By Nayana MacMillan
As an incoming first-year at UVA, I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to major in. I dreaded any time someone asked what I was majoring in. I had just gotten to UVA. Being 18, on your own for the first time in a new state, and expected to know exactly what your plan to do for the rest of your life is, at the very least, overwhelming. It felt like everyone I knew already had an idea of what they wanted to do, and it was hard not to feel the pressure to pick something too, if only to have a response when asked the inevitable question. It seemed like everyone had a label: pre-Comm, pre-med, pre-law, and had not only mapped out their four years at UVA, but also the years beyond.
The classes I took my first semester were all over the place, including psychology, environmental science, business, and archaeology. When I showed up for my very first day of business class, a third-year who was also in the class asked me, “Are you pre-Comm?” “Um, no,” I replied. “I was just interested in the class.” But, over the next few weeks, I found myself interested and engaged in the material I was learning.
I’ve always appreciated when academic learning translates to the real world. I prefer concrete over abstract, real-life examples and applications over theoretical ones. I remember sending my mom a text that I had figured out what I wanted to study at UVA. I felt like I was already behind, though, since most people come into UVA already knowing they want to apply to McIntire. I hadn’t yet taken any prerequisites, but my adviser assured me that I still had plenty of time.
Having graduated from a small high school, I loved the idea of joining a relatively small community of likeminded people, diverse in both backgrounds and beliefs. I wanted to be surrounded by people who were passionate about so many different things, as well as get to know my professors on a more personal level. I was also excited at the prospect of engaging in real projects for real companies, learning from my peers through group work, and having the opportunity to learn how to use new software.
A year later, when I sent in my application, it was easy to have doubts: to wonder if all the work I had done up until this point would be enough, whether the admissions committee would view my application favorably, what major I would pursue if McIntire didn’t work out. For me, especially having come in undecided, I knew that my success at UVA wasn’t contingent on this one decision. There are many paths that lead to the same outcome.
After accepting my offer of admission, I felt relieved that I could finally tell people what I was studying. Moreover, I was excited that I had found an area of learning I was passionate about. My first year in the Integrated Core Experience (ICE) has certainly lived up to my expectations. From working on projects for my block’s corporate sponsor, Allianz, to connecting with The Juice Laundry’s management and suggesting improvements to bring in more revenue for my Marketing class, to examining Kroger from an integrated perspective for my ICE final, it was incredible to gain real-world experience and apply my classroom learning to real-world issues and companies. I have learned new programming languages, new software, and new design tools. Classes feel more like engaging discussions than lectures, often featuring guest speakers from the business world, and I feel that my contributions are valued. McIntire has empowered me to become more confident, more willing to raise my hand and participate in class, and more inclined to speak my mind. The skills I have learned will no doubt help me be more successful in my future career.
I would boil all of this down to seven key points that will serve you well at UVA, McIntire, and beyond:
- Don’t be afraid to not know what you want to do. Don’t allow people to make you feel like you are behind just because you don’t have it all figured out from Day 1. (This is something I wish I would have been told).
- Everyone figures it out eventually! Although it can be difficult in a competitive environment, try not to compare yourself to others. There is no one right path. If you are determined to accomplish something, you can achieve that result through a myriad of ways.
- Once you do identify what you want to do, don’t hold back from pursuing it, and don’t let fear of rejection prevent you from trying.
- Take advantage of every opportunity you can find, because you will grow from these experiences and meet new people who will contribute to your learning.
- Reach out to people who can help if you have questions. There is always someone willing to help if you are willing to ask, and there are always people to support you.
- Form connections with your professors. They want to get to know you personally. From my experience, professors love when students show up to office hours and can often serve as a valuable resource even beyond the content of the class.
- Ultimately, be confident in what you have to offer, because your unique experiences and backgrounds will allow you to contribute meaningfully to any community you are a part of.