Should I Go To University of California, Davis?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Jason is a San Francisco tutor specializing in Essay Editing tutoring, Latin tutoring, AP English tutoring, and more. He is a graduate of University of California, Davis with a Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Literature and Russian. See what he had to say about 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?

Jason: UC Davis’ campus is very nice. Some of the architecture is bland, a function of when the campus went through periods of expansion. But the quad is a great place to lie in the sun; there are grassy areas and benches all over campus to sit outside and study or hang out, and the overall environment is friendly, academically-minded, and very “college,” so to speak. The library is first-rate, with millions of volumes and plenty of study space. The student facilities are also excellent, and there is no shortage of ways to stay in shape, to meet up with friends, and to study. I have experience on other college campuses, and Davis is especially nice and easy. The campus abuts downtown Davis, which is a cute, safe college town with lots of shops, casual eateries, and movie options. Other parts of Davis also offer dining and entertainment options, such as a great brewery, batting cages, bike paths and parks, and a variety of restaurants that make for good date-spots. The city of Davis is a college town surrounded by rural and agricultural areas. If you want a more “city” evening, Sacramento is only 20 minutes to the east, and San Francisco is about a 90-minute drive to the west.

UC Davis and the city of Davis are about as bike-friendly as it gets. The landscape is basically flat, the streets are wide, and the motorists know that there are bikes all around, so they are considerate and careful. In addition, student fees also make it free to ride the local bus network (which is actually run by the Student Association). Getting around campus is a breeze, although the campus is quite big, and sometimes you have to cover a large distance (relatively speaking) between classes. This, however, is solved by the bicycle. The only thing is that, when it rains, you’re either walking or getting that mud stripe up your back from the bike tire. But most classes, honestly, are in central campus, which can be comfortably crossed on foot in about 10 minutes.

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

Jason: My experience with the faculty, staff, and teaching assistants (TAs) was great. I was often visiting office hours, which professors and TAs kept reliably, and I got a lot more out of my education because I made this extra effort. It’s really the only way to get a great letter of recommendation coming out of college.  My professors were always quick to reply to emails, and they were always available to get a coffee and discuss class stuff.

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

Jason: I lived in Tercero, which is one of the housing areas. The DC (dining commons) was the best on campus, and students came from all the other living areas to eat at our DC. The food was fine. It’s not Paris, but what college campus is? The DC would often do gourmet nights, though, where they let the cooks present special meals, such as gorgonzola walnut pasta, or Asian specialties.  The salad bar was solid, and the grill was reliable. 

The living quarters were functional, but not luxurious. Unless things have changed, your dorm will not be especially posh, but I also can’t recall ever thinking that things were bad. It’s a dorm. How nice does it have to be? I had internet, air conditioning, furniture, and friends. I was a 15-minute walk to my classes, or a five-minute bike ride. Seems fine to me. 

The best part was all the social events my dorm put on. We would watch football games and the Oscars in the common area, we did movie nights, and even held a formal dance. Everyone in my dorm building was pretty close, too. We were often on intramural teams together for all the sports and did a lot of socializing in town. The university does a good job of giving students lots of socializing options: there are tons of clubs and the intramural (IM) program is one of the most robust in the country.

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?

Jason: I would say that the hard sciences are the most represented and get the most funding at Davis. Most of my friends were computer science or biological systems engineers, but I was a comparative literature major with a focus on Russian and Classics. The Classics program was small but strong, and my preparation helped me considerably in graduate school. The Russian program was even smaller, but the professors I had were invested in me and very helpful.  In general, the comparative literature program was more focused on Spanish and French, and so most of my fellow majors were in those classes. I took a lot of French classes, too, and they were excellent. I got great training from excellent scholars who made sure we had the help we needed. 

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?

Jason: I didn’t participate in Greek life, so I can’t really say how central it was to the campus social scene, but I know there were fraternities. As it worked out, I made my best friends on day one in my dorm, and we hung out pretty much everyday after that. I also made friends in my classes and would play basketball, go out, or hang out with people I met that way. The campus would show great movies in one of the lecture halls, there was a pub on campus, and other activities to keep people from disappearing into their studies. Again, the IM leagues were also a great way to meet people.

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

Jason: Because I was both graduate school bound and had a major that isn’t really recruited into big companies, I don’t know how this all worked and I didn’t use the Career Center much. They helped me a bit with my graduate school entrance essays (letter of intent and resume), but it was not career-focused because those were not my needs. I do know that all my friends got good paying jobs at major companies during their senior years and graduated into good positions at places like Genentech, HP, Yahoo, and other start-ups and biotech firms.

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

Jason: Both because Davis students are committed to their work and because the campus is pretty big, there is no shortage of places to study and work. The Memorial Union has tons of tables, benches, and places to study while maintaining access to coffee; the library has great reading rooms, study areas, and computer labs; the campus is covered with benches and picnic tables to study outside. The dorm lounge was plenty big, but it was really a place to socialize, so not that much studying went on there. People were more likely to study in their dorm rooms. There are also many cafes in town that serve as great places to study.

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? 

Jason: Davis is not a metropolis, but because of the university, it’s a cosmopolitan and diverse place. There are lots of ethnic restaurants, shops, bars, pizza places, and other casual dining options. If you want to go to a Hollywood-style club, you probably won’t get that in Davis, but I was never bored.  When I was jonesing for “real culture,” I’d just go into San Francisco. It wasn’t far away, and I had a car.

On weekend nights, especially, downtown is bustling, and so is campus. They are right next to each other, so the activity kind of spills from one to the next. It’s a safe and charming community, but not at all a clubby type place.

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

Jason: I had an unusual experience. Most of my classes were around eight students, but this is because I was studying unpopular subjects (Greek, Latin, Russian). Most classes were larger, but even my literature classes were only around 20. There are plenty of ginormous lectures, with hundreds of people, but that’s what lab and discussion sections are for: you’ll get your contact with instructors if you want it. For me, a big campus and student body was great. If you want a 12:1 student-faculty ratio, why are you considering a UC at all?  These are big schools with lots of students, but with that size comes resources (library, concerts, athletic facilities, etc.) that you’re not likely to get at the smaller liberal arts schools. You need to decide what you want your college experience to be. If you want small classes and you want to study chemistry, a UC is probably not a good option for you. It was a great option for me and my friends, and I have never regretted putting UC Davis on my resume.

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

Jason: My favorite professor at Davis was David Traill, a Greek professor, and I was a research assistant to him for a year. I helped him transcribe the diary of an important archeologist for a book he was working on. I really enjoyed being given real responsibility and taking part in his research. He trusted me, but more than that, he mentored me. He helped me become a better researcher, a more careful reader, and he made sure to get to know me. He wrote me great letters of recommendation for graduate school, and he floated my name to other faculty who needed help with their research and classes. Even though I was at a big university, Traill made it feel like a small college where professors went out of their way to mentor us and help us grow.  

I also loved my Introduction to Winemaking class! 

Check out Jason’s tutoring profile.

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