Having been in 5 different faculties over 10 years of university, I have some advice I’d like to share. And yes, you read that correctly – I have been in 5 different faculties, and I have no shame in sharing this detail with you – in fact, that’s the whole point of this post. Changing your program of study is fairly common during one’s university career. In fact, depending on what articles you read, some state that anywhere from 50-75% of people change their major at least once, with people commonly switching up to 3 times.
So, it’s likely that changing programs is something that has gone through your mind too. Before going ahead and making the switch though, there are a few things that you should consider.
First thing’s first, do you really want to do this?Hopefully, by asking yourself the following questions, you will get a better idea of whether or not you are certain this is the right decision for you - not the right decision for your parents, your friends, or anyone else –just you. Try writing your answers down, and look at them frequently as you think this through.
Why do you want to switch out of your current program?
This is one of the most important things to think about. What is it about your program that you don’t like? Are you not doing very well? Did you decide it wasn’t for you? Or is it that you just don’t see yourself being in that field? Whatever the reason, make sure you have a clear mind, are free of any external pressures, and aren’t doing this in a particularly emotional or vulnerable point in your life.
Confession: The first time that I chose to change programs was during my first year of university. I hadn’t realized how different University was compared to high school, and I was instantly overwhelmed. Long story short, I dropped out of my program before I could even give it a chance. I was certainly not ready for university, and I left a good degree with co-op opportunities because I was overwhelmed by the whole experience – not just my program. Although I love where I’m at now, I still feel that I made this decision too quickly while in a vulnerable place. That’s why I highly recommend starting with this question.
Are you overwhelmed? Feeling unsuccessful? Do you need more personal or academic support?
A few of my friends switched because they failed a term, or felt overwhelmed with busy class schedules and multiple assignments that were due every week. First year is tough, no joke, and university in general is hard. However, the truth is everyone has to study, and everyone struggles. If you feel that you would be happy to stay in the program if you could just “survive” here are a few resources that can help out. Just remember that you’re not alone.
The Student Success Centre - the student success center has been referred to quite a bit in this blog, and there’s a reason we do that. They offer workshops, guidance, and tips and tricks for unlocking your full potential in school!
Counselling and Clinical Services is another big hitter, also for good reason. They offer individual counselling, workshops, and group therapy for anything which could be standing in the way of your success!
Why did you choose your current program in the first place?
Sometimes it can be good to think about what it was that attracted you to your current program. Did it seem interesting? Did you think it would lead to stable job opportunities? Had you hoped it would be fun? Were told that you would be good at it (either by friends, family, or teachers)? Think back to what was going on when you applied to the program, and you might get some insight into where you want to go (or stay) next. Think about your original motivations and think about who they most benefit.
Have you researched the program you’re thinking of switching to?
Does the subject matter excite you? Do you feel motivated to learn it? Do you actually enjoy learning about the subject? What skills will you develop? What will your study/work environment be like? What career paths are available to graduates? Your education is an investment – it’s an investment of your time and your money, and you should be interested in getting the most out of the experience. And that means enjoying the experience.
Research the career options that this program could lead to, and consider auditing a course.
Confession: One of the things that made me fall in love with the life sciences was sitting in on an upper year genetics course that my sister was taking.
Be careful though, make sure this doesn’t cut into any of your current class time, and that you are still able to keep up to date with your current courses. Also, I would say maybe sit in on 2-3 lectures tops on different subjects, make sure you ask for permission from the instructor before auditing a course.
If you know that someday you want to enter a professional program, like Law or Medicine, don’t focus on trying to take “pre-law” classes - especially since there is no “pre-law” program at the U of A. There isn’t a “pre-med” program either. And if you were to talk to a faculty advisor, they would recommend that you take the classes that you will enjoy and that will in turn get you the best grades achievable (because you’ll actually want to learn about the subject and will be more inclined to do well).
That being said, do all of your homework. If you know that you want to have a certain type of career, and you know that it does require a certain degree – find out if your program of interest can lead to that degree. And do not forget to look at the entrance requirements/pre-reqs., especially if you are thinking about switching faculties. Not all faculties are able to accept internal applicants. And if you are thinking about switching faculties, remember that you will have to go through the formal application process to do so. (More on that later.)
What’s the difference between my current program, and the program I am considering switching into?
Keep in mind that a lot of programs have significant overlap in their course requirements. Some of your credits might be transferable, so it could be beneficial to take courses common to both programs, and having some extra time to reflect on whether or not you want to switch. If you do this, be sure to check the calendar and to speak with a faculty advisor and/or program advisor. (It’s recommended that you speak with the advisor of the program that you’re interested in switching to.)The advisor will verify course requirements and might even be able to help you plan out which courses would be good to take. If you aren’t sure which advisor you should be speaking with, visit InfoLink (or call them or email them). The InfoLink staff can help you identify which advisors to see, and they can also let you know about any special information that might help you better prepare for an advising session.
Also, don’t forget to do a program check! You should do this at least once a year even if you aren’t thinking about switching. Having a program check will allow you to see exactly what credits you have and which ones you still need for your current program.
You should also try making a pro/con list for the programs you’re interested in. (Including your current program, if it’s still something you’re considering.) Take a look at:
- Course load
- Application requirements and time lines (if applicable)
- Time requirements
- Job opportunities
- How many people are in the field
- Possibility of a joint major or minor
- Funding options
- Program requirements
After making a pro/con list, try mapping out what the next few years of school could look like in your possible programs of study. While doing this, try to identify any courses which overlap, or any courses which have the same prerequisites. This can be really helpful, especially if you are considering multiple program options. It’s also a good idea to do this for at least the next semester, since applying to a new faculty can take time (if that’s the route you choose to take).
Okay, so I’m darn sure I need to switch majors, how do I do it?
As I mentioned up at the top, changing majors is quite different from changing faculties. The number one thing you should do if you are considering a switch (either within your current faculty or to a new one), is to talk to the applicable advisor(s). Be sure to visit the advisor for the program that you are thinking of moving into. If you don’t know who this person is, visit InfoLink (as described earlier) and/or visit the program’s website.
They’ll be able to guide you from there.
Remember that your student experience is temporary, and although it can be easy to get caught in the trap of thinking that a particular degree will limit your future path, know that there is flexibility in what any university degree gets you, and many programs have transferable skills. After all, no education is wasted education.
Albert is a final year MD/MBA student. When not at the books, he enjoys playing guitar, squash, dancing, cooking, travelling, and adrenaline sports. As a kid, Albert would often throw up whenever startled, to the dismay of haunted house employees. With a stronger stomach, he intends to try unique food on every continent.