What is it Like to Attend University of Virginia?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. George graduated from University of Virginia in 2010 with a degree in English Language and Literature. He currently tutors in Philadelphia and specializes in Algebra tutoring, College Essays tutoring, Grammar and Mechanics tutoring, and more. See what he had to say about his 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?

George: The University of Virginia is located within the city of Charlottesville, which is an interesting and comfortable city that I would describe as definitely safe. The university has its own bus lines to transport students around campus (for free), and there are also city buses that can take you elsewhere around Charlottesville. You definitely do not need a car or bike, as Charlottesville is pretty walkable, and the buses can compensate for most of your auto transport needs.

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

George: Professors, teaching assistants, and academic advisers are very available. All of them hold office hours so you can meet with them in person, and most are also very good about responding to email correspondence. 

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

George: When you get into UVA, you get to pick your preference for where you want to live. In my experience, I thought the university could have done a better job describing the dorms to help you form a decision. That being said, I was satisfied with my overall dorm experience.

The dorm life is a little complicated in that it can be so different depending on where you live. When you pick your preferred dorm, you don't always get it, and each location offers something different. When I got in to UVA, my first choice for dorms was the McCormick dorms, which are what most refer to as "old dorms." I was recommended to live there because I was told it would be the classic UVA experience. But, I ended up getting placed in the Alderman dorms (i.e. "new dorms") and I couldn't have been happier in that placement. I liked these dorms because they offer a suite-style dorm life, which really makes the dorm experience feel more communal than interior corridor dorm rooms. Although these are the two mainstream dorm choices for First-Years, there are other places to live as well.

Other choices for dorms include Gooch/Dillard, a suite style living arrangement, but on a smaller scale in a less convenient location; Hereford College, a nice set of dorms upon Observatory Hill that feel quite isolated from the rest of the school, but is also--supposedly--structured around active programming aimed at sustainability; Brown College, a very convenient residential college, requires students to fill out a very strange application to enjoy its community of "intellectual stimulation" and "social acceptance;" and finally, the International Residence College, a dorm for students that are interested in cultural diversity and international issues, which usually houses many of the international students as well. 

In terms of dining options, students--regardless of their dorm location--have access to every dining hall offered by the university. The Observatory Hill dining hall (colloquially known as "O-Hill") is probably the most First-Year friendly dining option, as it is located close to both the Alderman and McCormick dorms. However, if you are on Central Grounds between classes, or live in Brown College and need a meal, Newcomb Hall is the most convenient option. Lastly, if you live in Hereford College, Gooch/Dillard, or even some of the Alderman dorms further from O-Hill, Runk becomes the dining hall of choice. Since Runk is kind of tucked away in Hereford College, it also has the added bonus of being the least crowded at any given time.

Of course, there are also many non-standard ways to dine at UVA. There are places on Grounds like "Pavilion XI" where students can buy food court-like offerings using "plus dollars," which is a currency granted to UVA students with dining plans to be used only on food purchases. Also, there are a few establishments that will take these "plus dollars" as payment, like Domino's Pizza. Lastly, if you feel like spending some real money, Charlottesville is home to lots of great restaurants that are easily accessible by bus or walking. In fact, Charlottesville was even named one of the top 15 cities with the most restaurants per capita.

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? 

George: The programs that are best represented and supported at UVA are generally the larger and more prestigious programs at the university. This means that the Commerce, Law, Business, Economics, English, and Medical programs are the most highly visible majors around Grounds. That being said, UVA is arguably the best public university in the country and thus has a lot of offerings that are well supported despite their underrepresentation.

In my time at the university, I studied English, and I did so because I was naturally drawn toward the subject. I have a critical eye that lends itself particularly well to dissecting works and discussing my findings. I also found that the program was largely unconcerned with formality and pretense, provided you wished to contribute to literary conversation. I had tried Science, and--even in the softer realms--there was a rigidity to it that I couldn't conform to. Much like English, I also found myself picking up a minor in Media Studies for many of the same reasons mentioned about the English program, only with Media Studies, I was turning my critical eye toward everything from the nightly news to experimental film projects. Media Studies, by the way, is one of those high quality programs at UVA that is largely unrecognized due to its small size.

I truly believe that UVA did a good job in offering support to me both in the English and Media Studies programs. There were plenty of opportunities available for me to have access to my professors or my advisor. Plus, the program offered access to a writing center to help with assignments. In hindsight, I could have taken more advantage of these support structures, but they were definitely there. 

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? 

George: I had no problem meeting people and making friends at UVA as a First-Year, and my ability to do so had nothing to do with Greek life. My dorm experience placed me with a bunch of great people that I became friends with. Plus, with events like the activities fair, where all of UVA clubs set up to recruit First-Year students, it is easy to find people with similar interests.

Although I was the only person from my high school class to go to UVA, I found it incredibly easy to find several social circles to be a part of due to the school's size and diversity.

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

George: Unfortunately, I did not take advantage of the Career Center, so I cannot speak to how helpful it is. It is my understanding that it should be very capable and supportive though, with plenty of companies out to recruit.

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

George: UVA is home to a great many study areas, with the main attractions being their libraries. The two main libraries, Alderman and Clemons are easily accessible as they are located right in Central Grounds. Clemons is probably the most popular, with many large spaces for group study as well as quiet study floors, but it is also probably the most crowded. Alderman is a close second, but feels more tuned for solitary, quiet study given the ability to access the Alderman Stacks and the historic McGregor Room.

My personal favorite library, however, was Brown Hall. The library is tuned toward science and engineering and located slightly southwest of Central Grounds. I enjoyed it so much because it was consistent in never being over-crowded and was located very close to Bryan Hall, which houses the English department.

As far as other study spaces go, there are definitely other libraries around grounds, and dorm lounges can work for study sessions (although they can be rather distracting); but, I would more readily recommend a local cafe or coffee shop over these options.

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? 

George: As previously mentioned, Charlottesville is a great host to outside establishments and things to do to make the UVA experience extremely fun. There are tons of great restaurants, music venues (although some have closed), breweries, local events, vineyards, and other places to explore. You just have to be willing to explore outside the confines of Grounds, which also carries its fair share of fun and exciting things to do.

The great thing about UVA is there is something for everybody at the school or surrounding town, which is what attracts many different people to the school. With this being the case, it is hard to say to what extent students go to the downtown area. I would say that the students attracted to the downtown area visit it often, while others do not. Most things to try in Charlottesville and the surrounding area are easily accessible, and it just depends on one's willingness to venture out and try these offerings. Luckily, UVA is located right in Charlottesville and thus isn't very far from any surrounding attractions.

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

George: UVA, being a public school--and a rather good one--has a large student body. Counting postgraduate students, the university is home to over 20,000 students, making it one of the larger schools in Virginia. That being said, the school definitely feels a lot smaller than it actually is most of the time, and I was definitely pleased with the typical class sizes. 

The only time any class size seemed overwhelming was when I was enrolled in any survey/intro courses that were a requirement for a program. In those classes, I could be sitting in a lecture with literally hundreds of other students. However, as I got further along in my studies or enrolled in more specific classes, I usually found myself in classes of 10-15 students. And, in the lecture courses, I was usually also assigned a discussion group, which was a class of about 20 students that would discuss lectures and readings together.

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

George: Probably the most memorable experience with a professor I had at UVA was when I was enrolled in a class that studied film noir. I remember it well because it was a class that I attended at night, in a basement, for two and a half hours, and these aspects of the course had me dreading it at first.

What I didn't expect was to have such a positive experience with the professor that taught the course. He was very understanding of the conditions surrounding his course’s structure, but still pushed us academically. For example, he created a sign-up sheet to have us all bring in food to share as we hosted discussions for class. This was definitely a fun way to compensate for the length and timing of the class. More than anything though, I remember one night, when I was leaving his class, I found myself walking in the same direction as my professor. It was toward the end of the semester, and we found ourselves engaged in a casual reflection of the course. I felt like he really listened to what I had to say and appreciated my input. This feeling was confirmed when he remarked that he enjoyed having me in class to the point that he wanted me to join him the next semester in his History of Media class. I took him up on the offer, and I never regretted it. I really felt wanted, and I'll never forget that.

Check out George’s tutoring profile.

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