What is it Like to Attend North Carolina State University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Carl is a Washington D.C. tutor who graduated from North Carolina State University. He received his Bachelor’s degree in English and currently specializes in many subjects including Reading tutoring, Writing tutoring, and SAT prep tutoring. See what he had to say about his 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?

Carl: NCSU is in an urban setting about three miles from downtown Raleigh. It is very safe and has a good bus system, although it is easy to get around via bicycle as well. Cars are harder to deal with on campus. Parking spots are available on campus but are limited and hard to come by. The school has a couple park-and-ride locations, however, and the shuttles stop at a number of spots around campus.

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

Carl: The professors and other instructors made themselves very available and many of them would meet with students outside of normal office hours. In my time at NCSU, I had one professor who was neither helpful nor available and even missed a good number of scheduled lectures. She was also generally unavailable but was tenured and considered an expert in her field, and thus my complaints went unheard. I think every instructor other than her was much more helpful and available than I expected, though. Overall it was a great experience to study under the faculty at NCSU.

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

Carl: NCSU’s campus is bisected north and south by a railroad track. The class buildings are on the north side and the dorms on the south side. A number of tunnels connect the north and south sides of the campus, so getting to class and getting back to where you live is easier than it might appear to be if you just look at a map or aerial view.

My freshman year was in 1989-1990, and they have since upgraded many of the dorms. Back then we had no air conditioning and the heat was only on October through March, I think. We were hot a lot and then cold a lot and then comfortable during the height of the winter. The dorm I was in (Becton) was one of the oldest on campus. Even back then, many newer dorms were being renovated and some were getting air conditioning installed. I have not been in a dorm there in more than 20 years, but I hear they are very nice now. 

Dining options were great. The chow hall was great. All the food was great. Because NCSU has an agricultural school, you get fresh milk and ice cream in the main dining hall. It does not get much better than that. 

I did not take advantage of many socialization opportunities because I grew up in Raleigh and had friends there already. However, there were constant programs and social activities that I could have attended. In addition, I did not pledge a fraternity, although there is a very active Greek system there with many popular fraternities and sororities. 

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?

Carl: Historically, NCSU is known best for its Engineering, Agriculture, and Science programs. It is also becoming well known for its Business and many other programs. I graduated with a degree in English. Before arriving at that major, I was registered as an Economics major and before that as a Sociology major. I chose English because of the writing and editing curriculum that was available. I had always been a strong writer and felt drawn toward that, and the English Department had some top-notch professors and instructors. 

I was what most people term a non-traditional student. I did not have anyone to pay my way through school, so I worked to put myself through. As a result it took ten years for me to graduate, and the English curriculum I signed up for was technically no longer on the books by the time I finished it. This I learned about two weeks before graduation when I went to see my advisor and make sure that everything was set for the big day. My advisor happened to be the head of the department, and pointed out to me this issue about the curriculum. He said not to worry and pulled some strings to make sure I was able to graduate under the old system, despite it no longer being valid. That is how people are at NCSU, for the most part. They want you to succeed, and even sometimes bend the rules a bit to make them fit the situation where it makes sense.

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?

Carl: Meeting people is easy. It is a big school with lots of activities, mixers, social opportunities, clubs, associations, and more. Greek life is prominent and visible but not being part of that does not negatively affect one’s ability to meet others. Most people do not get involved in the Greek organizations, but these are quite popular for some people. If you have an interest in something, chances are some of the other 30,000 or so people on campus are also interested. You will definitely have the opportunity to meet folks. 

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

Carl: The Career Center told me that they were there to support the Engineers, Agriculture students, and Science majors and that they could not help me as a Humanities student. This is not their official stance, and I doubt they would say that today, but that is what I was told when I was looking at graduation.

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

Carl: Study spaces are abundant. The library is a great place to find a nook, as is the student union building. My dorm did not have a lounge and the ones I visited in other dorms were mostly not conducive to studying. Many of the classroom buildings have study areas or lounges. Once I found a handful of places to go for studying I never had trouble finding a quiet spot somewhere.

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?  

Carl: Raleigh is a real city and has a lot to do. I would say that, as a local, I would rate it somewhere between interesting and boring. Probably slightly more toward interesting, but that might be because I am older now. There are great restaurants, clubs, bars, theatres, art events, galleries, shopping centers, coffee shops, antiques, quaint shops, health food, concert venues, and more. Raleigh has everything Manhattan or San Francisco has, but not quite as much of it.

Near campus are many places to go and things to do, but students typically do not venture to downtown Raleigh. Unless you have a traffic ticket and need to go to court, or maybe have an internship or job downtown, most students do not go there. As a result, they miss out on the best barbeque in town, which is at Cooper’s Barbeque, off Fayetteville Street. It is worth seeking out to get some of the local flavor and culture.

There are not the big town/gown issues like you see in some places like Cambridge, Mass. or even Chapel Hill, N.C. Raleigh mostly still thinks of the school as State College, as it was once known and as one of the physical plant smokestacks still says, the letters made from different colored brick during its construction. Raleigh is a big enough city that the school does not overtake or even dominate discussion among the locals. Because of this, NCSU is just another part of the economy, not a rival in town. It is a local school and many high school students end up there.

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

Carl: NCSU boasts a student body whose size has eclipsed 34,000. That makes it a rather large institution. This has good and bad aspects. On one hand, it is easy to be anonymous. On the other hand, it is easy to slip out of sight and get lost. It is small enough that running into people you know, whether from your dorm, class, or other social circles, is not unusual, but don’t expect people to know you and greet you as soon as you walk into the student union. Instructors will not hunt you down and ask why you missed two classes in a row. They will not call you to see why your grades are slipping. They will have time for you if you seek them out, though. 

Class sizes run the gamut. I had a few classes that had about ten people and others that had 200. Most were in the 20 to 25 student range, and I was happy with that. It gave me the opportunity to speak and ask questions or sit back and listen without having to actively participate. It was a rare occasion that I did not have access to meaningful conversation in class if I wanted to engage the professor and other students. 

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

Carl: Dr. Durant, now retired, taught an English literature survey class and was one of the most entertaining, interesting, and devoted professors I met. He kept telling us, from the first day of class, that he was the credit giver and not the credit taker. He insisted that we all started off with 100 points in his ledger and that our wrong answers on exams would cause him to deduct points, rather than us starting with zero and having to earn the points. Mathematically, I assure you, it works out to the same process, but this was part of his generosity of spirit that made him a great instructor. He was kind and friendly and never thought it beneath him to lower himself to our level, base and as we may have been in his eyes. Dr. Durant had a way of telling stories and talking about literature that made his students, at least me, listen and read in a way they never had before. He helped me appreciate literature in a new way and I will always be grateful for that.

Dr. Stewart, a religion professor, is the type of person who epitomizes rigor in the pursuit of academic excellence. His regimen for grading papers was so serious that many of his students became frustrated from not having received their papers back in a timely manner. However, his process for scoring them was exhausting to hear about. He strove to be fair but tough, to help students expand themselves and their knowledge. His example of what it means to be a scholar is the highest I have seen. One particular lesson he taught a class I was in was that we needed to be better about doing basic research as we read. “I have a dictionary on my desk,” Dr. Stewart said, “that is black on the edge of the pages from having been thumbed through by me over the years. Every time I come to a word I do not know I look it up. If I have to do that after this many years, then I expect you to do the same.” It was a lesson in humility but also in what it means to study a subject rather than simply read about it in a passive way. Dr. Stewart will always be a professor I look up to.

Check out Carl’s tutoring profile.

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