The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Brandon graduated from Saint Louis University in 2011 with a Bachelor’s degree in Math, French, and Philosophy. He is a New York City tutor specializing in Calculus tutoring, Literature tutoring, History tutoring, and more. See what he had to say about his undergraduate experience:
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?
Brandon: I used my bike everyday. Biking was the order of the day; everyone started biking around 2009 and that was it. St. Louis is a really big cycling city. A car was nice, but a bike was much cheaper and more convenient for getting around. Plus, it's a great way to stay fit since you can't always make it to the gym. Public transportation isn't too hard to figure out, especially with Google Maps now, but you really don't even need it.
VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?
Brandon: They were really accommodating. I was pretty fortunate to have really good teachers and small classes. If I needed to set up a meeting with my teacher, I could do it every day.
VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?
Brandon: I lived in a 16-story dorm comprised of 11 female levels and 5 male levels. Living there was paradise, mostly because my dorm was in the absolute center of campus and I would never be late to any of my classes. Socializing was super easy; we just left our doors open and people would come and talk to us.
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?
Brandon: There's a very strong Engineering program, a burgeoning medical/pre-medical program, and a great business school. Certain liberal art disciplines within the liberal arts sphere were number one in the country, mostly specializations in Philosophy and Theology. I started out doing Aerospace/Mechanical Engineering and Mathematics, but I didn't like the size of the lectures and the labs were disorganized. Eventually, I dropped Engineering but stayed with Mathematics and added Philosophy and French as well. I was already several classes deep into each of those programs, and I loved what I was learning in those classes – they helped me develop important skills. Neither French nor Philosophy are very practical on their own, but grouped together with Math, I learned how to analyze, describe, and express phenomena both technically and creatively.
Math and French are mainstays at most schools, so they're somewhat a given in terms of support. Philosophy, however, has recently been on the chopping block for a lot of schools. The strength of the department and the sheer number of Ph.D’s it has ensures that there's a steady stream of students specifically going to SLU for Philosophy programs instead of just falling into it as a fallback option.
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?
Brandon: Making friends at a college like SLU (with a large range of social circles and activities) is one of the easiest things in the world, regardless of how shy or outgoing you are. The setup of dorms and the volume of students encourage socialization and group activity. The people I met my freshman year, about 7 years ago, are people I still talk with almost daily and are incredible friends, despite the fact that we're all over the country.
VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?
Brandon: The Career Center is one of those chronically under-utilized services on campus. Most people don't think of requesting their services until after they've graduated, then look around saying "What now?" Boeing, Macdonnell Douglas, Monsanto, InBev, Purina, and about a hundred other reputable companies have a strong presence in career fairs and job postings.
VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?
Brandon: You can find whatever kind of study environment you're looking for. Overcrowded and bustling areas are available in the student center if you 'study socially', but completely vacant study rooms are available for reserve in the library as well.
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?
Brandon: Downtown St. Louis is just a short 2 miles away. Cardinals baseball games are a massively popular activity in the fall and spring, and there is a rapidly growing quality restaurant and nightlife scene. St. Louis has improved remarkably over the last 10 years; it has been incredible to witness. Younger students tend to stick around campus which has its own social scene, and as they become juniors and seniors, students tend to explore the city much more and appreciate it beyond the Midtown/campus area.
VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?
Brandon: The student body is about 12,000 total. It's a great template for a mid-size university. Class sizes vary wildly depending on the subject and scope of the class. During my freshman year, I took a Chemistry 101 lecture that was required for almost everybody and it had almost 350 students. My final year, I took a Master's class on teaching methods for foreign languages with just one other student. I had some classes with just 4 students, a lot with 8-12, intro classes with 20-30, and just a few lectures with 60-350. Overall, the ratio was very good, though.
VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.
Brandon: My senior year, I was enrolled in a very tough math class for advanced statistics. It was the second semester of a year-long course. I got too complacent and thought that since the homework was only worth 10 percent of the grade, I could get away with not doing it and still get a passing grade and graduate. When it came time to take the final exam, the professor ended up taking the homework questions almost directly from the homework, and they were quite difficult. I ended up running out of time on the exam, didn't pass, and didn't have essentially free homework points to get me back into passing territory. I had to wait a whole year to take the course again. What I learned from that is to always do what you can for easy points! I've done every single homework assignment since then! It may seem annoying, but it's the easiest and most efficient way to stay sharp and keep the material in your brain over the course of a semester. Do your homework! Not doing it literally cost me thousands of dollars and a whole year.
Check out Brandon’s tutoring profile.
The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.