I’ve just returned from a day in the heart of Hokie Nation – the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University; aka, Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg, Virginia. Enthusiasm for this university is infectious – where else could you get thousands of people to agree to wear orange and maroon with pride? By the time I left, I understood what the hoopla over this university is all about.
Founded in 1872 as a land-grant university, Virginia Tech is now the largest and most comprehensive university in the state of Virginia, with a total of 31,000 students, over 23,000 of them undergraduates. Roughly 70% of the students are Virginia residents, but students flock to Virginia Tech from all 50 states and 100 different countries. There’s a new president at Virginia Tech and with new leadership comes some new initiatives. One obvious sign of change is the growth of this university. The 2015 incoming class will be 500 students larger than the previous year, and admissions folks predict even higher freshman enrollment targets in the coming years. Building, renovating, and housing seem to be keeping pace with this growth.
So, too, is curriculum expansion, with 15 new majors, such as Communication Studies, Fashion Merchandising and Design, Multimedia Journalism, Property Management, Nanoscience, Systems Biology, and Computational Modeling & Data Analysis. Note that several of these fall well outside of science and engineering; since “Tech” is part of the university name, many assume this is a place for students interested in science, engineering, and technology. Actually, Virginia Tech has a robust curriculum outside of those disciplines. You’ll find excellent programs in the arts, humanities, business, and social sciences at Virginia Tech. Still, the “Tech “ part is alive and well – most majors require math coursework and all students take at least one math class through the Math Emporium (a learning center with 537 computers, conference spaces, and even comfy sofas), rather than in a traditional classroom.
If you know what you want to study, you should apply directly for that major. However, if you have multiple interests or haven’t found your calling or simply don’t know what to pick for a major, you should apply to University Studies. As an undeclared student, you’ll have good academic advising from people who have a broad knowledge of the university and who will help you sort out your interests and talents, leading you to a good-fit major. You’ll have up to two years or 60 credits to explore the curriculum, fulfill your core requirements, and prepare to enter a major in one of the university’s seven colleges. This is a better strategy than starting off in a random or wrong major with advisors whose knowledge is often limited or solely directed to their own discipline.
Be aware that there are several “restricted majors” at Virginia Tech: Architecture, Landscape Architecture, Industrial Design, Interior Design, and Engineering. To qualify for admission to one of these programs, you’ll need to be among the strongest candidates. In engineering, for example, there are 1,600 spaces with 9,000 applicants. Everyone picks a second choice major when they apply, but if you aren’t admitted to one of these restricted majors as a freshman, you may find it difficult to transfer in later without adding time to your degree. Classes go to declared majors first, so non-majors can be shut out of necessary prerequisites. My advice: if you are absolutely certain that you want one of the restricted majors, but not offered direct admission, you are better off going to another institution that offers you admission to the major. However, if the particular major is less important than being a Hokie, then settle either for that second major choice or for University Studies. After all, with as many majors as this university has to offer, you’ll probably find something that works well for you!
There’s plenty to do at Virginia Tech. Blacksburg is a college town situated on a plateau between two mountain ranges in the beautiful southwestern section of Virginia. If you love outdoor activities, this is a great place to be. All freshmen live in college residence halls, where community is built. My tour guide, who is a senior and lives off campus (just a couple of streets away from the center of campus), still has a meal plan for lunch and dinner. And why not, since Virginia Tech has been recognized as #1 for food – they even have a Hibachi Grill and occasional steak and lobster meals. The college’s motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), is played out in the lives of students here. This is the largest Relay for Life fundraising campus in the nation. Fewer than 20% of students are members of Greek Life, which means its available if you want it, but membership is not essential for a fulfilling social life. As an ACC university, this is a big-time sports campus, with a 66,000-seat football stadium and a rich tradition of tailgating. Student tickets are inexpensive, and after the freshman year you are guaranteed tickets should you want them. It’s a bit tougher for freshmen to get season tickets for football, but they usually find a way if it’s a priority.
Admission is selective, but this is a university looking for reasons to admit students rather than reasons to deny them. Successful applicants earn A/B grades in a rigorous high school curriculum, and submit solid test scores. Through the application you’ll communicate your extracurricular activities and talents, and write up to three short personal statements. The honors program is more selective, with successful applicants submitting higher GPAs and testing that averages 30 for the ACT and 1350 for the SAT (critical reading and math).
Virginia Tech students graduate at rates significantly higher than the national average for universities this size. And, graduates boast the highest average starting salary among all Virginia colleges and universities. Over 3,000 employers are registered with Career Services, giving students plenty of access to prospective employers.
Tips for Success
My tour guide, a senior finance major with a job waiting for her after graduation, ended with advice for future college students that, I believe, is applicable wherever you enroll:
- Go to class. Students need to be accountable for their learning.
- Do the readings before class. You’ll be expected to know material from class and from assigned readings.
- Get involved. That’s how you make friends and find your place on campus. After all, college is about more than the classroom experience!