. It’s located atop two hills, one dubbed “the Hill” where all the dorms are, and the hill of main campus where all the classrooms, lecture halls, and libraries are located. It’s about a 10-15 minute walk between the two. The first buildings of main campus were built in 1919, and much of “north campus,” where the humanities/social sciences classrooms are located, are beautiful old brick buildings, grassy quads, and big shady trees. “South campus,” where most of the math/science buildings are located, is a bit more modern. It’s the smallest UC campus by acreage, but it has the largest student body. This means that you’re much more likely to run into people you know, and that by your senior year, almost everyone looks familiar just because you’ve seen them walking the same route to class for four years. There is a bus that goes around the perimeter of campus, but I very rarely used it. As far as bikes on campus, I brought mine, and as long as you’re willing to brave the hills, it definitely makes the hill−to−hill commute substantially faster.  

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

Christine: All professors and TAs are required to offer an office hour each week, and while of course it varies by professor, in my experience, UCLA professors are generally deeply concerned about student learning; questions were always more than welcome, both in person at office hours and via email. 

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

Christine: Absolutely wonderful. Dorm life was an integral part of my first two years, and many of my closest friends, even post−graduation, are from my freshman year dorm floor. There are a few different living options at UCLA: residence halls, suites, and plazas. Residence Halls are what you might think of as “traditional” dorms where you share a room with one or two roommates and a bathroom with all the guys or girls on your floor (usually about 50 people). This is definitely the most social option, and I can’t recommend the residence hall experience enough for first-year students. There are so many opportunities for new friendships and connections in this kind of setup. You’ll be amazed how much you can bond while brushing your teeth at 2 a.m. Plazas are a bit more spacious and there is one shared bathroom for every two rooms. This style offers a bit more privacy. Suites are either two or three rooms connected by a common room and a bathroom. This style is by far the most spacious of the options, but also the most isolating, as it offers far fewer opportunities for interactions with other potential friends on your floor.

On-campus food is amazing. Tons of options of fresh, delicious food mean that students who have moved off campus treasure grabbing dinner on campus with their younger friends who still have meal swipes. “The Hill” has undergone massive renovations and construction of new buildings in the past few years as UCLA tries to offer a four-year housing guarantee for students. Despite this push for four-year on-campus housing, most students still choose to move off campus into the adjacent apartments just off campus for their third and fourth years. It’s generally less expensive to live off campus, though apartments in Westwood are quite expensive. Overall, though, I think that housing at UCLA fosters interaction, as most housing options are located in the same area, meaning that everyone has to trek the same 10-minute stretch between the dorms/apartments and classes. You basically see everyone you know on the way to class, making this big school feel a lot smaller than it actually is.

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?

Christine: In the humanities, the English and Psychology programs are huge on campus, and there are definitely a lot of students pursuing a pre-med track through a variety of science majors. I majored in Global Studies and minored in English because I was interested in a lot of different things. Global Studies is an interdisciplinary major that allowed me to take classes in several different departments, but which all related back to the common theme of globalization in the realm of either culture, governance, or markets. It was perfect for me because I was able to explore the connections between a lot of subjects that interest me, and still pursue my interests in literature and the English language as a minor.

While overall I did feel supported within the major, further developing support systems for interdisciplinary programs is definitely an area in which UCLA could improve. For example, many of my major requirements were classes in the Political Science or Economics departments, and because they were upper-division classes for those majors, they weren’t available to sign up for right away, and there were sometimes difficulties in making sure that registration restrictions for those classes were lifted. Despite that, Global Studies was a great experience and I encountered talented faculty, students who loved to connect the unexpected, and an incredible opportunity to pursue a diverse and personalized set of classes.

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? 

Christine: I was fortunate to land on an incredible freshman floor which was hugely helpful in terms of having a solid base of friends, but I also made a lot of friends through various study groups for different classes and through my involvement in lots of student organizations. While Greek life is definitely present (about 16% of students participate), it is definitely not necessary in order to have a healthy social life. Because UCLA is so big, it means that you don’t have to tap into any one specific community in order to make friends. There are over 1,000 student groups: the perfect niche is out there, you just have to find it.

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

Christine: There’s a lot of on-campus recruiting, especially in the fields of sales, accounting, consulting, engineering, and computer science. Lots of big and reputable firms recruit on campus, and the Career Center can definitely be helpful in terms of putting you in contact with relevant alumni and helping you to figure out how your personal interests can mesh with your professional goals. There is steep competition for Career Center appointments, though, so be sure to be prepared to be at your computer at 9 a.m. to book your appointment.

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

Christine: They’re great. I’ve never had trouble finding space to study. There are 10 libraries, tons of study spaces in campus coffee shops and in the student union, and of course every dorm floor has a lounge as well. While prime locations do fill up during midterms and finals (the cushy corner chair in Powell Library, for example), you can always find a quiet place to focus – or nap. 

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?  

Christine: While it’s in the middle of the massive city of Los Angeles, UCLA students often describe campus, and the adjacent Westwood village, as a “bubble.” It’s easy to walk to classes and events, and there’s so much to do on campus and in the dorms (IM dodgeball games, free salsa dancing on Bruinwalk, lectures, student organization events, exhibits, live performances, etc.) that many students, especially during their first year and especially those who get involved in a lot of extracurriculars, often find themselves on campus much of the time. This is awesome because there is so much offered right on campus, but I can’t stress how much I recommend getting off campus to explore. There’s so much to see and do, whether it’s hiking in Griffith Park, concerts in Hollywood and Silverlake, going to an improv or slam poetry performance, exploring the back canyons of Malibu, or choosing from what seems to be an infinite number of world class restaurants. It’s LA: you can find pretty much everything. While a car is definitely very helpful for exploring LA (it’s a tremendously sprawling city), it is decently accessible by bus, and UCLA students do receive discounts on bus fares. Santa Monica, for example, is about 25 minutes from UCLA via the Big Blue Bus.  

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

Christine: With 28,000 undergraduates, and an additional 13,000 grad students, UCLA is big. This was something that I was initially really concerned about, but with my major and minor combination, I was able to choose to take a lot of smaller, seminar style classes. My senior spring, all of my classes had less than 20 students. It really depends on your major and the types of classes you choose to enroll in. The GE classes are generally pretty big (the biggest are 419 students), but for all of those classes, in addition to the large lecture portion, you are also enrolled in a TA−led discussion section (about 20 students), where you have a chance to get to know your classmates better, ask more detailed questions, and get additional support if you need it. In big classes, that old adage “you get what you give” really rings true. It’s always possible to get more involved in your education, and bigger classes provide students with an opportunity to take initiative, though there are excellent support structures in place.

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

Christine: A class that challenged me the most: my senior Global Studies seminar, and the subsequent process of writing my final senior thesis. Working closely with a professor on the research of my choice was awesome, and while extremely difficult, I gained a lot from the experience. After 37 pages and innumerable footnotes, I feel like I can conquer any academic project that might lie in my future.

My most fun class: a tie between Gospel Choir (we sang, we clapped, we conquered) and a vaudeville/standup comedy studio theater class I took with Tom Orth. First day in the comedy class: Tom comes into the room, throws a binder on the floor, and tells the class of 20 to tell him what it is and where it came from. After a brief pause, everyone started making up stories: it was a meteor, it was a magic castle for very tiny inhabitants, it was Mount Everest, it was a portkey, it was the dollar I lost yesterday in a bet…It was our first exercise in stretching our imaginations. It was a class entirely about tapping into the power of childlike joy, liberating oneself from restrictions, connecting as an ensemble, and creating the most genuine storytelling possible. We danced and sang a lot, talked about everything from interviews to life on the farm, and on a lucky day, Tom might cartwheel. It was incredible, and totally unlike anything I had ever experienced.

Check out Christine’s tutoring profile.

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