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Everything I Wish I Knew As A First Year Pre-Commerce Student

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UVA chapter.

When I was a first year, being a student in the UVA McIntire School of Commerce was a dream that kept me up at night often. I was paranoid that I would be rejected, and that two years of prerequisite courses would be washed down the drain. Luckily, the program has been changed to admit students into classes their second year rather than waiting until fall of junior year. I believe that this change was absolutely necessary given that recruitment cycles have become earlier than ever. Still, it is important that you are prepared for the rigorous recruitment process that looms ahead and develop professional skills early. Here is all of the advice I wish I knew as a first year.

find a professional mentor to help you in selecting your classes outside of your academic advisor.

I believe that it is necessary to have an academic advisor to help you decide which courses to take. However, the college of arts and sciences assigns you a random professor outside of your major to give you stale, useless advising. I remember my advisor was very rude to me and told me I would not get into the Commerce School and gave me the most useless class recommendations. This is why I recommend you seek out your own mentor — whether that be a Commerce professor or an upperclassmen in the business school that can help you make informed decisions. McIntire advising appointments are restricted to Commerce students, but you can email them with any relevant questions. My personal advice would be to pursue classes that would be your “backup major” if you were to be rejected. Many students follow the Econ path. However, if that doesn’t appeal to you (I hated econ), work towards something else you enjoy. I took many Politics courses (that was my “backup”), and I believe that made my application stand out. Unique interests are valued by the admissions office here.

make an account on handshake and attend networking events.

Handshake is a crucial resource that helps you establish yourself professionally. As a first year, there won’t be many employer events that are tailored for you (most of that begins your second year), but I recommend you attend general business events, such as Consulting Nights or Finance Nights. Use these events to learn about firms or career paths that interest you, and collect recruiter contact information so you can email them with questions when it is time to start networking and applying for internships. You can also talk to analysts at these events and explain that you are a first year eager to learn more about their work and request to have a networking call with them for advice and mentorship.

wear professional dress to all networking events.

Some networking events may explicitly provide a dress code while others do not mention it in the description. However, it is known that you must wear professional dress (business casual AT THE MINIMUM) when you attend these events. Some employers are rumored to write off students that attend their events wearing sweatpants and sneakers. Make a good impression and look presentable.

build a capsule wardrobe of professional clothing

As previously mentioned, having professional clothing is critical as a pre-commerce student. For women, this means owning a suit, nice undershirt, and loafers or heels. Modest dresses or skirts are also acceptable but the length should be around the knees or longer, and you should not be showing too much skin or bra straps on top. I also would recommend buying clothing that is one size larger than your current size if possible. The freshman 15 probably will hit, and you don’t want to have to replace all of your clothing one year from now. Also consider asking your upperclassmen friends if they have business clothing they would like to resell to you. This is a great sustainable way to build your wardrobe while living in dorms and having limited access to stores.

I recommend stores like Loft and J Crew for nice blouses and business pants. Zara has a nice collection of fun blazers to spice up your wardrobe. My favorite loafers are from Steve Madden and Tory Burch, and I highly recommend wearing flats (and packing heels in your purse if you prefer) when attending networking events for comfort. I also want to add that OPEN TOED SHOES ARE NOT BUSINESS PROFESSIONAL! NEITHER ARE SNEAKERS! Just wanted to warn you of this now in case you do not have female mentors in your life to tell you this straight up. And this is more of a personal opinion — boots don’t really cut it either. I have seen students wearing boots with pant suits and honestly this really isn’t much of a thing in the professional world in my experience.

teach yourself how to use excel

Being competent in Excel is super important for almost all jobs in business. Use your free time to teach yourself Excel. Unfortunately, most UVA classes expect you to know it and do not do enough to actually teach it. So, make sure you are comfortable with it so you don’t fall behind in classes. There are free Youtube videos that walk you through Excel shortcuts and best practices. If you are interested in finance, seek out Youtube tutorials on Discounted Cash Flow Models on Excel. Data cleaning is also a high-demand skill, so learning this will help you stand out as a candidate.

have the career center or an upperclassmen review your resume

Building a resume as a first year is a difficult task. There is a UVA format that you should adhere to that you can find on the UVA Career Center’s website. Additionally, you should not include high school activities on your resume (work experiences from high school are OK). I look back at my first year resume and cringe because it looked so empty. My formatting was correct, but I only had one or two bullet points for each activity I listed. For each activity you list, you should have 3-4 bullet points. Use action verbs and quantify your actions when possible. Instead of

“completed bake sales fundraising for my club volleyball team”

say: “executed 5 fundraisers for team of 40+ members, raising $5,000 within 3 weeks”

get comfortable talking to people on the phone.

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Our generation is so used to texting; however, most business people still prefer to communicate over the phone or via zoom. In order to build a professional network, you will most likely need to talk to strangers on the phone so they can get to know you and build a rapport. I used to be very uncomfortable contacting professionals for informational interviews, but with practice, you will get the hang of it. Be friendly, professional, and listen attentively. Also keep in mind that professionals are busy, and you should be driving the conversation. Come ready with questions to ask and topics to discuss. You can get in touch with professionals you want to network with on LinkedIn or by finding their email on their employers’ website. In my opinion, I get more responses over email. Here is an example email that I would send to a professional that I would like to connect with:

Subject: UVA Networking Call Request

Hello [first name],

My name is Claire Brodish, and I am a third year student at the University of Virginia studying Commerce. I am the President of Her Campus at UVA, a women’s magazine, and am a member of the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi. We met at the UVA Spring Consulting Night and I enjoyed hearing about your time working in the New York office. I am interested in a career at PwC and would love to hear more about your experiences working there as a Management Consulting Analyst in the Digital Transformation practice. I would appreciate the opportunity to conduct an informational interview with you about your role at the firm. Here are some times next week that work for me:

Monday, the 11th 10 AM – 2 PM

Thursday, the 14th 12 PM – 6 PM

Tuesday, the 19th 10 AM – 1 PM

I am sure you are very busy, so please let me know if any of these times work for you. If not, we can figure out another time. Once again, I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing back from you!



While this type of email might feel awkward, professionals are often willing to help you and may be able to get your foot in the door at their firm. It also helps if you reach out to UVA alumni, since they are more likely to help you. Also consider reaching out to people that you share other things in common with (home town, club sport, CIO, etc.). All it takes is one good conversation to jump start your career.

I hope this advice helps, and if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me.

Claire Brodish is a third-year student at the University of Virginia studying Commerce. Claire serves as the chapter's President. Keep up with her on Instagram @claire_brodish xx