My name is Maria, and I'm a rising 3rd year, studying Political and Social Thought. I'd like start with how I got here at UVa. When I was a senior, my parents told me I could choose between Virginia and a smaller private college. When I picked the other one, they told me to pick again... Virginia's in-state tuition was too good to pass. I thought I'd come here for a year, and then transfer out. I guess I'm a great poster child for the allure of these grounds. We have a 98% retention rate through second year, and 96% retention through all four years- students come here and we stay.
So why did I stay? Yes, I got involved (my main activities are Early Vocal Music and ballroom dance), but what kept me here was my professors. We've got a student faculty ratio of 16:1, but that doesn't really give any context for what it's like. The professors here are rock stars. At first I didn't know how to approach my professor. ("How am I supposed to start a conversation with this genius?? I don't know anything!") Three weeks in, I found out about the Take-Your-Professor-Out-to-Lunch program, where the College (of Arts and Sciences) will give you the University debit card to do exactly that: eat. Youreserve the card ahead of time at Garrett Hall, and pick it up that day. You can go anywhere on a huge list that includes the more popular restaurants on the corner. Awesome. It's a casual way to get to know your professor as a real human being, outside of the context of rigorous scholarship... although I did find myself reviewing my notes everytime I took out one religious studies professor. =) You don't have to be best friends with every professor. In fact, you really don't have time- but you definitely have the opportunity to get to know a few of them one-on-one, whether it's office hours or a scheduled coffee chat.
I sometimes get asked, what kinds of things do you bring up with professors? I would recommend googling at least ten minutes on professor that you want to talk to. Find out what they've published recently, what classes they've taught, and where they've studied. Read some of their articles, ask undergraduates (and their grad students, if you can find them!) what they think... when you get to office hours, all you have to do is give them an idea of where you connect with them. In my experience, most professors love to talk about their research, and they like to hear about student initiatives in their research field.
On a side note, at UVa we call our professors, "Professor soandso-" I don't think I've ever heard my professors go by "Doctor." This comes from a tradition begun by Thomas Jefferson.