What is it Like to Attend Vanderbilt University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Emily is an Atlanta tutor and 2008 graduate of Vanderbilt University. She holds a degree in Classical Languages and currently tutors several subjects including SAT prep tutoring, ACT prep tutoring, Geometry tutoring, and Reading tutoring. See what she had to say about her time at Vanderbilt:

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?

Emily: Vanderbilt is a walking campus in the southwest side of Nashville. All of main campus is walkable within ten minutes if you walk fast, fifteen if you don’t, and the Peabody Campus is just adjacent and will add anywhere from an extra five to ten, depending on where you’re going. The athletic stuff like student rec and stadium stuff is also just adjacent, so during undergrad for me it was walk, walk, walk! The campus is open, gorgeous, and park-like, but that open-ness also means that anyone could wander through at any point. Still, the lighting is pretty good and there is a security presence, so I always felt safe. The Hillsboro Village area is also easily walkable. There are buses for getting into Nashville or Green Hills areas, and I believe they are still free for student use. It’s nice to have a car for getting out, but it definitely isn’t necessary. Bikes are also nice to have in case you want to venture further afield into the city or surrounding areas (like nearby Belmont University), but again not necessary.

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

Emily: This may vary somewhat based on your area of study, but I found that all of my professors were happy to talk with me about any concern I ever had. They all have office hours, which means periods of time during the week when they are in their offices available to anyone who wants to walk in and talk to them, and I think the university has a set number of hours that is a minimum for them (I don’t know what the minimum is because mostly all you have to do is approach them after class to get an idea of when you can go see them). I didn’t have many TA’s myself, but the few I did have were even more available than the professors, if that is possible. My fellow undergrads had similar feelings about their professors. The fact that the professors were so available, helpful, knowledgeable, and genuinely interested was one of my favorite things about this school.

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

Emily: The dorm life at Vandy has been changing in the last few years, moving toward a residential campus. I myself lived in dorms my entire undergraduate career and had a great experience with it. First year I had a roommate, and I did not in subsequent years as I lived in the Language dorm (McTyeire Hall) which is all single rooms, and included its own small dining hall, where we were expected to eat dinner on weeknights with our Language group. The people you eat with are kind of your family, so I formed that kind of bond with several of my hall mates. There are lots of dining options on campus, and the only problem I ever had with that was on Sunday nights when many of them were closed, limiting my options (I was pretty spoiled when it came to on-campus food). The new Commons residential area has a beautiful dining hall, and there are other small eateries all over campus with various themes and food choices, but you can use the meal plan at all of them. They’re pretty good, too—I’m not vegetarian or anything, but I did end up at the vege café a lot, because their food was just great. By the time I left, there was a policy of missed meals on the meal plan rolling over into a sort of meal-money dollar amount, which could then be used at participating restaurants off campus. A lot of great places in the campus vicinity accepted this meal money, so I was using my Vandy card all over the place. 

As for socialization, there are definitely more opportunities to get involved in organizations and groups than there are hours in the day, and through those types of things you meet all sorts of people that like the same things you like. You also get to know them while participating in an activity that you enjoy, or something that helps others. On weekends, there are always events and shows and all kinds of things to take in. I really enjoyed hanging out with my friends in our respective dorm spaces; some dorms had reputations for being home to this or that type of people, so for example I found myself hanging out around the “art and philosophy” dorm because that was the type of people my friends were. I’m sure that Greek life also provides a lot of opportunity for socialization, even though that was something I never really took part in.

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?

Emily: I think Vanderbilt is pretty well known for its graduate/professional programs, like Law and especially the School of Medicine, given the huge hospital that is part of Vanderbilt campus. I studied Classical Languages, which just means I took Latin a lot. My department was pretty small, and while everyone is undergoing careful budgetary concerns right now, I never felt like we especially lacked for anything. A lot of my friends were Engineering students, but Vandy also gives a good emphasis to the importance of liberal arts education. 

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?

Emily: Greek life is fairly big at Vandy, but I never joined a sorority. I did have friends who were in sororities and fraternities, and friends who were not. Although around 50% of the undergrad population goes Greek, only the officers of each organization live in their respective fraternity or sorority house, so the Greek life participants are still integrated throughout campus living. Freshman dorms were good places for me to make friends, some of them just temporary to keep me sane and social as I began the more difficult task of figuring out who my ‘real’ friends would be and what I was going to major in. We were all also required to take a freshman seminar during the first year; I ended up taking a cool English class which put me in touch with two of my best college friends. Many of my other best college friends I met through those people, actually, so freshman seminar is a good way to make connections to others who are new like you are. The rest of my long-term friendships came from my dorm life later on in my undergrad career. I think the best way to meet people and make friends in those early stages is just to get involved with stuff you like, because you will naturally end up doing that stuff alongside others who like it too. 

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

Emily: The Career Center was really helpful for me when I began to freak out about the next step after Vandy. They helped me craft my resume and search for potential jobs, and sent me to job fairs. I still didn’t know at the time what I really wanted to do, so I wasn’t always able to take full advantage of the Career Center’s offerings, but happily they do have an alumni help component which I still use online. I’m not sure if reputable companies recruit on campus because I was so unsure of what I even wanted to do, but I do know that the Vanderbilt name is a pretty impressive one to have on the top of your transcripts, and companies probably sit up and pay attention when they see it. 

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

Emily: There are several libraries around campus, and lots of study spaces in lots of buildings everywhere. Some of them are quiet, some are not, and most of them fill up pretty solidly during things like finals time. I personally always did my best work in my own room, but I did notice a lot of wonderful other spaces which I mentally noted as spaces I would like to study, if only I ever chose to do work somewhere other than my own desk. The main library, Central Library, has recently added a little café on the terrace, and the first floor has a gorgeous reading room area. The stacks are narrow and a little dismal as a study space, but if what you need is to be squirreled away from the world in a dungeon-like space (never mind that you’re on the upper floors there), then that is where you should (and I sometimes did) go. If you prefer big windows and lots of light, try the Biomedical library next to the hospital. I also remember doing group study sessions in the study rooms of the Engineering library inside the Stevenson Center, so there are lots of 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? 

Emily: Nashville is a very cool city, and it has a lot to offer college students. As its nickname “Music City” would suggest, it definitely has lots of live music, and not just country either. The trick is finding out when and where, and then in getting there. Engaging as Nashville is, I learned more about what there was to see and do after I graduated than I did while I was in school there. Lots of students spend most of their time in what we refer to lovingly as the “Vanderbilt Bubble” which includes all of campus and then a few blocks radius all around it. That several-block radius does have its share of cool spaces, coffee shops, theatres, live music venues, etc.  Downtown is just a little too far to be called “easily” bikeable, although it can be done, and driving downtown is annoying because you have to find parking, and it usually isn’t free. As a student, I didn’t have money to spend on much, so I didn’t go downtown all that often. We did go to the symphony sometimes, though, because they had a special deal where students could get tickets for $10 in the hour before a show began. Other cultural opportunities probably run deals for students like this too. Those who are willing and able to explore what Nashville has to offer will be rewarded, but honestly as an undergrad I did not have quite the time or money to explore them fully. 

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

Emily: Vanderbilt has about 6,800 undergrads, which to me felt just right, because I was always seeing new faces, but I never felt lost among the massive crowd. Class sizes were accordingly small (occasionally tiny), although larger general education classes can get bigger. I never had a class of more than 50 students, and had maybe two or three that were over 30; most of the classes I took were 30 students or less. Class size is also something that will depend a little bit on your area of study, though, and as you get further in to your major or specialty, the smaller it will tend to get-- in my junior and senior years I had several classes with seven or eight people (yay Latin and Greek!).

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

Emily: I think my regret might be not taking more seminar classes than I did. Seminars are just courses limited to 16 people maximum, and are largely discussion based courses. I only took three of those. Looking back, they were some of my most interesting classroom experiences, quite different from my language and lecture classes. The ones I took were all to fulfill requirements, but they really broadened my educational experience. We used to have a requirement called “Science in Society,” which they do not have anymore, partly because we’re half convinced no one really knew what that was supposed to entail anyway. But it was the last requirement I had by senior year, so I ended up taking a seminar on the life and works of Leonardo da Vinci; it just so happened to be full of really interesting students and taught by one of the coolest professors on campus, Dr. Bess from the history department. Our final project for the class was really open-ended, as per the multi-talented Mr. da Vinci, and we could create almost anything we liked so long as we could explain the connection to the course material or readings. Some people wrote research papers, one student built their own musical instrument and played a song based on a mathematical formula, another person painted, I wrote a short story. The final drafts of all projects were due at or before trivia night, which we mistakenly thought that as a bunch of really smart academic and creative people, we would doubtlessly win. We did not win trivia, because trivia night actually requires you to know a lot more about sports and pop culture than it does about history (even trivia night in Hillsboro Village, right next to Vanderbilt); we did have a lot of fun trying.

Check out Emily’s tutoring profile.

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