What is it Like to Attend The University of Chicago?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Margarita is a New York City tutor who specializes in a plethora of subjects including ACT prep tutoring, Algebra tutoring, and Essay Editing tutoring. She graduated from The University of Chicago in 2010 where she studied Mathematics and Economics. See what she had to say about her undergraduate experience:

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?

Margarita: The University of Chicago is in Hyde Park, a neighborhood approximately 20 minutes by bus from downtown Chicago. In the past few years, the university has taken steps toward consolidating the undergrad dorms, classes, and dining halls to all be within walking distance of one another. The campus itself is beautiful—full of a mix of gothic and modern architecture. For example, the Regenstein Library, which was built in the brutalist style, is right next to the egg-shaped, futuristic (and brand new) Mansueto Library, and across the street from the gothic quad. CTA buses will get you downtown, but routes are somewhat inconvenient. The university also provides late night door-to-door transportation throughout the Hyde Park neighborhood, for upper class students who choose to live off-campus. 

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

Margarita: Accessibility to professors is one of the greatest things about The University of Chicago. Even the most prominent professors will make time to meet with undergraduate students. Teaching assistants are also readily available, though I found that meeting with professors was generally more fruitful. One of the best things about the university is the availability of undergraduate research opportunities—all you have to do to get a position is ask, and it is a great way to supplement your education and get to know professors. 

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

Margarita: The dorm that I lived in no longer exists, actually, but this is a good thing! The university has been building new dorms in the past few years, so the quality of on- campus housing is definitely improving. Almost all dorms are now on campus, and thus, walking distance to class. The great thing about the UChicago dorms is that they are separated into “Houses” (usually separated by floor). This gives students a community to belong to from day one. Houses generally engage in many bonding activities together, so it’s a great way to get to know people. In addition, each house has a dedicated table in one of the dining halls, so in case you ever go eat alone, you always have someone to sit with. For a lot of students, the houses form the core of their social circle in the first year.

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?

Margarita: I double majored in Mathematics and Economics. I started as an Economics major, but later added the Mathematics major as a junior, because I wanted an additional challenge. I enjoyed both of my majors, and felt that I had access to classes that I wanted. There is ample opportunity for students to major in more than one discipline, and I think that students will find that the vast majority of disciplines are well supported. That said, Economics majors are far and away the most common at the school, simply because the school is so famous for its school of Economics.

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? 

Margarita: The House system makes this a lot easier, as does the emphasis on discussion-based classes as a first year student. Greek life is not a major player in the social scene, but there are several fraternities on campus. 

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

Margarita: The Career Center runs several great programs to help students get experience, such as the Jeff Metcalf Internships and Externships. A couple of really helpful programs include College Careers in Business (CCIB) and College Careers in Law. A friend of mine participated in CCIB, and got an opportunity to attend seminars on everything from interview skills to proper dinner etiquette. Most major companies recruit on campus (for example, Goldman Sachs, UBS, Sears, etc.), though I get the sense that placement for Chicago grads is better in Chicago than New York. 

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

Margarita: There is plenty of space to study (or hang out or nap) on campus. The Reynolds Club is the student activities hub, and features an enormous lounge called Hutchinson Commons (which remarkably looks almost exactly like the Great Hall in the Harry Potter movies). There are also a number of libraries, including Regenstein, Harper, Eckhart, Crerar, and the brand new Mansueto library. In particular, the A Level of the Regenstein Library is both the all-night study space as well as the group study space—many students joke that it is the center of their social lives (and to be honest, I have fond memories of spending time bonding with friends while working on really tough problem sets on the A Level). UChicago students study a lot, but we have fun while we do it! 

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?  

Margarita: UChicago is located in Hyde Park, which in and of itself is not an exciting place. It is one of those places with a fairly deep town-gown divide, insofar as the local Hyde Park denizens tend to be opposed to the type of establishments that would seem to gentrify the neighbourhood, instead of favoring local businesses. Unfortunately, it means that there isn’t much that’s exciting to do in Hyde Park. Some highlights include several top-notch Thai restaurants (and a really great mom & pop Korean place). Other local favorites include The Medici and Jimmy’s. However, if students are willing to take the time to travel to downtown Chicago or some of its more exciting neighborhoods (generally on the North side), they’ll find a lot of amazing restaurants (Chicago is a great place for foodies), as well as all of the typical accoutrements of a big city, such as a thriving theatre and comedy scene (highlights include the Steppenwolf Theater and The Second City).

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

Margarita: There are about 5,000 undergraduate students, so it is not overwhelmingly large. There are very few large lecture classes, generally these are limited to 101 level courses. The college makes an effort to limit the Core class sizes, so Humanities, Art, and Social Sciences courses are typically only about 21 students. My Economics classes were usually about 40 students, and my Math classes only about 15 students. I liked the small class sizes, it encourages students to attend all of their classes, and really engage with the professors.

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

Margarita: My third year of college, I took a class called, “The Economics of Crime” with Steven Levitt (author of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics, and blogger for the NY Times). Pretty much all Economics majors read Freakonomics before they came to UChicago, so this was a really popular class (a student once tried to auction off his seat in the class—Levitt supported it, but the Dean of the College—not so much). It was a really great class, every class was like listening to a story. It was a unique and unusual experience to have in undergrad, but it was a great way to get out of the ivory tower and glimpse the real world of our studies.


Check out Margarita’s tutoring profile.


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