What is it Like to Attend College of William & Mary?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Bernadette is a Virginia Beach tutor specializing in Essay Editing tutoring, Grammar and Mechanics tutoring, SAT prep tutoring, and a number of other areas. She is a 2014 graduate of College of William & Mary with a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. See what she had to share about College of William & Mary:

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?

Bernadette: College of William & Mary is located in Williamsburg, adjacent to the restored Colonial Williamsburg area. The campus is very safe, and the surrounding neighborhoods are easily accessible by bike or on foot. I have to say that I sometimes called the bus my worst enemy. It generally comes twice an hour for each stop, so if you miss one bus, it can be a while until the next comes. Making a friend with a car is always a good call for grocery or Target trips when you might be carrying heavier items.

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

Bernadette: College of William & Mary emphasizes student-faculty engagement, and most professors are very available to students. Getting to know your professors can help more than just your grades. You might find out about a research opportunity, summer program, or get the scoop on a new class. Having close relationships with a few professors is also helpful as you prepare to transition to the “real world,” as you may find that some are willing to be references for you during a job or graduate school search. You will most often encounter teaching assistants in lab sessions for science classes. I had positive experiences with teaching assistants over my four years. They were knowledgeable (most are graduate students), helpful, and easy to relate to. At a small school like College of William & Mary, you might also have graduate students in some advanced classes, which I really enjoyed. It was great to have some role models closer to my age, as well as to hear about their experiences as undergraduates and applying to graduate school.

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

Bernadette: I lived on campus all four years, which is not uncommon. Freshman year you go through orientation with your hall (the 20 or so other students who live closest to you). This is a great way to acclimate to the campus and make friends. The lottery for picking rooms can be stressful, but if you live in special interest housing or with a Resident Assistant, you can avoid that process. Additionally, basically everyone eventually gets placed in housing by the school. I would also say that living in a less popular dorm can be a bonding experience and can even be fun with the right roommate. Campus dining is fine, and having a meal plan is really convenient depending on where you live (i.e. whether you have a full kitchen, how many people you share it with, and how long you have for lunch). Even though people are not usually crazy about dining hall food, it is a great way to see people. Everyone has to eat, after all! Getting involved on campus is the best way to meet people. Find a group that does something you are interested in, and you will automatically have something in common with other people! It can take time to meet people, but finding those friends who light up your day makes it worth going to club meetings.

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?

Bernadette: Lots of people study English, History, International Relations, or an area in the business school. College of William & Mary is a liberal arts school, but many of the science programs are excellent, as well. I studied Biology, which is a very popular major! The Biology department encourages students to participate in research, and it requires the completion of a rigorous list of courses. I found the professors and other students challenging and encouraging.

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?

Bernadette: As a freshman, you complete orientation right before the start of classes with your hall, which gives you a chance to learn about the campus, as well as meet your closest neighbors. People meet their best friends in their freshman halls, and even if you do not forge such a close bond, starting the school year together means that you know the people you will see each day in the laundry room, bathroom, study lounge, and probably in some of your classes! You should definitely join some clubs and student organizations. There is so much time outside of class, and you should fill it with positive things where you can make friends. The Greek community on campus is thriving, but it does not dominate the social scene. I enjoyed being part of a social sorority, but I continued to have strong friendships outside the Greek system. Greeks are passionate about community service and being leaders on campus, and they are an incredibly supportive group of people. I enjoyed being part of an organization that challenged me to always improve, and I was surrounded by driven people with high aspirations.

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

Bernadette: The Career Center is very helpful for students pursuing liberal arts and business degrees. It is particularly well-equipped to help students find jobs in government or the non-profit sector. In addition, large consulting companies (Deloitte, Booz Allen Hamilton, etc.) recruit each fall, and many students participate in this process. The Career Center offers workshops on networking, interviewing, resume reviewing, and many other subjects. I would recommend taking advantage of them as soon as possible. There are programs to help you figure out what career path you might like to pursue, so even if you are not in a job-applying phase, there may be something you will find useful.

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

Bernadette: The library has a somewhat cult-like following. People tend to have strong feelings about their favorite floor, section, and even type of seating to study in. I tended to prefer the children’s literature section, a comfortable chair in the afternoon, or a table and straight-backed chair in the evening for serious study. During finals it can get a bit crowded, but there is plenty of space on campus for all the students to find a quiet place to work.

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? 

Bernadette: Williamsburg is a small town, and it is dominated by the college and the restored colonial area. There is good dining and a few bars (for students over 21 to enjoy!) within walking distance. There are also multiple coffee shops, ice cream places, and a few bookstores. A bit farther afield, you will find a multiplex, chain restaurants, and more shopping. The outlet mall is a popular weekend destination. Find a friend with a car, and you will be set in no time. Duke of Gloucester Street is lined with restored historical homes and some very nice restaurants. Cars are not permitted, making it a popular walking or running street. Williamsburg can be a little on the quiet side, but I always found enough to do while I was there!

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

Bernadette: The undergraduate student body is about 6,000 students. I found this to be a good size. For most of my time, it felt like there were new people to meet, but you could pretty much rely on running into someone you knew at big events. Class size varies depending on discipline, and it tends to shrink as you advance in your program. I liked that most semesters I had several smaller classes and some larger ones. Having all small classes might sound great, but it can be good to have one or two where you are not constantly on the spot to answer. Additionally, you will probably have to take some large, introductory-level classes to complete your general education requirements. Especially in your first few semesters, it is key to give yourself some balance.

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

Bernadette: I really loved a Biology seminar I took in the spring of my junior year. We went in-depth on a variety of challenging topics around the theme of population dynamics. Each class period we read and discussed two or three scientific papers. As the class progressed, each student took a turn leading the discussion, and we each developed a topic to write a research paper on. The class was great because of the topic, as well as the professor. She structured the discussion so everyone got a chance to participate and was able to learn. Discussion-based classes might sound like a great idea, but I actually found that it was rare to stumble upon one where an environment of collaborative learning truly existed. The class was difficult and demanded a lot of work, but I learned a lot and developed more confidence in my abilities.

Check out Bernadette’s tutoring profile.

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