I am an in-state student who always wanted to attend UTK. However, I did seriously look into other options, so I do not feel as though I made my decision blindly.
This is a big school, which is something to be considered for each individual. Some people thrive in small settings, and some do better with many peers and a lot going on. I, personally, am the latter type of person, so I looked for a large school. Being a "number" did not come as any kind of surprise to me, and in fact, I wanted that after coming from a small high school experience. That being said, there are ways to connect to other people with clubs, sports, etc.
Class sizes can range from very large to relatively small. General education classes are typically where you will find your large lecture hall courses, and as you start taking the classes that are more advanced for your major, the numbers drop, and you will be with more of the same students and professors on a regular basis. In my experience, no matter what size the class is, if you ask for help, you will get it. All of my professors have been very, very willing to meet outside of class and make time to fit your schedule. Don't be afraid to start a study group. This has been extremely helpful for me and has allowed me to get to know people in my classes that I might not have before and also offers a support group for any problems you may have with the material.
I have loved every class in my specialty. My department (Speech Pathology and Audiology) is amazing, and the people are amazingly friendly and helpful. It is nationally acclaimed department, and they know their stuff. This is a top research institution, so most, if not all, departments are staffed with people who really care about their work and seeing it passed on. Most people I know really love the people in their department, once they get to know them. After all, they do share your interests more than anyone on campus. Classes aren't always easy, but you definitely learn. I feel like I will be very well prepared when I go off to graduate school (hopefully at UTK!) and when I start my career.
When preparing to register for classes, meet with your advisor as early as you can. Plan out courses for all four years, if you can. Don't be afraid to ask questions. I have called, emailed, and met with my advisors numerous times during the semester just to find out about a class I heard about or a policy I read. Do your research on what you need to take and what you want. Sometimes advisors oversee students from many majors, especially while you are working on your general education requirements. In my case, I had an advisor who worked with all education students for my first two years and then a faculty advisor in my specialty after that. If this is the case for you, seek out extra advice from faculty advisors in your specialty early on and then go back to your regular advisor with the knowledge you gained. They will be happy that you are taking responsibility for your education instead of relying on other. Many times, students are upset because they later find out they did/did not need a particular course that they either took or passed up, but if you do your homework before registration, this will probably never be a problem.
Likewise, in all other cases, be your own advocate! If you have a problem, search out an answer. Call around to offices until you find the answer or person you need. This campus is a very large network of administrators, faculty, and staff. They are very good at what they do, but they are specialized, so they probably won't have the answers for something outside of their areas. Take charge and you will be fine. Perhaps small schools are more likely to take care of issues for you, but in life, you will often have to do all the work yourself, so this should be nothing negative against UTK.
UTK is a place with room for all opinions, lifestyles, interests, and ideas. You will undoubtedly meet people who have vastly different and opposing views than you have, and this seems to pose a problem for many people. Just remember that if you treat them with the same respect that you wish to be treated with, you can go your separate ways, and life will go on. You most definitely do not have to agree with them, but there also doesn't have to be animosity between you. If there is an area where people are supporting views you don't believe in, you do not have to pass by them. There are multiple paths to every place on campus, so if you are uncomfortable going by somewhere, you have other options.
I have found students here to be friendly and approachable. There are all kinds of people here. If the Greek life isn't your scene, join an academic club, a debate team, an intramural sports team, or a faith group. There's bound to be somewhere you fit in.
Sports are a huge part of UTK culture. However, if you aren't interested, no one is forcing you to cheer for the teams. Expect the majority of people to get excited every weekend for football season and to attend all the basketball games. It is a great experience just to be with your fellow fans and have a good time, even if you aren't a sports fanatic. The spirit is contagious, but again, if it's not for you, it's no big deal.
Safety should be a concern no matter where you attend. UTK has had its share of problems in the surrounding neighborhood. That is no secret. Be smart about where you are. Don't go walking around isolated places by yourself or at night. Be alert. Use common sense about where you go and how you get there. There are blue lights around campus with both emergency and non-emergency buttons. You can ask for a police escort to your car or dorm after dark, and there are always police patrolling around campus and the surrounding area.
Parking can be a problem for many people. I commute and always have, and it is true that lots fill up fast. get to campus a few minutes early so you will have time to find a spot. Learn which lots always have spots open, and allow walking time if it is not near your classes. I have found that it is better to walk a little extra and not be stressed about finding a spot before you are late for class. Overall, I wouldn't go anywhere else. Most problems people have are a matter of opinion. No one will force you to do anything you don't want to do, but by the same token, no one is going to force you to do the things you need to do, either. Stay on top of your own life. Know what you need and what you want, and find out how to get it. Enjoy your college years, no matter where you go!