Should I Go To The University of Chicago?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Julie is a New York City tutor who specializes in a wide array of subjects including LSAT prep tutoring, Trigonometry tutoring, and Writing tutoring. She graduated from The University of Chicago in 2009 where she studied Comparative Human Development. Check out her review of her 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? 

Julie: The University of Chicago is located in Hyde Park, a diverse neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Hyde Park is beautiful -- tree lined streets, classic Chicago architecture (including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, right on campus), and lots of parks. It is fairly accessible by public transportation -- there are several bus options for getting downtown (about 30 minutes), or you can take the bus to the El to access other Chicago neighborhoods. When I lived in Hyde Park, there weren’t many late-night or shopping options, which made having a car a huge convenience. These days, there’s a 24-hour diner and they’re opening up a Whole Foods, so Hyde Park is definitely gentrifying! As far as safety goes, the South Side is a fairly high crime area, but Hyde Park is mostly sheltered from it and the university has its own private police force (rumor has it it’s the 2nd largest in the world, after the Vatican) and various late-night transportation options to keep students safe.

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

Julie: UChicago emphasizes “the life of the mind,” and to that end, professors are readily available to chat after class about any issues. Most hold regular office hours and will also, of course, meet by appointment. All of the professors I had were very approachable and classes tend to be small and informal, with everyone encouraged to participate in discussion. Teaching assistants hold regular study sessions which can be especially helpful for core math/science classes (which, incidentally, are some of the only big lecture classes we have).

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

Julie: All first-year students live on campus. Dorms are broken up into houses of approximately 50-60 students who live with a Resident Assistant (a third or fourth year student who lives in a regular dorm room) and Resident Heads (university faculty and staff who live in an in-house apartment). During orientation, called O-Week, there are plenty of activities designed to help you bond with your housemates and most UChicago students stay close with people from their house throughout their four years at college and beyond. I live with my first-year roommate and most of my best friends from college were fellow Shorey-ites. The house system serves as a support system/surrogate family during your first year, when you’re away from home for the first time.

The dorms vary pretty widely. They were all built at different times, so some are quite modern with private baths and suites, but others are pretty old school with standard dorm rooms and shared baths. It’s pretty much luck of the draw, too -- although you can request a room in the new dorm, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. I lived in a riot proof cinderblock 1960’s building called Pierce during my first year, in a 9‘x11’ cell with shared co-ed bathrooms, while some people lived in two and three bedroom apartments in the Shoreland, a former luxury hotel. Dining options vary accordingly as well, but the food is generally fresh and already paid for (i.e. FREE!), which is the best part.

Most students choose to move off campus after their first or second year. Apartments are super cheap and readily available. They are walking (and biking) distance from campus and definitely help to create some distance between home and school, which is very important for sanity, especially during finals.

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? 

Julie: UChicago is probably most famous for the Economics department, but all majors are well supported. The overall level of instruction is very high and there are a wide variety of classes offered in all majors. Plus, there are a lot of opportunities for interdisciplinary study. My major, Human Development, is an interdisciplinary social sciences major that allowed me to take classes across a wide variety of fields in order to explore my interests. 

UChicago also has a comprehensive Core, which means that every student gets a good knowledge base in the sciences, math, the humanities, and the social sciences. When I was a student, we also had a physical fitness and swimming requirement (which you could place out of), but that’s been done away with since (much to my peers’ chagrin!).

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? 

Julie: The house system means everyone has built-in friends their first year, and my closest friends first-year were definitely people from my house. I also made friends in my classes -- similar interests! -- and in my dorm. If you’re into clubs, organizations, and sports, there are plenty to choose from for any interest and plenty of friends to be made through these activities. I participated in a group that tutored local elementary school students in reading and writing, for example. I also made friends at work (most people work about 15-20 hours a week while at school). While there are fraternities on campus and first-years do often go to frat parties, Greek life is not a big part of the social scene.

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

Julie: I didn’t really make use of Career Services during my time on campus (though maybe I should have). Plenty of companies do recruit on campus and there are various opportunities for summer internships and fellowships through Career Services. College alumni also tend to be very receptive to current students and young alumni reaching out. The alumni network is particularly strong in big cities.

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

Julie: There are plenty of places to study (including a 24-hour study space in the Reg, which is the main library). There are a number of libraries on campus, with cubicles and comfy chairs and long tables and any other study configuration you can think of. UChicago students definitely study a lot. We also drink a lot of coffee, and there are a bunch of student and university run coffee shops on campus to get that caffeine fix.

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?  

Julie: Chicago is a vibrant city with plenty of fun things to do. There’s a great music scene, lots of exciting restaurants at every price point, great museums, great shopping, great outdoor space – it’s pretty much just great. Because it’s so cold in the winter (they’re not kidding when they say Windy City!), Chicago really comes alive in the spring and summer. There’s some kind of festival every weekend (lots of food and music themed ones, but others as well). Plus, you have Lake Michigan just a stone’s throw from campus for swimming, running, biking, barbecuing, and sports.

There are also plenty of activities on campus. UChicago has a great Theatre department and the student plays tend to be of high quality. There’s also improv, a cappella, concerts, lectures, and a student run movie theatre that shows a lot of wacky art house movies. Plus, there are plenty of restaurants and bars in Hyde Park if you don’t feel like going downtown.

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

Julie: UChicago is a large research university and the student body is fairly big with approximately 5,000 undergraduates and 15,000 students overall. That said, class sizes are typically small and it’s not unusual to have an upper level seminar with 5 or 6 people. I only had two or three big lecture courses (50-100 students) and they were all core courses. All of my electives and major courses were smaller, topping out at about 25 students. Upper level undergraduates are generally given full access to graduate level courses (provided they meet any requirements). 

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

Julie: UChicago has a three quarter Civilization requirement that many students fulfil by studying abroad for a quarter (the three quarters are condensed into intensive 3 week classes). I did my Civ requirement at the University’s Paris Center, where I did Western Civ entirely in French. I started with an optional, intensive four-week French language immersion program, where I spent about 8 hours a day studying, speaking, and writing French. Although it was extremely difficult, I had an absolutely amazing time, and recommend that everyone find a way to study abroad if it’s at all feasible.


Check out Julie’s tutoring profile.

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