What is it Like to Attend University of California, Davis?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Darren is a Los Angeles tutor specializing in GRE prep tutoring, ISEE prep tutoringSSAT prep tutoring, Algebra tutoring, and much more. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Classical Civilization from University of California, Davis. 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? 

Darren: The UC Davis campus is one of the most serene and beautiful I have seen. My sister (two years my elder) also attended Davis, and I felt immediately at home there when I would visit her during my final two years of high school, making the school one of my preferred options already at that time. In some ways, it is an understated beauty – not as “in your face” as the beauty you might find at a campus nestled in the Rockies or perched over the Pacific Ocean. It is the beauty of open fields, of a stream meandering through the Arboretum, of sunlight breaking down onto a tree-lined street. I always felt incredibly safe on campus. Part of that (as is the case anywhere, unfortunately) is being male and having less reason to fear for my personal safety, but I never thought twice about walking home alone after a late night studying in the library. Having access to a car is a bonus due to the relative ease with which you can get to places like Sacramento, SF, and Tahoe, but it is certainly not necessary. The bus system in town is quite effective and reliable (with some quaint double-deckers imported directly from London, no less) and the entire town is built to accommodate the ridiculous bike-to-person ratio. 

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

Darren: I was in a small major (Classical Civilization) – which helped me to get to know my professors quite closely – but I found even the professors of classes outside of my major to be accessible and engaging (unusually so, I think, for a university of Davis’s size). I remember most of my professors very fondly – from Greek professor, Dr. Albu, meeting weekly with students who asked her to help us read through the Greek New Testament, to discussing my future plans over coffee with orchestra conductor, Dr. Holoman. I am still – 13 years after graduating – in contact with multiple of my old Davis professors.

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

Darren: The dorms at Davis have by and large become quite nice. I happened to live my freshman year in a building that was dilapidated and close to being condemned. Students heading there now don’t have to worry about old Emerson Hall. I didn’t care for dorm life much. I felt like a rat shoved into a too-cramped living situation with a bunch of adolescents too immature to yet handle life on their own. I moved into an apartment with friends my sophomore year, as most second-year student do at Davis, and the new arrangement drastically improved my level of contentment. I had many friends who absolutely loved dorm life (my sister had been one of them), but it wasn’t really for me. My socialization happened through singing, a school musical, classes, and Christian fellowship groups. 

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?

Darren: Davis is famous for agriculture, veterinary studies, and wine-making, but these are surely not the only strong programs. The only real weakness is in business classes (the closest major to Business was “Agricultural Economics”), and yet every single one of my Davis friends who has entered the business world has been very successful – even with undergrad majors like Communications, English, and Psychology. I started out as an English major but switched when I realized I didn’t much care for reading. I started taking Greek classes my sophomore year because I wanted to be able to read the New Testament in its original tongue. The Religious Studies department also offered a slew of New Testament classes that I took because of my interest in the Bible. Before I knew it, I was closer to having a degree in Classics than in English. I didn’t have a huge interest in the Classical period – mythology, wars, and such – but the Classics classes were mostly taught by my Greek professors, whom I knew well after a few Greek classes and whom I held in high esteem. Thus, I became an “accidental” Classics major, joining a small group of students that tended to eat, drink, and sleep the ancient world. I had enough English classes for a minor in English, and I discovered a love of choral music in college, so I also added a minor in Music Performance. I always felt very supported by all of these 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?

Darren: I had a difficult time making friends my freshman year, but that had more to do with my own introversion and resistance to change. I ended up making very close friends (when I got married just over a year ago, three of my five groomsmen were guys I’d roomed with at Davis). The Greek scene isn’t huge at Davis – somewhere around 10% of students rush. I think most people who aren’t scared of new people do just fine making friends their freshman year at UCD.

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

Darren: I don’t have much personal experience here, as I knew fairly early on that I wanted to continue my education in graduate school upon graduation from Davis. So, I was never seeking employment while I was there. 

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

Darren: There is plenty of space for studying at Davis. There are a lot of students, but it’s also a massive campus so it never feels overly crowded, either in study spaces or in other common areas. This was a major reason for my decision to attend Davis over UCLA and Berkeley, both of which felt far more congested when I visited during the stressful weeks of making my final decision of where to enroll. I went a couple of years without even owning a computer (unthinkable now, but not extraordinarily unusual in the late 1990s) and never had trouble gaining access to a computer either in a computer lab or in the library. By my last couple of years, I had taken to studying mostly in coffee shops in town or outdoors around campus (because of Davis’s particularly peaceful setting).

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? 

Darren: I absolutely love the town of Davis – it is a consummate college town. The town actually largely developed around the university, so it is, in a sense, “tailor-made” for the college student. People who need the fast pace of a major city might feel bored at times in Davis, but the town is by no means boring. There also seem to be more clubs/bars in town now than there were a decade ago (to my taste, an unfortunate development, though I know there are many who would disagree). I loved attending concerts and plays in town, seeing performers at local coffeehouses, and such. One of the premier performing arts centers in all of the western United States, the Mondavi Center, is located right on campus. Again, there are also larger cities nearby for more opportunities as well. I sang twice a week my senior year with a very good choir in Sacramento, and I had friends who would drive 70 miles to San Francisco (“the City”) weekly to explore its vibrant restaurant scene. 

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

Darren: Davis has a very large student body, but again, it doesn’t feel overly large. The main campus is close to 1,000 acres and it is divided such that there are parts of campus that you rarely have reason to go to (for instance, I was almost never by the science buildings, so my campus was the humanities corner). I had a couple of large, “lecture-style” general education courses, but most of my classes (due in large part to my very small major) were maybe 5-20 students. I was quite pleased with that arrangement.

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

Darren: The moment that pops into my head was during a New Testament class with the great Dr. Lincoln Hurst (unfortunately now deceased). He was referencing Martin Luther’s analogy for the difference between having bad thoughts enter your mind and consciously mulling over bad thoughts: “As Luther said, ‘You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head, but you can keep it from nesting in your hair.’” Without missing a beat, my buddy (and future groomsman) – an active hunter – leaned over to me and whispered, “Oh, I can keep a bird from flying over my head.” I got a curious look from Dr. Hurst when I let out a thunderous guffaw. 

Check out Darren’s tutoring profile.

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