The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Ashley is a Washington D.C. tutor specializing in many areas of math including Algebra tutoring, Pre-Calculus tutoring, and Trigonometry tutoring. She graduated from University of Michigan in 2003 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. See what she had to say about her 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?
Ashley: Ann Arbor is a classic college town. The campus is split between North and South Campus with North Campus being a few miles away. Unless you are an Engineering student, you will likely never have to visit North Campus. Regardless, University buses run between campuses and around both campuses on a regular schedule (I’d estimate every 15minutes). South Campus is large, but everything is within walking distance (e.g., dorms, classrooms, cafes, football stadium, medical center, etc.). Campus is also a pedestrian-dominated area – pedestrians ALWAYS have the right-of-way. City buses also exist for Meijer (grocery store) trips, but I always found it easier to find a friend (upperclassman or grad student; students in the dorms can’t get a parking permit) with a car.
As for safety, the campus is well-lit and always busy. Blue light phones are placed around campus as well. In the event that students need help getting home safely, there’s a student-sponsored club to call.
VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?
Ashley: This depends on the class. Some basic classes (e.g., Inorganic Chemistry, Intro to American Politics, etc.) are LARGE – several hundred students. In these large lectures, you’ll also have a TA that you meet with in a group of 20-30 each week. Take advantage of your TA in these situations; they will get to know you personally and can advocate for you. Visit their office hours – they will be available for you. In smaller classes (normally upperclassman courses), you will have much smaller class size (20-30) and no TA. Professors are much more available for these courses.
Regardless of the class size, all professors and TA’s have office hours that are posted on the syllabus. In my experience, try the office hours first, but you’ll often have several students vying for the same time slot. Feel free to email the professor/TA and make a special appointment. They’re almost always amenable.
VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?
Ashley: I lived in Betsy Barbour, an all girls dorm, my freshman year. I was not looking forward to it - I wanted the opportunity to meet all kinds of people and I thought that the women living in an all girls dorm would be introverted and conservative. This stereotype was false. Most of the girls living in Barbour were in the same boat I was; had requested other living arrangements and were placed in Barbour anyway. The rooms were small - I don't think the room was wider than 9 feet but we also had one of the smallest rooms in the dorm and, I think, Barbour rooms are some of the smallest on campus.
I lived in Martha Cooke my sophomore year. Also an all-girls dorm and definitely a different crowd (mix of undergrad and grad students; separate meal plan; more conservative; etc). After my freshman year, I realized that I wasn't going to be in the dorm much and I already had a good friend group. I was looking for location and convenience. Martha Cooke was near the bus stop, the debate office, and most of my classes. Our room was huge (I think the largest of campus) with a separate alcove for a "living room" and our own toilet and sink (we still shared the showers with the floor).
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?
Ashley: I started in the Engineering College and moved to Literature Science and the Arts (LSA) in my junior year. I then became a student in Rackham for a MS in Survey Methodology. The Engineering College was wonderful because it was small and the curriculum was non-negotiable. So, it was very clear what I needed to take in order to finish my degree. Unfortunately, I realized that a career in Engineering was not for me and switched to LSA for a BA in Political Science.
The structure I had experienced in Engineering was, not surprisingly, lacking in LSA. LSA is a much larger college, with more degrees, and more course options. I strongly recommend joining an academic club (e.g., fraternity, the Honors College, Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP)) and building a strong relationship with your LSA or program advisor. Joining these smaller clubs will help give you a sense of belonging to a manageable size group and still allow you the freedom to try new courses and paths that may otherwise go unnoticed. I debated and was part of UROP. The former allowed me to make life-long friends while the latter introduced me to social science research and ultimately started my career.
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?
Ashley: The benefit of going to a big school is that there is something for everyone. I debated in high school and at UofM. While I knew several of the incoming students and the coaches ahead of time, I met new people both on the team and friends of team members. I also met people through various jobs both on and off campus and in class.
I have several friends that were in sororities and fraternities and they wouldn’t trade it for the world. But, I didn’t join a sorority and I don’t feel that it negatively affected my social life.
VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?
Ashley: I only used the Career Center to process my graduate school applications. They offer services to review/edit CV’s and grad school essays. They also served to authorize and seal recommendation letters (back when professors couldn’t just email them). I never used them for Career Services because my part-time UofM work-study job turned into a fulltime position when I finished my BA.
VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?
Ashley: I studied at the libraries, my debate office on campus (several academic student groups have space on campus), the Union, and cafes. The Union and cafes are always busy, but I enjoyed the constant hum of people and the possibility of running into people you know. The library is relatively quiet and not too busy except for exam time. During exam time, a few of the libraries are open 24 hours and will still be crowded at 2am. Everyone is quiet and generally working alone in the libraries; it’s not a good place for a group meeting. Even during exam time, you can always find a large table to share or a study carrel in the stacks (if you’d like to be completely isolated).
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?
Ashley: I really enjoyed Ann Arbor, but I didn’t appreciate it until I was in grad school. The city is made up of mostly young families and professors. There is a wonderful (but small) downtown on and near Main Street with restaurants and bars (less college bar, more upscale). I highly recommend at least one visit to Zingerman’s Deli at some point. There are also some excellent running trails around Ann Arbor. There’s a good mall that’s only a few miles from campus.
Plenty of cafes and fast food are on/around campus. As for cultural things, most of the city gathers on campus for theater, music, and art. Not only does UofM create a variety of productions/exhibits, they also host concerts. In the summer, there is also one of the largest art fairs in the country (usually around the first week of August) and forms a perimeter around a large section of campus.
VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?
Ashley: There are approximately 27,000 undergrads across the various colleges and 12,500 graduate students. Given the size, any freshman will need to be outgoing enough to find his/her niche. While this seems like a daunting task, everyone is friendly. As I mentioned before, find a group, make friends with people in class or in your dorm, join a fraternity, etc. I never thought about being at a school of 27,000; I always felt like I had a good group of 20-30 people that I met freshmen year and that continued to change as I met new people over the years.
As for classes, the basics are big. I always made sure to take the core classes with a friend so that I had a guaranteed study partner. But, if that’s not possible, then it’s pretty easy to find a study buddy in your section (the smaller, break-out classes that are led by a TA). Rarer classes and upper level courses are generally smaller and (depending on the department) really operate as a round-table discussion instead of a lecture. I always found the discussions ensured that students did their readings, learned more, enjoyed class, and made new friends/bonds with their TA. But, you have to get through the big classes to get to the fun stuff!
VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.
Ashley: My favorite class was in Political Science and varied each semester. Each semester, the professor who was teaching it got to choose the topic that he/she was interested in. I took the class twice. The first semester was on problems in world politics. We covered nuclear proliferation, terrorism, global warming, human trafficking, trade barriers, etc. The class was small (15-20 students); everyone was interested; the students had input into what topics we covered toward the end of the semester; and the professor had a knack for weaving themes through various areas of discussion (e.g., economic policy to military policy to human rights policy). There were no exams – just participation and a 20 page research paper. There was also no textbook – we read various journal articles that were current, detailed, and well-researched. I enjoyed the topic of the class and the flexible format, but I mostly appreciated how applied it was in comparison to some courses that focus on abstract theory.
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The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.