What is it Like to Attend University of Southern California?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Kalee is a Los Angeles tutor specializing in a multitude of subjects including MCAT prep tutoring, Chemistry tutoring, and Finance tutoring. She graduated from University of Southern California in 2012 where she studied Business and Natural Sciences. See what she had to say about he 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?

Kalee: The USC campus is located in South Central Los Angeles. Most students live either on-campus or within one mile, and therefore, walk or bike to classes. Because the surrounding area is not the safest, the university offers two services to ensure student safety at night. First, Campus Cruiser is a car service for students who wish to travel within a one mile radius of the school between the hours of 6pm-2:30am. Second, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) will pick up and drop off any student at the hours in which Campus Cruiser is not running. Students definitely do not need a car if they plan on staying on campus, but you cannot get around the LA area without one, so it is recommended after the first year. 

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

Kalee: Every professor has designated office hours for meeting with students outside of class. However, every professor I have had has made themselves available outside of office hours by appointment. The teaching assistants teach discussions sections with a small group of students (10-20) and hold office hours. Since all of them are graduate students, they are very open for students to reach out to them outside of class and ask questions about the class, research, etc. Students are required to see their academic advisors every semester before registering for classes (depending on the school). Advisors are also available during walk-in hours and appointment. 

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

Kalee: The dorm life at USC is great. Each dorm has a different character, so students can choose what vibe fits them best. All freshmen are required to stay in USC housing and have a USC dining plan with meals and/or dining dollars. There are three dining halls on campus and many restaurants/fast-food options. Students will leave their room doors open while they are inside so people walking by often stop by for a chat. There are also organized events by the RA or the building government aimed to help students build relationships with their floor and dorm building.

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? 

Kalee: I would say the majors that are best represented are those housed in the named schools on campus, such as business/accounting (Marshall), journalism/communication (Annenberg), and film production/cinematic arts (School of Cinematic Arts). With that said, the College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences just received an enormous naming donation so majors housed in that college are well supported financially and by advising. I majored in Business-Cinematic Arts (a competitive joint program between the Marshall School and the School of Cinematic Arts) and minored in Natural Sciences because my ultimate goal was to enter medical school. USC was extremely supportive of my varied, and unusual area of study. They actually encouraged diverse studies through their Renaissance Scholar program. Though it is about five and a half years of course units, USC allowed me to fit it into four years.

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?

Kalee: Living in a dorm made it very easy to meet people and make friends as a freshman. I believe that most people at USC remained close to their freshman year dormmates throughout college. At the beginning of every semester there is an involvement fair, where students can sign up to join a few of the hundreds of campus organizations. Involvement in these clubs is the best way to make lasting friendships, because the other people in the club share the same interests as you do. Now that I have graduated, I can say that I met my best friends through campus organizations and study abroad programs. Greek life does play a significant role in the campus social life as many freshman and sophomores choose to rush. I was not involved in a sorority, and can say with confidence that if Greek life is not for you, you will still have an amazing college experience. Just get involved!

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

Kalee: The Career Center serves both past and present students of the university with advising, workshops, and campus recruitment. Several times during my four years I used the Career Center resume advising services to understand what companies were looking for and how I could tailor my resume to appeal to each one. Many reputable companies are involved with the formal on-campus recruiting process, but are mostly finance or accounting companies. Examples include JP Morgan Chase & Co., Apple, Bain & Co., Accenture, KPMG, Deloitte, and Ogilvy & Mather. These positions are also largely for local positions in the Los Angeles area, so if students want to move to different cities across the country, it is more difficult. The Career Center can advise you on steps to take to appeal to jobs in other cities, but do not offer anything beyond that. Another thing to note is the “Trojan Network,” an online listing of graduates willing to speak with current students about their careers and how they got there from USC. This is an excellent resource for informational interviewing. 

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

Kalee: There are study spaces in every library, with Leavey Library being the only one on campus to be open for 24 hours. Students are also welcome to study in spaces in the Campus Center, dorm/apartment lounges, and on-campus coffee shops. I mostly studied in my own room at my apartment, so each student can study where they learn best. The public spaces available can fill up during midterms or finals, but you can always book group study rooms in the libraries.

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? 

Kalee: Los Angeles is one of the most vibrant cities in the world, and it has the added benefit of great weather year-round! If you’re interested in sports, you can go see a Lakers game or a Dodgers game (and of course you have to root for your USC Trojans!). There is plenty of shopping, restaurants, and nightlife when you move either to downtown or the west-side. As for outdoor activities, you have several beaches and hiking trails within a 30-minute drive. Students also plan weekend mountain trips and go to Big Bear or Mountain High (about 2-3 hours away). Los Angeles is also the heart of Hollywood, so film screenings, movie premieres, and industry talks are easily accessible. As I have described, there is plenty to do in Los Angeles and the surrounding area (Disneyland, Las Vegas), but you need a car! And you must be weary of traffic, because even though Google tells you it is four miles away, it could easily take you 45 minutes. I would say for the first two years students mostly stay near campus, and tend to venture out a little bit their junior and senior years. 

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

Kalee: Though USC is a private university, it has about 16,000 undergraduates and another 16,000 graduates. I loved this about the school. I was meeting new people, and making new friendships literally until the moment I graduated. By having a student body of this size, you do not feel suffocated, and yet do not feel anonymous either. The class sizes for general introductory courses could get as large as 300 people, but every large class at USC has a discussion section with only 20 other students. Once you move onto upper division classes, the class size drops dramatically to 10-40 people. This way, you can make valuable relationships with professors in the subjects you are actually interested in pursuing further.

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

Kalee: One of my favorite classes at USC was Introduction to Film (CTCS 190) taught by Drew Casper. If anyone has the chance to take a class by Drew Casper, do it! Even if you are not interested in pursuing the cinematic arts. He is an amazing orator, and keeps the class on their toes for the entire four hours. He would dance around the stage, tell us intimate stories, and yell about aspects of the industry that frustrated him. Every one of the 300 students in the class hung off of his every word and could feel his passion for films and for teaching. Though it was a large class, Casper was adept at making each student feel engaged and involved. It is hard to describe why this professor was so incredible, but ask each student that has taken a class from him, and they will have something to say about Drew Casper.

Check out Kalee’s tutoring profile.

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