How To: Change Majors (And Not End Up Changing Schools)

It’s not uncommon to find yourself in a spot somewhere along your academic journey in college where you have a change of ambitions. Oftentimes, that comes in the form of wanting to change career paths, which starts with changing your major. It may sound like a simple task, and in some cases it is, but oftentimes there’s more to be done than just requesting a switch. From applying to get into restricted majors, to having to see how it affects your graduation date, there are a variety of factors one must consider before committing to a major change. 

Having switched my major a total of four times throughout my time in college, I can say from experience that what happens along the way is all determined by how you approach the process. There are definitely a number of ways in which I would do things differently if I had the opportunity to do so, so I’ve put together a short list of the major considerations one must bear in mind should they seek to go about changing their major without a major headache.


Don’t Beat Yourself Up Over It

It’s easy to dwell on, “what could have been” or, “what should have been” but ultimately, doing so will only make the process harder on you. There are a variety of reasons that things play out as they do; don’t put yourself down if you find yourself in a spot where you want to switch your academic major. It may help you in the long run to do so, but it also may not be the more pleasant experience making the effort to switch. 

In the first five semesters of my time at Virginia Tech, I had changed my academic majors a total of four times. From Food Science/Spanish to Russian/Spanish to University Studies/Spanish to Real Estate/Spanish, to finally settling down with Public Relations/Spanish, it was not a smooth journey for me. I was pursuing acceptance into the Pamplin College of Business here at Tech, and in doing so, I spent four semesters shaping my schedule and academic planning with that in mind. It’s a long story that is most certainly too much to condense, however, it was a tumultuous time that ended with rejection instead of acceptance, to which I look back on with partial disappointment, but I recognize that things work themselves out for the better, even if the, “better” isn’t staring you in the face right away.


Talk To Your Advisor(s)

Like your career counselor in high school, your academic advisor is your go-to person for all things graduation and scheduling related. Your advisors are the ones that can help you with a plan of action to best approach your collegiate planning, whether it be with the classes you take/when you take them, what could best prepare you for applying to graduate school, or any similar matters, your advisor should be your best academic friend as a college student.

Looking back on how I carried myself in high school versus college, high school-me was much more engaged with my career counselor/advisor than I was with my advisor here in college. In high school I would make sure to check in with my advisor to ensure that I was on track to be ready for post-high school success by getting into the college I wanted to go to (Virginia Tech) and by building a strong resume. In college, I wish I had done the same, but I let, “life” get in the way of doing so. You should see your advisor often, have them know who you are, otherwise you’re gonna end up missing out on a lot of great opportunities for personal development in the form of resume building and collegiate opportunities that could help you land post-undergrad success.


Look At What Is Required To Change, If Any

As mentioned above, oftentimes one may find that switching majors takes more than just telling your advisor that you want to, or checking off a box on an academic registration webpage. For competitive fields of study such as engineering, business, and others, it’s not uncommon for universities to require students to apply for acceptance into select major programs. While that may not be the case for all programs, one should bear in mind that switching can be a difficult and time consuming process depending on what is required when applying.

The summer leading up to the start of my freshman year, I knew that I wanted to transfer to the Pamplin College of Business to study Business Management, but what I didn’t know was that it wasn’t so simple to do so. My advisor informed me that all business major choices at Virginia Tech were restricted, meaning that I would have to spend a number of semesters taking specific courses and holding a strong cumulative and in-major GPA to have a shot at getting in. It’s not a fun route to take, especially when you consider how much time, energy, and money you end up throwing at the endeavor. 


Consider Back-Up Options

While being optimistic about switching into the major of your choice is great for helping get the job done, ultimately you want to be realistic with yourself and bear in mind the unfortunate possibility that you may not be able to switch. Whether it be an issue of getting accepted into a restricted major or some other barrier, there is that chance that what you want may be out of reach. Definitely shoot for the stars and push yourself to reach the success you need in order to switch to the major you desire, but consider other options along the way. Take time to look into alternative options that may interest you as well.

After I spent roughly four semesters completing all of the requirements necessary to apply for acceptance into the Pamplin College of Business, I ultimately was denied. I would have had to wait two more semesters to reapply, but at that point I would be ending my junior year. After browsing through all of the major options available at Virginia Tech, as well as reaching out to a number of my peers in various areas of study, I found that Public Relations was a field in which I found both interesting and relatable to my strong suits. It was a backup option that I went with, and have thoroughly enjoyed from the start.


Everyone’s journey to graduation is different, and in knowing that, there’s no real right way to go about doing your undergraduate years, however, there are a variety of ways in which you can make the experience less difficult on yourself by avoiding common pitfalls such as what was mentioned above. Take each, “mistake” as a learning experience, and be open to change if it’s needed.

How to Survive First Year Journalism

Your journey towards your degree in journalism starts here and now! If you have a lot of experience writing essays and taking great notes on textbook chapters, your first year in this program will be rather simple and straightforward. If you do not have much experience, never fear, you are here to learn. Here are five tips that helped me survive and thrive in my first year in journalism!


Tip #1: Read a lot.

One of the best ways to sharpen your writing skills is to read a lot. Since this is journalism and not creative writing, you should start with reading lots of news articles. The more you read, the more you will eventually get used to the style, format, and layout of news articles, which is primarily what you’re going to be working on during your time in this program. If you are familiar with the style of news articles, the transition into writing your own pieces will be much smoother.


Tip #2: Go to class and pay attention.

The key to success in any college course is attending class and paying attention. This seems like a common piece of advice, but it is shocking how many students skip their classes, even their in-major courses. Make sure to attend all Zoom meetings and, if you have them, all in-person sessions as well (even the Comm 1004 course.) However, simply showing up is not enough. Be attentive in class. Give the professor your full attention. To minimize distractions, try sitting in the front, sitting up straight, taking detailed notes, and asking relevant questions. If you are confused about the material, or want suggestions on how to improve, take full advantage of office hours. Professors love it when a student takes interest and makes an extra effort in their class. An added advantage is getting to know your professor really well. They are very experienced in your field and they have some great tips to share with you.


Tip #3: Ask a lot of questions.

There is no such thing as a dumb question. Our professors genuinely care about their students and are perfectly willing, and eager, to answer any questions you have. However, before you ask your professor a plethora of clarification questions, make sure you have read the syllabus, all Canvas announcements, and emails carefully. A lot of answers to the questions you have can be found in these places, and you do not want to ask your professor a question he or she has already answered.


Tip #4: Make friends with people who are in your major.

Journalism is a small major, so it is very important to make friends with the people who are on the same academic path as you. If an assignment confuses you, ask one of your fellow journalists for help and guidance. It is easy and more convenient than going to office hours or meeting up with a tutor. Make friends with people within your major, especially those who are older than you. They can provide you with some great insights, tips, and recommendations for the best courses and professors.


Tip #5: Get the basics down.

You may think that re-learning AP Style, MLA format, or spelling and grammar is redundant or unnecessary, but that is absolutely wrong. It is vital that you have these basics down before you take any communications classes. You will be expected to have a firm understanding of these simple things. Professors usually extend some grace, but if you are unable to write a paper with the correct format and grammar, they will dock points from your work. To prevent this, double and triple-check your work, answer all prompts fully, and make sure your writing is correctly structured. I have had teachers mark me down for small structural, grammar, or careless mistakes, or when I forgot to answer the second part of the prompt or neglected to format my paper in AP style. Nobody wants to lose points over small mistakes, so make sure to double-check and edit all your work before you submit it to Canvas.


Tip #6: Utilize your resources.

Take full advantages of all the resources you have been given. Attend office hours and review sessions, communicate with your professor, and meet with your advisor frequently. The library is another wonderful resource! Use the study spaces, computers, and printers as often as you can. If you want tutoring or feedback on your work, the Writing Center is a great place to go. You can make appointments with writing consultants and review your work with them. Online tutors and translators are also available! In addition to that, the Newman Library website has a great database full of academic journals, articles, and studies. When you have presentations and research papers due, utilize this database to find support for your thesis or your topic. The articles on that database are very well-researched and documented. It will save your life! Here is a link to the library database: 


As long as you attend classes, take notes on lectures and readings, and complete the assignments on time, you are going to learn a lot in this program. Making time for yourself is absolutely crucial for your mental health, especially during your first year in college. And of course, remember to have fun too! You only have four years in college, so make the most of them.

How to Survive VT Computer Science

The day you start CS 1114 is the day you begin your Computer Science journey at Virginia Tech. Some of you may have previous coding experience so you may start your journey in 2114, either way, there is a lot of unpacking from here on out. For some of you, your previous experience or natural abilities may help you navigate the course material well but that was not the case for me. Everyone is going to have a different experience much like any major, but I have collected what my CS group and I deem as the top tips to successfully make it through the program.


Tip #1: Go to the CS Lounge

What I found as my most useful tip is go to the CS lounge. The CS lounge is where you can find friends and help, I met the majority of my friends through the lounge, and having a group to struggle with makes all the difference. It can make those challenging late nights bearable and you always have someone down to grab some food. In terms of help, TA’s are your best friends and they all live in the CS lounge. In times of COVID-19, the CS lounge may not be open, but when it is safe to go again, I highly recommend trying to go.


Tip #2: Ask the Dumb Questions

Yes, there are dumb questions, but they are necessary to ask. TA hours will most likely be over Zoom which can intimidate most people to be 1:1 with someone. I can’t tell you the number of times I asked a “dumb question” and that answer clarified everything I was confused about. You are learning a new language and it can be hard so take your time and ask questions. Sometimes TA’s or professors may make you feel dumb after asking, don’t get too hung up on it. They won’t remember anything and if you are using your questions right your grade should be a good reflection of that and that is what professors remember.

Note: Don’t ask questions about material without looking for it first, look for your answer through Piazza, class slides, and materials. Asking questions about assignments or concepts without trying to find the answer first is a recipe for getting called out or a sassy answer.


Tip #3: Learn How to Debug

I’m sure I am not alone in saying I used to go to office hours with an issue and the TA would ask if I tried debugging, my answer would always be ”no not really” time and time again. Trying to debug my code brute force with print statements only took me so far, so I finally decided to learn how to debug in Eclipse and gdb. Long story short you will save yourself so much more time if you learn how to debug early, the more time you give yourself to get comfortable debugging the more tools you learn to make your life even easier down the road. I know it feels like extra work on top of all the projects but it is definitely an investment you should make and all it takes to get started is a simple search on Google or Youtube.


Tip #4: Use Your Resources

Long story short we do have resources and you have to find what combination of those resources work for you. Professors although they might seem intimidating- want to help you. So, after you have done your research if you still have questions ask! Once I went to office hours, I felt a lot more comfortable with my professors and knew they truly had a goal for us to learn which made my overall experience better. Other great resources are: Piazza, YouTube videos, CS clubs, and the textbooks can either be really good or bad but always try to read them because it can make a huge difference.


Gaining Real-World Experience Internally

Tip #5: Undergrad Research

Look into faculty research and see if you can be a part of it. A lot of CS professors here have some great projects going on and if you reach out sometimes you can get official undergrad research with them. In addition to CS professors, there are other projects all around campus looking for developers if you put in a little work into finding them. Doing undergrad research gives you a great leg up on applications and you get experience working under someone for a bit which again only helps your portfolio.


Tip #6: Student Organizations

Get involved in student-run CS groups. A great way to gain experience is to see what your peers are doing as well! There are a decent number of CS-related clubs and activities to get involved in that will give you great experiences. Hackathons, Capture the Flag competitions, professional talks and so much more. Being involved with the people that run this stuff will not only give you access to more opportunities, but it will also set you up to be in positions that will help later in your career.


Tip #7: Swing for the Fences

Don’t be afraid to go big! I met so many people afraid to approach companies like Bloomberg, Capital One, Microsoft, and more, but go for it! Being honest I was a sophomore in CS with a sub 3.0 GPA and I landed an Explore internship with Microsoft. This all goes to show that companies are looking for people like you and the only limit to some of these opportunities is whether or not you are willing to put yourself out there.

Note: Interviews do take preparation! Use LeetCode, HackerRank, or the book Cracking the Coding Interview to prepare. Also, companies are looking for more than just developers sometimes they are looking for team players so don’t ignore the behavioral interview aspect. Cracking the PM Interview is a great resource and just putting in a search for behavioral questions works well too!