University of Virginia: A Student Interview

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Trevor is a Philadelphia tutor and 2012 graduate of University of Virginia. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and tutors several subjects, including Environmental Science tutoring, Geology tutoring, and Spanish tutoring. Check out what Trevor had to say about his time at University of Virginia:

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?

Trevor: University of Virginia, where I attended school as an undergraduate, is known for its beautiful campus (called “grounds” by its students and faculty). The Rotunda is even a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The campus itself is fairly safe, and the administration has implemented several safety features, including blue emergency telephones and SafeRide, a late-night service that students can use to return to their homes or dorms. Charlottesville is mostly quite safe, and it offers great restaurants, entertainment venues, and outdoor activities. Getting around is easy – the university has a student-operated bus service that runs from as early as 5:15 a.m. to as late as 2:00 a.m. on some nights. City transit is free to university students, and it is very accessible. However, many students enjoy biking around campus, and a car is helpful, especially for students living off-grounds.

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

Trevor: I would imagine that this is highly department-specific. However, in my experience, professors were very accessible. They were willing to help students with both academic and professional questions. Furthermore, University of Virginia is a major research university, so its professors are, in many cases, highly accomplished researchers. This leads to a very stimulating environment for motivated undergraduates.

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

Trevor: Dorm life at University of Virginia offers students as much interaction with roommates and suitemates as they like. In my experience, many students developed strong relationships with those individuals who shared their dorms or suites. University of Virginia has three dining halls, all of which are open at different times. They all offer different options, so it is hard not to find something satisfying. There are also a number of on-campus cafes that are great for mid-day snacks. Charlottesville is known for its great restaurants, and many smaller cafes offer affordable prices for students. The university also offers a number of special residential colleges that require applications. While I never lived in one of these, my friends who did found the experience unique and stimulating.

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?

Trevor: My major was Environmental Science, which is a fairly large department. Lots of research goes on in the department in a variety of areas, and undergraduates can certainly participate. I chose my major because I found it interesting, but I would say that I was lucky in the sense that the department is very strong. I also took several upper-level courses in the Spanish department, which is also highly recognized. While I found that many of the classes were a bit too large to allow for really detailed discussion, the professors were very interesting and knowledgeable. Moreover, a fairly wide variety of courses were available, which is not always the case for language departments.

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?

Trevor: The best way to make friends at University of Virginia was to join student organizations. I met nearly all of my friends that way, while a few others I met in classes. That said, Greek life is very big at University of Virginia, and many students participate. I, however, chose not to.

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

Trevor: I used the Career Center in my final semester to try to improve my chances of finding a job. For my particular field, the Career Center did not offer much assistance. That said, it did seem as though many companies, particularly those related to Finance and Business Management, were interested in recruiting University of Virginia students.

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

Trevor: Libraries are major study areas at University of Virginia, and there are many of them. Each offers a unique study environment, and they are all very easy to access. For students who need very quiet environments to study, such as myself, the three major libraries all have areas dedicated to quiet study, and in two cases, those areas allow almost complete isolation from other students. All three libraries also have space for group work and for students who enjoy a slightly louder environment.

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? 

Trevor: Charlottesville is quite stimulating for a town of its size (less than 100,000 people). Students definitely venture out into town quite frequently, but some prefer to stay near campus. Again, it largely depends on what you enjoy doing. The downtown area has a number of great restaurants, quirky shops, and thrift stores, as well as bars for those interested in nightlife. Charlottesville is located more or less in the mountains, so for those interested in outdoor activities, it is ideal. I found all of these activities to be very accessible, both when I had a car and when I did not. Charlottesville is also quite close to Richmond and Washington, D.C., both of which are larger cities with additional opportunities.

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

Trevor: I believe there are about 15,000 undergraduates. Lower-level classes tend to be quite large, especially in introductory Economics, Biology, Chemistry, and Politics courses. These courses may exceed 300 students. However, for humanities and social science courses, smaller discussion sections are often included, which give students some more personal interaction with instructors. As you begin to take higher-level courses, the class size decreases. For my upper-level Spanish courses, class size never exceeded 25, and I took at least two Environmental Science courses where there were 12 or fewer students in the course. This means that first and second year students will probably take larger courses, while third and fourth years will take smaller courses.

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

Trevor: In my first semester, my introductory Spanish literature course was very small, with about seven students all in different years of school. I was very intimidated at first, but as the course progressed, I gained more confidence because of the other students and because of our professor, who was actually a Ph.D. student. It was that course that prompted my interest in 20th century Latin American literature, and it ultimately propelled me to keep taking courses in the field. I do regret not having time to take more courses in some of the university’s strongest departments, such as English and Politics.

Check out Trevor’s tutoring profile.

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