As the title suggests, I was not always in Viterbi or majoring in Biomedical Engineering. I used to be a part of something USC calls ‘Pre-Engineering’. This post is for the students who are thinking about making the switch and my personal story in making that switch.
My Original Major
I got accepted to USC as a biology major. I’ve always found biology interesting and did well in my IB Bio class; once I learned that students majoring in biology could become doctors, that became my plan. I was dead set on majoring in biology and going Pre-med, and that was my mentality… up until I got accepted to USC.
I started wondering: am I really cut out to be a doctor? I thought about when I wanted to join the workforce, what interested me, and what I could handle (I get grossed out very easily and that’s a no-go for doctors!). I came to the conclusion that Pre-med just wasn’t for me. *Disclaimer: I think Pre-meds are great and I have many smart Pre-med friends, but the path just wasn’t for me.
So I thought, now what do I major in? I enjoyed Biology, but I didn’t want to be a biologist. Then I thought back to middle school, and how I wanted to be an engineer then. I had always been decent at math, and I liked biology. Majoring in Biomedical Engineering seemed, to me, the best choice (and it is the best choice I’ve made in college so far!).
Making the Switch
For people who are interested in switching their major, as I mentioned earlier, there is something called the Pre-engineering process. The Viterbi website goes more in depth into the process (I will provide a link for the website at the end), but essentially it goes like this: students must notify their current advisor, email “firstname.lastname@example.org” to declare their intent to go major in Engineering, and speak to a Pre-engineering advisor. After this point, you are now in the Pre-engineering program!
Now you have to complete certain prerequisites based on what you want to major in. For instance, since I wanted to go into Biomedical Engineering, my prerequisites included BME 101 and CHEM 105A. These prerequisites depend on what you want to major in, but generally speaking it takes students two semester to complete. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA and keep Bs in their major-related prerequisites to be a competitive candidate for getting into Viterbi.
My Experiences Switching to Viterbi
I decided to make the switch from Biology to Biomedical Engineering before my orientation. During my orientation, I spoke to Renata Figueroa, my Pre-engineering advisor, about my Pre-engineering coursework and she essentially explained to me the information I outlined above. My first semester prerequisites consisted of MATH 226 (Calc III) and CHEM 105A, alongside a GESM and a GE.
I am going to be totally transparent — my first semester at USC was rough. I wasn’t used to the university lifestyle and living on my own. I managed my time poorly at the beginning of the semester, and had a hard time balancing coursework and a social life. I still had a high school mentality of not needing to take tests too seriously. All this plus taking Engineering courses… resulted in me failing my first two exams.
As you can imagine, I became incredibly worried if I had what it takes to switch to Viterbi. So I spoke to my advisor, Ms. Figueroa, about these issues and she helped me catch my footing. First (upon my request), she helped me come up with a backup plan in case Viterbi didn’t work out. Then she directed me towards some resources, I could use to help me through my classes.
I’m going to include the ones I found most helpful in this post:
1. Supplemental Instruction
Supplemental Instruction (SI) is an academic program where former students who aced the class teach current students. I went to weekly Chem SI sessions to review the material and I got a much better score on my remaining exams because of it.
2. Math Center
The Math Center is where the Math TAs hold their Office Hours. However, your specific TA does not have to necessarily help you. You could (when everything wasn’t on Zoom!) go into the room and get personalized help on your HW or concepts from any TA. I would basically go there every Monday because I had HW due the next day.
3. Professor/TA Office Hours
Ms. Figueroa recommended I try going to my professor’s office hours so I could have a 1-on-1 chat with them to help me through concepts I might have difficulty with. I, like a lot of other freshman, felt nervous around the professor, and she said the TA (who is usually a graduate student) could help me out just as well.
4. Study Groups
While Ms. Figueroa didn’t explicitly mention this, I found it very motivating and helpful when I found a group of friends taking CHEM 105A with me. We are all able to motivate each other and help each other whenever we needed it. I strongly recommend that you try and find a few friends in your Engineering classes who you can study with and get some motivation from.
Anyways, thankfully with the help of Ms. Figueroa, my friends, my parents, and these resources, I managed to pull through my first semester and maintain above a 3.0 GPA. Second semester was much easier since I found a rhythm of how to balance school with everything else. My prerequisites for that semester included BME 101 and CHEM 105B, alongside WRIT 150 and a GE. I even managed to get some involvement in at the university during my second semester.
Finally, in May 2020 I got an email from Viterbi saying I had been accepted as a Biomedical Engineering major! And I haven’t looked back since!
If anyone reading this is seriously considering on switching their major to Engineering, I would say: go for it. If you believe that Engineering is the path for you, definitely try and pursue it. Don’t let my first semester experiences discourage you from Pre-engineering! There are tons and tons of resources that Pre-engineering students can use to help them in their coursework — some of which I listed above. It is important to realize that any Engineering discipline is not an easy major. I would say: use this post as a lesson to not make the same mistakes I did, and be proactive with your coursework and seeking out help.
Further Resources for Students who are Interested
Supplmental Instruction: https://dornsife.usc.edu/supplemental-instruction/
Math Center: https://dornsife.usc.edu/mathcenter
Learning Center: https://kortschakcenter.usc.edu