What is it Like to Attend Valparaiso University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Katelyn is a Chicago tutor specializing in several subjects, including ACT prep tutoring, Chemistry tutoring, English tutoring, and more. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry, International Service, and Humanities from Valparaiso University in 2014. Check out what she had to say about her experience at Valparaiso University:

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?

Katelyn: Although Valparaiso University is set in the suburban town of Valparaiso (in Indiana), the campus is distinctly separate from the town. Save for one residential street, the campus is entirely comprised of residential life and academic buildings—there are no major streets running through campus, so the only cars in motion are those of the students or faculty. While parking is available for students after their freshman year, I did not elect to have a car until my senior year, when I lived off-campus. It takes about 15-20 minutes to walk between the farthest buildings, so there are some bikes around campus. Due to the lack of indoor storage for bikes, having one can be more of a hassle during the winter months when the sidewalks are icy. There is a city bus system called the V-Line that students may utilize for free if they wish to leave campus to see a movie or run errands. The bus also makes special trips to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Here, you can pick up the South Shore train and be in Chicago in an hour!

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

Katelyn: The faculty is by far the best thing about Valparaiso University. As a predominantly undergraduate school, there are no teaching assistants for classes (outside of a few lab assistants in the sciences who help grade assignments). The average class size is in the 20s, so it is very easy to get to know your professor. It is not uncommon to hear of faculty members holding the last class session of the semester in their own homes, with a barbeque or holiday party afterwards. Students are required to meet with their academic adviser prior to registering for classes, so at the very minimum, you will see your adviser once per semester. However, it is more likely that you will see your adviser once a week just by passing them in the hallway of an academic building! My chemistry adviser was even part of our chemistry club co-ed intramural volleyball team! 

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

Katelyn: Unless you are registered as a commuter, there is a mandatory housing component at Valparaiso University. The threshold for moving off-campus is 88 credit hours, which is typically reached after the spring semester of junior year. There are eight co-ed residence halls on campus, as well as one female-only hall that houses the six national sororities. The three freshman residence halls are all directly next to each other, so new students benefit from a little piece of campus that is essentially their own. There is one main dining hall, Founders Table, which is set up much like a food court. It is open every day of the week, so you do not have to worry about looking for meals on the weekends! There is also a cafe in Harre Union and a Grinders coffee/sandwich shop in the library. Meals are purchased a la carte, so there is no specific meal plan (i.e. 21 meals a week, 15 meals a week). I really enjoyed this flexibility because if I missed a meal in the dining hall or opted to eat off-campus, I did not lose any pre-paid money. Meal card money can even be used at the university’s seasonal farmers’ market—a perk during the fall and spring months!  

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?

Katelyn: Valparaiso University has five different colleges: the College of Arts & Sciences, the College of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing & Health Professions, and Christ College (the honors college). It is hard to say what is the most popular major on campus because the university does such a good job of providing an interdisciplinary experience no matter your degree. For example, during freshman year, there is a required course called CORE, which is essentially an introductory college writing/English/humanities course. Professors teaching CORE may be from any of the colleges, so they provide a truly unique perspective on the curriculum via their discipline, and they encourage students to do the same. I cannot say enough positive things about the quality of education I received at Valparaiso University—a significant portion of the students successfully pursue a double major because they are purely interested in several topics. I was an anomaly in this regard. I “accidentally” graduated with a triple major in Chemistry, International Service, and Humanities.

One more thing I will add about academic support is that every college has recently received a major gift from donors/the university. The College of Nursing & Health Professions has expanded its degree programs and acquired simulation laboratories; the College of Business has a new scholarship fund to send students to China for a semester of study; the College of Arts & Sciences recently opened a new academic building, and it is in the process of building a new laboratory building; and finally, the College of Engineering opened a brand new wing of labs and student design space in 2012, as well as a state-of-the-art solar energy research facility.

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?

Katelyn: There is no way not to make friends your freshman year. Resident assistants hold floor meetings and inform you about welcome week activities during the first week of classes. Even before you arrive on campus, Valparaiso University hosts a two-day orientation program in June called FOCUS, where students register for classes, meet their academic advisers, and start to make new friends. I think what helps catalyze friendships among freshman students is the policy in the Fraternity and Sorority community to host formal recruitment in January. Students looking to join one of these organizations must have completed 12 college credits and earned, at minimum, a 2.5 GPA. Joining a fraternity or sorority does not mean you will stop being friends with your other friends. I was in a sorority and had a very close group of friends from freshman year who ended up in different sororities than myself, but I believe our friendship only got stronger because we purposefully went out of our way to hang out with each other! Outside of Greek life, I was also heavily involved with the international community, the fastest growing population of any group on campus—and the most fun, I might add.

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

Katelyn: The Career Center hosts many events throughout the year, culminating in two career fairs (fall and spring semesters). They have run programs such as an etiquette dinner, where professionals taught students proper table manners. I frequented their open office hours while I was putting together a resume for summer internship opportunities, and again when I was completing graduate school applications. They are currently working on creating a network of alumni mentors for students to partner with for everything from job shadowing to casual career advice.

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

Katelyn: There are study areas all over campus… even during my senior year, I was finding new places I had not known existed. While you may have to arrive at the library early during finals week, it is extremely easy to find a space there or in other computer labs/study lounges throughout the year. Though the library is only open until 2:00 a.m., each residence hall has a 24-hour computer lab and quiet study lounge for when you need to work late. My favorite place to study was in the library at the tables closest to the windows—two entire sides of the library are glass, so it is filled with natural light. Because of this, even on days I stayed in the library for over 12 hours, I felt connected with what was happening outside.

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? 

Katelyn: Downtown Valparaiso has significantly changed in even the last four years, and the city has done a lot to help local businesses become more student-friendly. For example, on the first Thursday of every month, there is a dinner deal at a lot of trendy restaurants for appetizers and fixed-price menu items. The movie theatre and bowling alley are just a five-minute ride away from campus, and the shopping mall is within walking distance (with stores like Target, Barnes and Noble, Kohl’s, Marshalls, JCPenney, and Bath & Body Works). The Lake Michigan beachfront/Indiana Dunes are favorite spots when the weather is nice. As the fall approaches, hoards of students carpool to the neighboring town for the local apple orchard/pumpkin farm. Valparaiso University is also known for its basketball, so in the winter you can expect to find the entirety of campus packed into the Athletics-Recreation Center for games several times a week. As mentioned before, the South Shore train is a quick bus ride from campus, so students will often plan weekend trips into Chicago. A significant portion of the student population commutes to campus, so during the winter months when it is too cold to do anything outside except walk to class, campus may seem empty. Once the weather warms up again, you will be wondering if the student population doubled in size! 

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

Katelyn: Valparaiso University is a community, so faculty, staff, and students are all familiar with each other. About 3,000 undergraduates are enrolled at any given time, and another 1,200 graduate students put total enrollment at around 5,000. I felt that this was the perfect number of people because I would always see my friends during the day, but every semester I was able to meet new people too. There is something extremely comforting about not knowing everyone, but also recognizing faces on your walk between classes. I think that at this size, it is also easy to be involved in whatever it is you are passionate about. My favorite example of this was my good friend James (now serving in the Peace Corps in Thailand). His degree was in International Economics and Cultural Affairs, but at Valparaiso University, he was heavily involved in theatre and music, taking on the role of president of the premiere choir, Chorale, in his senior year. Even in our freshman year, he was selected over upper-class music and theatre majors to play one of the leading roles in the musical Floyd Collins.

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

Katelyn: When I was beginning my senior year, the university hired a new professor to fill an endowed chair position. I was already enrolled in a course that he ended up taking over (Global Humanitarianism) from my academic adviser. He is the former President and CEO of Lutheran World Relief, and he has served on the InterAction board in the role of Treasurer. To have a faculty member like this not only teaching my course of nine students, but also mentoring us, was an out-of-this-world opportunity. I ended up taking another class with him in my spring semester, and since then he has become a mentor and role model for me. After I graduated from Valparaiso University, I took three months to go on a cross-country bike ride for charity, and when we rode through Valparaiso, this professor and his wife opened their home to us for several days. It is relationships like this that truly define the Valparaiso University experience. They not only benefit students in their future careers, but in their pursuit to lead lives of character, as well. 

Check out Katelyn’s tutoring profile.

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