Thursday, November 20, 2014

How to be a Big Fish in a Big Sea

In a University filled with intelligent and hard working students, it is a constant struggle for individuals to pave their own unique path and distinguish themselves from their peers. However, there are many little known ways in which students who search hard enough discover as means to differentiate themselves academically and carve their own educational niche at the University of Virginia.

The first not-so-obvious trick is to utilize the variety of options students have regarding majors. I remember my orientation leader telling my group during the summer before first year, “you will see - during your first two years at the University of Virginia, 49% of students will identify themselves as ‘pre-med’, 49% as ‘pre-comm’, and the last 2% as ‘other’.” Even when, inevitably, a good portion of the student body gives up, either on their own accord or by the application process, on their ‘pre-med’ and ‘pre-law’ aspirations, they gravitate towards the same few majors. Both ‘pre-med’ and previously ‘pre-med’ students tend to lean towards a Biology, Chemistry, Biochemistry, Environmental Science or Physics major, while previous ‘pre-comm’ students choose a Economics, Psychology, Mathematics, Statistics, History, or one of the two Politics majors, remaining one of the masses.

On the other hand, it is rare to find students who major in American Studies, African-American and African Studies, Archaeology, Art History, Classics, East Asian Studies, Human Biology, Jewish Studies, Linguistics, Medieval Studies, and Women Gender and Sexuality, and many more! A fact that many students forget to consider is that the majority of graduate and professional schools do not have specific majors that they prefer over others. For example, while getting into a Medical School requires the taking of certain ‘pre-med’ classes, there are no particular majors they prefer. You can elect to major in any field you wish and as long as you take those prerequisites, you can still, with the right GPA of course, get in to your medical school of choice. The same follows for Law Schools (which have no undergraduate requirements), Business Schools, and other professional programs. In fact, majoring in something different could increase your chances of acceptance by giving you an edge regarding the diversity of the entering class.

Secondly, many students either ignore or are uninformed about the various interdisciplinary programs available at UVA. An interdisciplinary major allows students to take classes for a variety of fields in order to get their degree with a greater range of exposure. A couple of the interdisciplinary majors offered at the University of Virginia are Global Development Studies, Political and Social Thought, Cognitive Science, Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law, and Neuroscience. These majors all operate based on a selective application process with the number of students admitted ranging from 20-70 per year, depending on the program. By choosing one of these majors, and getting in, students are not only able to distinguish themselves from the rest of their class, but narrow their focus while still getting exposure from various departments. With my Political Philosophy, Policy, and Law Major, I have been able to take classes in the History department, Politics department, Commerce department, Psychology department, Sociology department, Philosophy department, and Economics department that all count towards my major while my roommate who is majoring in Government is limited to taking her 10 required courses from the Politics department. You can even choose to create your own interdisciplinary major and submit an academic plan for approval. You would think that with such great programs available, many apply to them every year, however only a shockingly small amount of students do, and those who do, tend to apply to multiple ones at the same time.

As a final note, minors are also often ignored and wasted at the University of Virginia. At UVA, you are allowed to double major but not double minor. Therefore, a more careful consideration is needed before making such a decision. Many students opt to minor, or even double major and minor, seeing as a minor can constitute as low as 5 classes to complete. As the case with majors, it is also easy to predict which minors people will choose. The most common minors include Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Spanish, Government, Foreign Affairs, Philosophy, Psychology, and Sociology. Students need to keep in mind that there are a large variety of exceptional minors to choose from and use to academically distinguish themselves from their peers. Some examples include Bioethics, Classics, Global Culture and Commerce, Global Public Health, and Studio Art. With such a variety of both majors and minors to select from, students at the University of Virginia are fortunate to have the opportunity to have their own distinctive academic route, so keep these possibilities in mind!

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