UNC Student Interview with Ritushree Dutta | Part 3: An Insider Look at UNC and College Life
Updated: Feb 17
We interviewed Ritushree Dutta '24, a third-year student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is double majoring in Neuroscience and Medical Anthropology with a minor in Spanish. Ritu is the Founder and CEO of the Neuroscience Foundation, an international non-profit organization that makes neuroscience-related opportunities available for young students. At UNC, she researches the effects of cancer treatment on cognitive function and is working on developing methods to measure these changes. In her spare time, Ritu plays tennis competitively on the UNC Club Tennis team, likes to record song covers, and enjoys time with her friends and family.
Key points from the interview:
"When you’re deciding on schools, you will get the best and most honest insight from students who are currently enrolled in that school."
"On campus, your biggest asset in navigating all school-related things is the student body. Always ask your friends and other upperclassmen about their experiences and advice."
Q: Why did you choose UNC over your other choices? What makes this school such a good pre-med school?
A: During my application cycle, like many other college applicants, I was preoccupied with getting into top ranked and prestigious universities.
Out of the 24 applications I submitted, most were to top 20 schools (as per US News rankings), and I received multiple acceptances. It wasn’t until the clock was ticking towards decision day that I realized how many other factors would influence my choice.
For me, education and opportunities were (and still are) my top priorities. Unlike some of my other choices, UNC (ranked #5 in Top Public Universities by US News) had a hospital on campus, which was very important to me as a pre-med student.
Many of my other choices also had hospitals or medical facilities on or near campus, but when I investigated them, I found that opportunities were limited or that the facilities did not have special programs that allowed undergraduates to volunteer or gain experience.
UNC has a hospital volunteering program for undergraduates, and even a physician shadowing program. UNC is located in the research triangle area of North Carolina, and it really feels like there are more research projects on campus than there are students! Almost every faculty member in every discipline is involved in or associated with research, and labs here are always looking for undergraduate students. Such undergraduate-centered opportunities were unique to UNC in comparison to most other schools.
UNC also has a special Health Professions Advising (HPA) group on campus, separate from general academic advising, where you can get advice from trained and knowledgeable pre-med advisors. UNC also has many affiliate programs with Duke and NC State University, which meant that I could avail benefits from all three institutions during my time here as an undergraduate.
The courses taught here over-prepare you for professional or admissions exams. Networking opportunities are infinite. There were so many positives about UNC when it came down to what I really needed academically and professionally.
When you’re deciding on schools, you will get the best and most honest insight from students who are currently enrolled in that school. Once you get your acceptance, you can request to be connected with students on campus, to whom you should ask as many pointed questions as you can. You only learn about the real situation about programs and opportunities that are advertised on university websites from students who have actually been involved with them.
Now, one factor (and this is a big one) that influenced my decision to choose UNC, and which may have influenced my decision otherwise in its absence, is COVID. To be all the way across in California, or far away in New York was almost an implied no-go at the time because of (1) COVID case counts, (2) they could send us back during the semester because of rising cases and I’d have to bear airfare, luggage, and storage costs, (3) I’ve never been away from home for such extended periods of time, and my family is very protective of me, so they would like me to stay closer to home or within driving distance for my undergrad.
Furthermore, whether or not the university offered my preferred majors/minors and relevant extracurricular experiences also contributed to my choice. All of these factors led to me narrowing my choices down to UNC, and I have not regretted my choice for a second.
Q: What are some challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
A: Carolina has tons of resources to help students navigate their first few years, starting from help and advice with registering for classes, to seeking out opportunities, etc.
However, all of the resources can become extremely overwhelming too.
On campus, your biggest asset in navigating all school-related things is the student body. Always ask your friends and other upperclassmen about their experiences and advice. These students have experienced what you are about to experience, and they will have the most relevant and unique advice to share with you.
Another challenge I’ve faced on campus is with the political atmosphere. UNC has a very politically active and passionate student body. Students here are very vocal about political causes and political demonstrations are not uncommon. However, I’ve never encountered anyone who has tried to force their political opinions on me.
What I did struggle with was the feeling of being a bystander. In the political atmosphere, not actively participating or voicing politically correct opinions frequently made me feel as though I was being ignorant. Nevertheless, I came to learn that it wasn’t necessary for me to have an opinion about everything, especially when I was still educating myself about these political issues. The student body generally holds liberal opinions, but everyone is always welcoming of all political perspectives. As a moderate myself, I always felt that my opinions were respected, and students were open to having an academic discussion about topics so that we could all learn from each other.
Q: How heavy is the workload at UNC, especially as a pre-med student studying for a double major and a minor?
A: I can only speak about the workload on behalf of STEM majors, because it differs based on the majors and minors you are taking.
Having two majors and a minor, I typically have a slightly heavier schedule than students with only one major. This is simply due to the nature of the curriculum. As a UNC student, you are expected to have a significantly stronger work ethic. Your professors will hold you accountable to that standard.
You will be expected to do a markedly heavy amount of work outside of class, including reading and analyzing scientific writing, taking notes and completing practice work, writing papers and conducting literature reviews, taking quizzes and assessments on a regular basis to test your own understanding, etc.
Most science classes at UNC utilize a flipped-classroom method, where you will be responsible for gaining a basic understanding of the concepts through readings and assigned prep-materials BEFORE you come to class. During the lecture, your professor will cover the critical thinking aspects of the concepts and walk you through various examples. After class, you should practice the skills you learned and try to apply your concepts to more complex examples.
Science courses at UNC are quite difficult. And, in saying this, I don’t mean to intimidate you. They are difficult because they push you to expand the way you analyze scientific concepts. These courses are designed not just to help you remember and recall scientific theories, but extrapolate and apply those concepts to more abstract scenarios.
Most days initially, you will find yourself in your favorite study spot, scribbling away on your digital notebook. However, as you get more accustomed to college life, you will learn to find ample time to enjoy yourself! Trust my word on it! The workload can certainly get overbearing at times, but the academic support and resources that UNC provides helps to substantially ease your burden.
Q: What are some extracurricular opportunities that UNC offers that you recommend to students who plan on attending this school?
A: One of the reasons I selected UNC over my other choices was the availability of both university-affiliated and unaffiliated extracurricular opportunities.
As a pre-med student, it was important to me that the university that I go to has a hospital/medical facility that provides volunteer and shadowing opportunities. UNC Health hospitals are located inside campus and are within walking distance from most dorms, which makes them extremely convenient for pre-med opportunities.
UNC also has a plethora of student leadership opportunities, including (but not limited to) an expansive student government, student life coordinators, opportunities within university offices, etc. UNC also offers an online database called Heellife, where students can find information on academic, athletic, social, and arts clubs and groups on campus.
I would highly recommend students balance their academics with their extracurriculars. I have been playing on the UNC Club Tennis team since freshman year, and it has been an incredible outlet for me to escape the stress of classes while participating in healthy and sporty competition. I would also recommend joining a few academic interest clubs because they provide a low-stakes space for learning outside the classroom while making new friends who share similar interests with you.
Some of my friends have found internships and employment opportunities with businesses located within the Triangle Area. If you aren’t familiar with the Triangle, it is a region of innovative businesses and research in North Carolina that is marked by UNC in Chapel Hill, NC State University in Raleigh, and Duke University in Durham. In my opinion, this is the best place to be a student in NC; you will always find opportunities that suit your interests. Especially since these institutions are located in areas that are rich in college students, they offer special opportunities for students that would likely not be found in other areas.
What I like most about the university is the support it provides for students to take initiative in building their own extracurriculars. You can always start something of your own and build upon it. For first-years looking for exciting and new opportunities, I would suggest that you look into the APPLES service-learning programs! I am most interested in their alternative break programs that offer you hands-on field experience in areas of your interest during seasonal breaks! It takes the stress away from the semester and also gives you some productive experience if you don’t have plans for vacations. I would also recommend applying to a position with New Student & Family Programs for your sophomore year! I worked with their Weeks of Welcome (WOW) Board (formerly Tar Heel Beginnings) and got to develop and program fun social events for incoming and current Tar Heels. This experience helped me make a strong group of friends, while getting to better explore every nook and cranny of Carolina! There is just so much to do here, and more likely than not, you might not get to experience all of it. So, make the best of your freshman year and test every water here at Carolina.
Thanks for reading!
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