Undergraduate Blog
Student Life

Sylvie Cao (McIntire ’24) Fulfills Her Dream Life in New York

By the time she was in high school, Cao had already mapped out a 20-year plan; now, as she prepares to graduate from the McIntire School, she's on track to realize her dream of a career in the Big Apple.

Sylvie Cao

By the time Sylvie Cao was in high school, she already fleshed out a 20-year plan detailing where she would live and start her career. Like many people who have been drawn to its bright lights, she felt her future was in New York City.

“I originally applied to UVA because I saw myself one day working in New York. I had been dreaming about it ever since visiting in sixth grade, and once I got into UVA, it was like a dream come true. I knew that I wanted to be on the East Coast and attend such a historic university,” the Renton, WA, native says, remembering when she first saw the pictures of Grounds and became intent on becoming part of the community living and learning at UVA’s “gorgeous campus.”

Having traded coasts, she’ll take her McIntire education with her to Solomon Partners, where she will become an Investment Banker for the firm. She’s ready to make the move back to where she interned in the summer before her fourth year and to start her new life.

“Everything feels very full circle for me as we look towards graduation,” Cao says, giddily reflecting on reaching her long-held goal. “This dream has been in the works for so many years.”

Making Lasting Connections

Without any preestablished personal connections on Grounds, Cao arrived during the height of COVID-19. After spending her first semester learning remotely at home from her Seattle suburb, she faced a daunting transition that first spring in Charlottesville, especially as it seemed so many of her peers came from Northern Virginia with groups of friends in tow.

To break the ice and find her place in the broader University community, Cao found living in a suite to be invaluable.

“It was a blessing in disguise to be assigned to the Dillard suites,” she recalls. “I had five roommates, so that was a little bit easier than having to leave my door open and go knock on people’s doors. We became friends for my whole college career, which I think is kind of rare.”

She also immediately sought to immerse herself in student clubs. Having joined the McIntire Investment Institute (MII) remotely, she continued to develop relationships with mentors in the group. That spring of her first year, she also joined entrepreneurship and innovation club HooHacks. “Those two clubs helped me meet people who shared similar interests with me,” she says.

With an ambition to work in business since childhood, Cao says her time in the case competition club DECA in high school stoked her passion for the subject—an interest that was further heightened by joining MII. “Meeting all these people who had done these amazing internships in New York and who had working on all these deals made me feel so much more excited than talking about anything else,” says the Finance concentrator. “Having those mentor relationships early on, really helped me figure out what I wanted to do and navigate the recruiting process as well.”

As a first-year, Cao kept quiet to soak up all that was happening around her, from stock pitches to creating models.

“I didn’t know anything that they knew, so that was actually a really valuable learning experience. To hear the way that they talked about the stocks that they were interested in and just listen; it set me up to be able to ask good questions. That’s really the most important part of being a mentee: Listen first, and then figure out what you’re confused about—including the language. Sometimes I’d have questions like, ‘What are you guys even talking about?’” she confesses. “But after getting past that point, I was able to ask deeper questions.”

The older students’ experience would prove useful outside of the group’s main focus. Cao would pick their brains about their career plans and internships across industries. Her questions and their answers were “so valuable for me and helped me become the person that I am today,” she says.

Having been a mentor herself to students in MII, Cao has also guided younger peers as a TA for a Calculus course, Intermediate Accounting, and a Finance class in the Integrated Core.

“I was able to interact with a lot of different students going through a lot of different phases trying to apply to Comm or thinking about Comm—or they had just gotten into Comm and were trying to figure out their concentration,” she says. “Talking to so many students in different stages of their career and their college planning has been so interesting. It’s been great to be able to give back in ways that my mentors helped me.”

Crafting Confidence

Outside of her courses and business-related interests, Cao says she is really into crafting. “I love activities like knitting and crocheting and other arts and crafts,” she says, and despite her love of baking, she’s gotten herself into a steady gym routine to upend a potential professional future that could be mostly sedentary. But she credits that early love of crafting with developing her fine motor skills, sensing a correlation in how she now designs PowerPoint slides.

“I think that having an eye for patterns and colors and just kind of seeing where things just fit,” she says. A childhood shyness she had may have also caused her to gravitate toward these solitary activities.

“I used to have so much fear of public speaking. There was one time in elementary school when I burst into tears before a presentation,” she admits. “It’s just one of those things that takes time to get better at. That’s why finding your community is so empowering because it gives you so much confidence to be surrounded by people who truly believe in you.”

Cao says community is what she has found “in my peers, the faculty, and all the advisers I’ve worked with here at McIntire. They believed in me as a person and believed in my development. They’ve all invested in who I am and contributed to the confidence that I’ve been able to build in the skills that have carried me through my internships and professional experiences.”

The result of that care has stoked her feelings for the Comm School community and given her reason to mentor others. “It’s so powerful when you have people you can look up to and surround yourself with, who believe in who you can become. That’s been integral to being able to realize these dreams I’ve created for so many years. I can’t say in enough words how grateful I am for everyone I’ve had the amazing opportunity to interact with within McIntire and at UVA.”

So for someone who carved out their life with a 20-year plan, Cao is ready to be at least a bit more spontaneous. She’s tried to hold herself accountable and not plan too far in advance because of what she’s experienced when life didn’t necessarily conform to her original ideas.

“That caused me a lot of stress when I was applying for school,” she says. “I thought I needed all these things to happen or else my life was going to fall apart. Not everything works out the way that you think it will. But if you take everything as an opportunity, then you’ll be able to grow and find new opportunities that you didn’t even anticipate. I’m trying to take it slow now.”

In addition to focusing on fulfilling that lifelong dream of moving to the Big Apple, she’s trying to still learn as much as possible, find possible mentors, surround herself with more great people—and take a three-week trip with her friends to Europe.

“I’ve never been. We’re planning to go to Italy, Germany, France, and the UK,” she says. “We’re hoping to see all the historic sites and learn as much as we can. I’m fully embracing the tourist aspect. I will go to all the big monuments. I will be in line for the Colosseum. You will see me at all the main tourist spots, and I have no shame about it.”

But you can’t expect someone who grew up designing her life 20 years into the future to just sit on her hands.

“I’ve got a whole calendar of what we’re doing on each day, where we’re staying, and I have that all planned out in multiple Excel sheets and Google Docs,” she confesses.

Find out about all the exciting things happening in the McIntire community. Visit our news page for the latest updates.

More News