Should I Go To University of Virginia?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Gina is an Atlanta tutor specializing in Algebra tutoring, SAT prep tutoring, Biology tutoring, and much more. She graduated from University of Virginia in 2010 where she studied Sociology and Biology. See what she had to say about 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?

Gina: UVA is nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in the cozy, but progressive city of Charlottesville. It’s probably considered a “college town” with many activities revolving around the university but there are unique Charlottesville characteristics – the downtown mall, nearby vineyards, and Monticello, too. The campus – or “grounds” as they are called – is pretty safe with runners jogging the streets at all hours of the night. You can walk from one side of the grounds to the other in less than 30 minutes. Both UVA and Charlottesville buses are free to students and provide transportation around Charlottesville. SafeRide is a service that Charlottesville police offer which is a free taxi service that you call after midnight to get a ride home. First-years are not allowed to have cars partly due to the lack of parking, but walking and the buses are the preferred modes of transportation anyways.

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

Gina: The professors, academic advisors, and TA’s are 99% of the time available by appointment. Many of the professors teach undergrads as well as fostering graduate research so their time can be limited. At a public research university, professors are often busy but love to make time for their students, when students ask. I found that all professors, advisors, and TA’s hosted office hours which was a great time to get help or catch up with them. 

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

Gina: The dorm life was one of my favourite parts about UVA. Residence Life does an excellent job helping first-year students adjust to life away from your parents. Your hall or suite of living-mates become your best friends. Dorm-mates will be your buddies to have dinner with, visit the AFC (the gym), go to football games, study at the library, or hang out on the Lawn. Your RA will organize activities to foster a sense of community in the dorm. 

As far as dining options, there are three major dining halls – Runk, Observatory Hill, and Newcomb. Runk has delicious food but is tucked away from the center of classes. O-Hill is the newest of the facilities, the favorite of most first-years, and offers a delicious stir-fry bar as well as two floors of dining. Newcomb is preferred for lunch and by upperclassmen because it’s closer to the libraries and classes.

There are hundreds of clubs at UVA. If you can think of something you enjoy doing, chances are there’s a club for it with other people who enjoy doing the same thing. Lots of majors have clubs to get people in the same classes talking. 

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? 

Gina: UVA has a large undergrad Business program, an Architecture program, Nursing School, a 5-year Education program, and a College of Arts and Sciences. I was in the College of Arts and Sciences – the largest of the undergraduate schools – and I studied Biology and Sociology. Originally, I wanted to go to medical school and UVA has a large pre-med population majoring in Biology. In Biology, each student chooses a major advisor (after you declare your major) whom you meet with once per semester to outline your track to graduation. It’s extremely helpful to have an advisor in the department that can suggest classes or professors that they would recommend. It also ensures you are fulfilling your requirements and electives necessary to graduate.

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?

Gina: As a “first-year” living in dorms – either suite style or hall style – it’s incredibly easy to meet people. You will be living in a coed dorm where residence life organizes numerous events to bring the dorm together. As a dorm, you will have study rooms, dinner-mates, intramural athletes, gym buddies, and even people to ensure you make it home after a long night at the library or on Rugby Road. About 1/3 of the students join Greek life. There are plenty of options if you want to explore Greek life, or if that’s not your thing. Personally, I was not involved in Greek life because sports were more important to me. I still visited my Greek friends at the fraternities. 

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

Gina: I don’t have a lot of experience with this. The University Career Services (UCS) is located inside Scott Stadium and they have a lot of helpful books on how to interview, take standardized graduate entrance exams, put resumes together, etc. I was not interested in working after school so I am not sure about what companies came to any career fairs. I can only speak to going to biomedical graduate school and for that, I found more information about programs and departments to apply to online than available at UCS. 

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

Gina: The main undergraduate Arts and Sciences library can become pretty crowded (Clemons). It’s a great place to go if you want to do homework in a social environment. Right next to Clemons is Alderman (another library), which has a café and tends to be quieter. There are dozens of quiet study spaces on grounds – the Chemistry library, Wilsdorf, Clark Library, the Curry School, etc. Dorm lounges are good places to go that are close but out of your room. The student union is in Newcomb (where there’s a dining hall) and they have a pool table and ping-pong set up for students.

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? 

Gina: UVA is somewhat of a college town and most activities center around the university or the Corner (within walking distance to classes/ dorms). There is a lovely downtown area which is accessible by the free trolley or a less than a mile walk. The downtown area is blocked off to cars and has wonderful restaurants, a movie theatre, and a skating rink. Within 15 miles of Charlottesville, there are probably a dozen vineyards, including Dave Matthews vineyard Blenheim. To the west are the Appalachians which have wonderful hiking trails and scenic views of the Shenandoah valley. 

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

Gina: The student body is about 12,000 undergraduates, but it did not feel that big when I was there. Students are grouped based upon living location, major, and extracurriculars, so you tend to be isolated from the mass of thousands. I would regularly have the same group of students in my Biology classes. First-year class sizes are larger as there are more general course requirements. By fourth year, most of my classes were between 15-20 students. Language, advanced math, and writing classes (and maybe others that I just didn’t take) are limited to about 20 students to maximize interactions with the professor.

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

Gina: There’s only one story that comes to mind for my most memorable experience at UVA. When I entered as a first-year, I had lots of AP credit carry over and I was taking core requirement classes for Biology in my first year. I loved the Cell Biology core class taught by Mike Wormington and decided to declare Biology as my major early, in the spring of my first year. When you declare your major at UVA, you have to choose a major advisor, someone who will guide you through graduation and ensure that you take the classes you need. The only Biology professor I had interacted with was Professor Wormington, so I asked if he could be my major advisor. At the time, he was not take any more advisees and the department secretary suggested that I email him and ask for other potential advisors. I followed her advice and he returned my email saying that he would make an exception and take me on as his advisee. Over the course of the next three years, he helped me take a medical leave of absence for a year from UVA, gave me research experience in his lab, taught a class that my mom sat in on, and wrote my recommendation letter for graduate school. We have since stayed in contact and he even wrote my recommendation letters for graduate fellowships two years after graduation. He is an asset to UVA and I hope that all students have a similar experience with their advisors, whether it be at UVA or elsewhere.

Check out Gina’s tutoring profile.

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