Adrien Sion’s plan was to major in nanoscience at Virginia Tech. Then his plan fell apart.

It happened in summer 2021, just before his first year at Virginia Tech, when Sion came to the terrifying realization that he didn't want to spend his life working on science. But he didn’t know what he should do instead. “This summer, I kind of realized I should be in charge of what's going on,” Sion said. “I was like, ‘I got into Virginia Tech in nanoscience. Let's see what I can do to get out of it.’"

For Sion, a class called University Studies 1824, “Pathways to Success Exploring,” was key. UNIV 1824 is Virginia Tech’s first-year experience course for university studies students. A transitional advising section was added last year specifically for undecided majors, or “transitional students,” the ones who are making a change or simply want to consider their options. “I think that for students who want to explore, this is a great place for them,” said Page Fetter, assistant director of University Studies and Scholarship Support, who teaches the class.

After all, Virginia Tech has more than 150 majors, most of which you probably didn’t know existed before you came here. “Virginia Tech has so many different majors, so many different minors, lots of opportunities, which is great,” Fetter said. “But trying to get awareness of all those before coming onto campus isn't always possible.”

Serious FOMO can set in when you see what your friends are studying. If you don't love your classes, that can shake your confidence, too. Luckily, university studies students don’t have to officially choose a major till they have 60 credit hours, usually at the end of sophomore year.

Even after that, students still change majors. Some students change majors three or four times. That's OK. Fetter wants to normalize having no idea what you want to be when you grow up or wondering if you chose the right path.  

If you’re not sure if you’re in the right major — or if you haven’t decided yet at all — try these strategies that worked for UNIV 1824 students:

Know who you are. For students at a crossroads trying to make a big decision, whether that’s about a major, a job, or where to live after you graduate, "I think it all revolves around knowing yourself,” said Fetter. In UNIV 1824, she starts by having students do a battery of self-assessment tests, including Traitify, TypeFocus, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and CliftonStrengths. Afterward, students reflect on which results really resonate for them. “Creating that visualization of who you are as a person is really where that internal foundation starts of being able to create confidence and understanding of yourself,” said Fetter. 

Gauge your enjoyment. Building out his four-year plan to graduation, first-year student Alex Arriza realized none of the classes in his chosen major of computational modeling and data analytics excited him. “I have friends doing [computer science], and they love those classes,” he said, “but I don't think it was fit for me necessarily.” So he designed four-year plans for a few other majors and asked himself, “Am I interested in these classes? Do I think I'll like them?” When he got excited about the courses he would take for the national security and foreign affairs major, he knew he’d found the right fit. “If I kept doing what I was doing, I don't think I would have liked it at all," Arriza said. "And now I'm excited to go to my courses for the most part.”

Research your options. With so many majors, from accounting to wildlife conservation, UNIV 1824 dedicates ample time to studying the possibilities. When an advisor from the Pamplin College of Business spoke to the class about business majors, it piqued Sion’s curiosity. “The majors I was asking the most questions about were the ones I figured, ‘Hey, I think I want to do that,'” he recalled. He set up an advising appointment that confirmed his gut feeling. Now getting into Pamplin is his goal. 

Talk to people. Senior Brendan O’Keefe has three majors — history, art history, and classical studies — and plans to become an archeologist. But he originally was set on architecture, until “I kind of recognized that this thing that I've been working on for about a year trying to get into was something I wasn't enjoying." Crushed, O’Keefe went home for the weekend, did some research, and talked to his family and friends. “Sometimes, the people around you know you better than you do,” he said. With the help of mentors, O’Keefe picked not one new major, but three. Now he’s paid it forward as a peer mentor in UNIV 1824 for three years, offering a student’s perspective on the course, Virginia Tech, and options for the future.  

Build on your skills. Switching majors or otherwise diverting from your plans can make you feel like a failure. Fetter knows firsthand. She was a senior in visual communications at Ball State University when she realized she’d rather spend her career working with college students. Though it required a hard pivot with a graduate degree, she said, “I still use my creative skill sets on an everyday basis, even though I'm working in more of an instruction position. Art still holds such a value and a place in my life.” 

None of what you’ve learned is ever wasted, Fetter reassures students. Even if you spent time in the wrong major, or in no major at all, you’re picking up disciplinary knowledge, soft skills such as studying and networking, and an understanding of yourself that you can apply no matter where you end up. “I’m trying to reframe the perspective of change,” said Fetter, “that it can be a very positive thing.” 

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