What is it Like to Attend the University of British Columbia?

Kevin earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and philosophy from the University of British Columbia. He specializes in English tutoring, psychology tutoring, and a number of other subjects. Below, he shares his experience at the the University of British Columbia:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options.

Kevin: The University of British Columbia’s campus is truly like no other. It’s about 1,000 acres on the tip of a peninsula that is separated from the vibrant city of Vancouver by a 2,000 acre belt of temperate rainforest affiliated with UBC. Because of this, you can go to one of the beaches or hike in the rainforest without technically leaving the university. The stunning natural beauty of the campus and the well maintained new buildings make it unsurprising that many movies and TV shows shoot on campus. The facilities are top notch; it has eight major on-campus libraries, seemingly endless classrooms and labs, a particle accelerator, anthropology and biodiversity museums, a concert hall, and much more. The campus is crisscrossed by several university and city buses and connected to Vancouver proper by several buses. A bus to Point Grey or Kitsilano (neighborhoods with a lot of student housing) takes about 15 minutes, while a bus downtown may take 40 minutes. Biking is easy, and a car is probably more trouble than it’s worth (parking is very expensive). The campus feels very safe, especially since it has its own police force and is surrounded on three sides by water and by a forest on the fourth side.

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

Kevin: As an arts student, I never had any trouble meeting with professors. They usually respond to emails within a day; the longest I had to wait for a meeting was three days. They all have office hours, and you can usually talk to them after, if not during, class. All of my professors were not just polite, but genuinely friendly and personable. I’ve heard some professors can be more difficult to talk to in math and the sciences (especially in lower level classes), but I think this is the case in most universities.

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

Kevin: The two dorm complexes (Totem Park and Place Vanier) are on campus, but feel like towns in their own right. Each has the standard facilities—cafeteria and convenience store, coed or single-sex buildings/floors, and one common room per floor. Since the campus is so sheltered, almost everyone for literally miles is either a student or on staff. Because of this, after classes end for the day and most of the staff goes home, campus becomes something of a student city. There are many restaurants, and a cafeteria in each dorm, but groceries can be difficult to get, store, and afford. I should also note, campus security is taken seriously: the campus is well lit, regularly patrolled, littered with emergency help buttons, and a free ‘safe-walk’ service is available (although crime is virtually unheard of).

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported?

Kevin: UBC is particularly proud of its engineering, forestry, earth and ocean sciences, computer science, cognitive systems, physics and astronomy, life sciences, international relations/political science, education, law, business, and anthropology departments. Forestry/earth and ocean sciences, engineering, physics, and life sciences (and increasingly computer science) seem to get the most funding. I double majored in political science and philosophy and minored in religious studies. I studied what I did simply because I loved it and I consistently had excellent professors. My case is a bit extreme, but the majority of students seem to graduate with at least a minor, if not a second major. Also, a large number of clubs and other academic societies are sponsored by UBC, permitting students to explore their field, meet other students with similar interests, and network beyond UBC.

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?

Kevin: I am not the most social person in the world, but the dorm life and frequently small class sizes made making friends easy. Greek life exists, but only plays as significant of a role as you want. Personally, I never had to encounter Greek life, but I have some friends who seemed to enjoy it.

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services?

Kevin: If you are in the sciences (especially forestry/earth and ocean sciences and computer science), the Career Center is absolutely helpful. Most of my friends in the sciences had no problem getting paid internships or lab positions. In the Pacific Northwest, the oil/minerals, lumber, finance, and tech industries are booming, plus UBC is a huge wealthy research institution hungry for talent.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Kevin: The total amount of study space is tremendous, but the student body is also very large. Given this, during most of the year good quality study space is easy to find, but it can get overcrowded come finals.

Describe the surrounding town.

Kevin: UBC feels extremely isolated despite being located in the middle of an urban area of over two million people. In their first year, most students live on campus and leave to go downtown or to the surrounding neighborhoods only about once a month, simply because everything you need is on campus. Buses connect UBC to the rest of Vancouver, but very few first years bother. Upper years tend to live off campus and more frequently go downtown or explore the surrounding neighborhoods, which are very nice, but also very expensive. Regarding outdoor activities, there are several nice beaches and large wildlife reserves, and the bay is great for sailing. The relatively close city of Victoria is also fun to explore.

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

Kevin: The student body is very large (over 60,000) but upper level classes tend to be small. Many introductory classes are large—120-200 students—but others are not. This is especially the case with the sciences (particularly biology) where large class sizes are the norm in 100 and some 200 level classes. For me, an arts student, even in my first year most of my classes had between 30 and 60 students and it was not difficult to get one-on-one time with professors. As you proceed to higher and higher classes, students specialize or drop out, so class sizes are smaller. By my fourth and fifth years (most students take five years), I would have maybe one class per term with 60 students. By the time I graduated, most of my professors knew me by name and I was on a first name basis with several.

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

Kevin: I graduated from UBC in 2014 and immediately went on to do two years of grad school in Europe. On my way home, I stopped back in Vancouver to visit some friends who still lived there and also just to be in the city. I decided to spend one of the few days I was there on campus. I looked up a former professor of mine and decided to drop by unannounced and say hi as he got out of his 100 level class. I waited outside the room’s glass door for his class to finish, but after he was done he was mobbed by five or six students who wanted to talk. Now, I hadn’t talked to this professor in two years and he teaches five courses, which means something like 320 students per year. By the time he opened the door, he was smiling over an outstretched hand and greeted me by name. “Good to see you, Kevin! Just a second—do you have a second?” I nodded and he continued answering the first years’ questions about Nietzsche with excited tones and wild gesticulations. After a few minutes, he turned back and we just started chatting like old friends. We talked about family, my time in Europe, and life in general. We walked to a cafe by his apartment and chatted for well over two hours before I had to run on account of dinner plans. That man changed my life, but unlike most professors at most schools, he is also part of my life. The thing about UBC that’s so special is, yes, it will launch you onto whatever path you choose, but it also stimulates you as a person and helps you become, not just a professional, but a full human being.



Check out Kevin’s tutoring profile.

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