Home to 63 colleges, L.A. provides a unique tertiary education experience where students having vastly different college experiences encounter each other in the city. About 15 minutes away, UCLA is home to 31,543 undergraduate students. Though we may share a meal alongside our peers on Sawtelle, it is always interesting to see the similarities and differences between universities of largely differing sizes, locations and lifestyles.
This week, the Loyolan interviewed UCLA and LMU students across differing majors, interests and grades to get a glimpse of how our peers are doing both before and during the pandemic.
Ranked the number one public school in the country, UCLA excels as a research institution that focuses on “discovering and advancing knowledge and practice.” With a rigorous and expansive foundational education in place, students take away a distinctive experience upon completing their prerequisites.
UCLA sophomore human biology major Sarah Huang talked about the competitive stereotype commonly associated with the school, especially with respect to large classes. "Of course I had heard about how cut throat the UCs were, and I was so intimidated just seeing giant empty lecture halls. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but most of my classes aren’t curved, which is something that a lot of my high school teachers scared me into thinking. Within the classes, there’s actually a shared camaraderie in the collective suffering. The classes are pretty hard, especially the tests, but with so many people going through the same thing there’s definitely the feeling that you’re building a community.”
UCLA sophomore math and political science major Zack Taylor recalled a particularly poignant lecture hall memory. “I had an astronomy professor my freshman year. He started sobbing in front of a 200 person lecture [while] recounting the Apollo missions. It was such a surreal realization that he was just a person like the rest of us.”
In contrast, LMU students report feeling close to their professors, and find that opportunities to develop professional relationships or seek out research opportunities with industry professionals are ample. Sophomore marketing major Shaun Holmes agrees. “I love that LMU is small enough so that you feel you are important in the community, but also big enough so that you’re constantly meeting people.”
UCLA students report having trouble making friends in a city-sized school. Huang remarked that in the first weeks of her first semester, she was terrified that the only way she could make friends was by joining Greek Life. As it turns out, the social experiences of UCLA and LMU students meld comfortably.
Taylor noted that “making friends is much more complete and a lot faster than high school. In high school, you mostly see someone at their highs. But in college, you learn their sleeping patterns, eating patterns, mood swings. It feels a lot more intimate.”
Similarly, sophomore LMU communications major Jimmy Warshawsky described the diversity of social opportunities at LMU. “My social life at LMU has been very ideal. I have never been a huge partier and generally prefer small gatherings with close friends, which I was totally able to have at LMU. I have made some amazing friends and been on some amazing adventures in my time so far on the Bluff — and off the Bluff during the pandemic. I think 'social life' at LMU is something that is super adaptable to the person because we have so many options, University sponsored and otherwise, for students to get involved. Some of my friends are huge party people and are out every night, and others prefer to stay in their rooms and play video games or whatnot, but I feel that across the board students are pretty happy here, whatever their social life looks like.”
For students at both schools, COVID-19 has hit day-to-day life hard. Most students either live in their permanent residences or in apartments around school.
Among the 300 people living on the LMU campus this semester, freshman political science major Evan Fekete has reflections on both social life and academics in a challenging era. “Since such a small portion of the LMU student population is in L.A. right now and even fewer live on campus, I’ve had to work super hard to meet people and make friends. It definitely came as a surprise to me because I was expecting to meet other students easily, like through my classes and my dorm. I’m really sad to have missed the natural interactions that happen during freshman year when everyone is new to each other, but I have been able to explore a new city which is a silver lining. I feel really disconnected from school because of online learning. I don’t really get to know my professors and they don’t get to know me, even in the smaller classes at LMU.”
Living just off campus, LMU sophomore mathematics major Nicholas Wilcox shares similar sentiments. “Classes has been a mixed bag. Being a math major, learning math online is almost the same thing as learning it in person. There are some differences, but the most noticeable one is the burnout. The Zoom burnout comes quick, and when it does, it never goes away. Attending class and working in my bedroom, I find it so hard to be in deep focus for long periods of time in the same room that I lose all of my focus and worries. Having a month left of school, I’m going to be halfway done with my college experience and I feel like I haven’t even done anything. I feel like I still have yet to be an actual college student.”
Tikva Cohen, a freshman biology major at UCLA, spent her fall quarter at home in Long Beach before moving to Westwood in January. Academically she says, “Starting college remote is obviously not what any of us expected, but I feel very used to virtual classes now. Actually, I’m kind of terrified of going to in-person. I’ve been fortunate in making friends in my sorority and in the neighborhood, but I definitely don’t feel like a UCLA student at the moment and I have no idea what to expect.” Socially, she is grateful for her sorority and feels like it made an enormous difference this semester. “Greek life is part of my everyday life now — I never realized how important it would be. Especially with [COVID-19] it creates a sense of shared experience and it makes socializing over the internet so much easier.”
Thus, we see life across the 405 isn’t so different after all. As online school emerges as the great equalizer of education, it will be interesting to see how students across the city will come out on the other side.