University of Richmond
BackgroundInterview Date:November 2018
Gender Identity: Male
Sexual Orientation: Heterosexual
Graduation Year: 2020
High School Experience: Private high school in Singapore with a graduating class of about 200 students.
First Generation College Student: No
Major: PPEL – Philosophy, Politics, Economics, and Law
Minor: Biology and maybe Environmental Studies
Extracurricular Activities: I’m involved in College Democrats, Student Government, the Young Democrats of America, and I’m in Greek life.
Did any of your extracurricular activities have a particularly big impact on your experience? In what ways?
College Democrats and the Young Democrats of America have. One of the reasons I came to Richmond was that the school is inside the state capital. I knew I wanted to get involved in politics, or maybe Virginia State politics. I think those organizations have had a lot of opportunities where if you want to get involved you’re able to. At the same time, there aren’t many people who are super driven to go right into politics. There’s a small group of us that’ll go to conferences throughout the nation, have gotten jobs on different campaigns, and have even started political action committees.
Can you describe the weekly coursework for your PPEL major?
It’s more readings than anything else. I’ve actually taken all the elective and non-core classes for my major. I’m taking the first core class right now, and through all the political science and economics classes I’ve had, I’ve already read the core text. I expect it to get a little more in-depth with the next couple of classes. From what I’ve heard from my friends, it’s mainly readings and a couple of papers.
Is there anything you feel the PPEL department does especially well or poorly?
The PPEL department is really good at letting students find what they’re interested in, compared to some other majors like accounting where you’re locked in on that path. I know people come here for the PPEL degree, and after they take a philosophy course or two, they [change course and] decide to major in that. I wish the core classes were easier to get into. It’s a very popular major, and most of the time the core classes are the first to go on course registration day.
What has been your favorite and least favorite class in your major?
My favorite class was a philosophy ethics course. It was something I hadn’t done a lot of reading in before-hand. I’m really interested in politics, and those classes have been rehashing a couple of things, or it focuses on one specific thing. This ethics class exposed me to a whole new set of readings from new authors, and different ideas and thoughts. It’s made me a lot more well-rounded. As far as my least favorite, sometimes I wish the PPEL degree was just PPE, because there is no pre-law here. Some of the law classes are a lot more rigorous than others. I ended up taking law in literature not knowing what to expect. It ended up being about analyzing the law in famous books. I learned more about literature than I did law.
How would you describe the learning environment? Do you think it’s particularly competitive or collaborative?
It’s definitely competitive in a sense that I haven’t met someone here who doesn’t care about their grades. If people are struggling, they will go to their professor’s office hours because the professor to student ratio is really good. When people take advantage of this, I’ve seen people who don’t know the first unit of material ace the final. Whether it’s collaborative or not, that depends on your major. I have friends in the business school where there’s no collaboration unless you’re in the same Greek organization or have a tie somewhere else. Otherwise, it seems very cut throat from an outsider’s perspective. I’ve had a lot of group projects, and a lot of my courses end up being discussion based. [The student-faculty ratio is 8:1.]
Do you feel that people are open to multiple schools of thought in the classroom?
I’d say so. This may be because I’ve taken discussion-based philosophy classes, but there’s definitely a pattern in the classroom where professors will assign a reading, and they’ll ask the class what they think about it. It’s not the professor pushing an idea. Everyone read the same thing, so now you can argue your view on it.
Why did you pick your major? Are you happy with your choice?
I picked PPEL because I was thinking about applying to schools in the UK. There, the PPEL degree is basically the degree that prepares you to be a politician. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a politician, wanted to do policy, or maybe work on a campaign. I knew I wanted to get involved in politics generally. When I looked in the states, only a few universities offered a degree like PPEL, and the University of Richmond is one of them. I also really liked that instead of being pigeonholed into one topic, PPEL allowed me to try out a bunch of different courses. If I could do it over again, I’d do the same thing. I’m not ending up in the same place I thought I would be coming into school. Now, I think I’ll do something within environmental policy.
On and Around Campus
Where have you lived on campus?
Freshman: Marsh Hall with three roommates
Sophomore: Lakeview Hall with one roommate and two suitemates
Junior: The University Forest Apartments with one roommate and two suitemates
What was your favorite living situation?
Lakeview Hall because I applied and got into a course called Sophomore Scholars in Residence. I ended up living with everyone in my course. Everyone on my hall was in my class, and we ended up going on a trip aboard to see first-hand what we were learning about. It was a unique experience, and because you had to apply, people were actually interested in the topic. It really enhanced my sophomore year.
How was transitioning from Singapore to Richmond, VA?
It was interesting. It’s a lot colder here. Singapore is a nice even 80 degrees every day throughout the year, so I underestimated how much winter clothing I needed. Aside from that, Singapore is a very small country, allowing you to get around a lot easier. At the University of Richmond, it’s hard to get off campus sometimes, and the public transportation isn’t that great. I’ve lived in several other countries before Singapore, so it wasn’t a big culture shock when I came here. The food and culture of Singaporeans is different than Americans who attend here, and I’ve only met one international student from Singapore. It’s a different group of people with different ideas and ways of life.
Pros and cons of being in Richmond, VA?
1) It’s in the state capital. If you want to get involved with politics, it’s so easy to lean into that. Last year I was a legislative intern for a state delegate, and I ended up picking which bills they would co-sponsor.
2) Richmond as a city itself is changing. It has the historical sights, being the capital of the Confederacy, but the city tries hard to shed that image. There are lots of coffee shops, restaurants, and microbreweries opening up.
1) Public transportation is my biggest one. Not only is it hard to get off campus if you don’t have your own car, but a lot of other universities will have their dining hall open until midnight. Ours closes around 8 or 9. This is because the public transportation for the workers stops going to the university around that time. We have a convenience store open until midnight, but it would be nice to be able to swipe in and grab some food.
What kind of weekend activities or nightlife do you like to participate in?
I’m in a Greek organization, and we have parties practically every Thursday-Saturday. I mostly go to those, and occasionally I’ll go off campus to watch a movie. There are bars and clubs, but I’m not too keen on going there because I have to buy my own drinks. We have lodges, which is unique to Richmond. Fraternities don’t have fraternity houses, but they have big buildings with open floorplans. Every Friday the fraternities will throw lodge parties. People will come and dance, which has been a staple of the social scene.
What is an alternative option to going to a lodge party?
There are off-campus or apartment parties.
How did the nightlife differ before and after you joined Greek life?
Freshman year the fraternities try to rush the freshman guys. If you know somebody in the fraternity, most of the time they will try to get your number to invite you to parties. It was really accessible to get in, all you had to do was call and ask for a shuttle. Sometimes you have to wait awhile, but if you have a friend that’s a girl call, they’ll come by and pick you up faster. After I joined my Greek organization, I can still go to parties of other Greek organizations, but only if I have a friend that I’m really close to in them. Being in a sorority is different, you can go to any of the fraternity parties. [For freshman boys], as long as you know someone you can tag along with them in a shuttle, or, it’s very easy to get invites to parties if you say you’re interested in them.
How happy are you with the weekend options at Richmond? Is there anything you would change?
I’m pretty happy with the nightlife options at Richmond. I don’t know if I’d change anything big. It wasn’t difficult to get into parties, and I’m pretty happy with the amount of partying I do now. Sometimes I wish the university was a bit bigger so we could have massive parties, but every now and then fraternities will have their biggest party of the year. Those are definitely the better ones to go to.
How did you meet your closest friends?
I knew of one my roommates coming into freshman year because he also went to an international school, and we met at a sports competition. I met my closest friends through my Greek organization, or through some of my extracurricular activities. I’m also really close to a lot of people in College Democrats. I’m still close with people that lived on my hall, and those who were in my classes.
How would you describe your social scene at Richmond?
It’s pretty good in general, but the parties are definitely dominated by Greek life. If it’s not Greek parties, several other groups like the international or minority students generally have their own organizations or clubs that will host parties. It’s not that you can’t go to those, but they will hang out with themselves for better or worse. The majority of students who go to Richmond aren’t minority or international, so freshman year it’s a little hard for them to relate. If there’s an institution set up that has similar views than them, they’ll obviously hang out with those people. By sophomore year those friendships have already been entrenched, and then we don’t really reach out to one another. [9% of undergraduates are international students, and 29% are students of color.]
Were there any parts of American university or Richmond that surprised you when you arrived on campus?
I knew the stereotype of college parties, and in Singapore, the drinking age was 18 so I definitely went out and drank before I came to college. I was a little surprised that some people will go out practically every day of the week, such as Tuesday nights. Other than that, it was kind of what I expected it to be.
Has the alumni network helped you find internships or jobs?
There is a program through career services that you can post your resume to. You’ll see all the jobs people have sent to Richmond, and it relies heavily on the alumni network. I haven’t met many alumni myself that are involved in the same type of fields I want to go into. It’s definitely helped out a lot of my friends.
How helpful was the career office?
I used them to check over my resume before applying to my first internship, and that was pretty helpful. They are strict about what an acceptable resume is, but I got the internship, so maybe they’re right. It’s helpful to find jobs through their Spider Connect system, and they even have mock interviews although I’ve never used them. Overall, they are really handy. I think a lot of people on campus know about them and use them.
Advice for Prospective Freshmen
What is something you wish you knew about Richmond before entering as a freshman?
I wish I knew about the different financial opportunities that were offered. I didn’t pay too much attention to the cost of the colleges I was applying to, and it’s definitely high at Richmond. They also have lots of programs to stipend you for jobs, or they can pay for a lot of things you want to do if you know where to ask. We were able to get funding for the National Young Democrats of America convention through various departments, and the organization that leads over the clubs. That was helpful for networking, and several of us got positions on the national board. We also went to the College Democrats of America convention and the University of Richmond was the only college from Virginia that was represented. This summer I’m doing a research project that my professor and I came up with. She said I can apply for funding for housing and anything I’ll need for the project. [The total estimated cost to attend Richmond is $69,750.]
What is something a prospective student may miss on a visit that’s worth checking out?
The beauty of the campus is something a lot of students like when they visit. The university plants a lot of the flowers and cleans up the lake before these tours. I feel like the social scene on campus is different than a lot of other universities. If they get the chance, try to visit a lodge, a pig roast, or even just a house party to understand that’s going to be what most of the social events are.
Reasons to attend University of Richmond:
1) Having small classroom sizes don’t really sound that great, but it’s beneficial to have a personal connection with your processor even if you’re not struggling. I’ve asked professors for career advice, and just kind of having them as resources have been really cool.
2) It’s not too difficult to be a big fish in the small pond, that is the student size here. If you involve yourself in an organization your freshman year that you know you’ll be passionate about, you can be president of that organization by the time you’re a junior or senior. The amount of resources available to you as the president of an organization means you can really put your own initiatives into place. [The undergraduate population about 3,000 students.]
3) If you’re someone that likes having a college campus, and you don’t see yourself leaving a lot. It’s kind of its own sustaining campus. I don’t go to a lot of organizations that I’m not involved in, but most of the organizations have events that are open to the public. You’ll be able to find stuff every day of the week if you check the organization posting.
4) The university has a lot of cool traditions I didn’t know about when applying. Things like the secret society, the myth that if you kiss someone in the gazebo on the lake you’re going to marry them, or that some tunnels connect the two sides of campus. If you’re into finding out secrets or hidden things, there’s a lot you can dig into at Richmond.
Reasons to not attend University of Richmond:
1) Tuition. Generally, the people who come here are better off, so if you’re not better off, the university does a good job at giving financial aid. My friends that are middle class have a big bill to foot when they graduate. [Richmond is need-blind in admissions.]
2) If you’re looking for a college town, it’s super difficult to leave the campus. We have a shuttle and bus system, but they’re unreliable at best.
3) It’s a small campus so it can feel like a high school at times. If you end up [romantically involved] with someone, there’s a 70% chance you’re going to see them when you don’t want to or they are going to be friends with one of your friends.