Wondering if you’re in the right program is natural
First published in jobpostings magazine
careers. education. ideas. all of it.
We’ve all made decisions we regret. Whether it was dating that crazy person in high-school everyone warned us about, putting off working on that essay until the last hour, or eating that seventh eighth ninth slice of pizza, we all have those choices we wish we could undo. A common regret that university students experience is which degree they chose to pursue. High-school seniors have to make a choice that could impact the rest of their lives. As a teenager, that’s a lot of pressure to handle. Luckily, if you’re one of the many who chose a program—only to discover it’s a total snooze-fest—it’s not too late to switch it up.
“English was like that bad relationship I knew I had to end,” says Kathleen Cornthwaite, 23, a fine arts graduate from Nipissing University. “I thought English would be a good choice out of high school because it was safe, and I wasn’t sure what path I wanted to take. After taking English and visual arts classes in first-year, I realized I wouldn’t have the motivation to finish my degree if I continued in the English stream. I didn’t enjoy the course content or how the professors tore it apart.”
Julie Green, manager of the Academic Advising Centre at Memorial University, sees students in this situation all the time. She says, “Students put this intense pressure on themselves to know exactly what they want to do coming straight into university. If you talk to lots of people further on in their degrees, most people recognize that they didn’t know [what they wanted to do] early on, and that there was a process of exploration and learning about their own interests, strengths, and aptitudes.”
Luckily, choosing your program isn’t like getting that tribal tattoo you got in tenth grade when you thought it was cool. You don’t have to live with this decision for the rest of your academic life. Colleges and universities have made switching programs accessible enough that students—regardless of how far along they are—should look into it they are feeling out of place in their course.
Should I consider switching?
Generation Y has become accustomed to the idea of change. We’ve all but alienated the idea that you should commit to one career for the rest of your life, so it’s no surprise students have taken to switching their degrees when they feel unsatisfied with their education. As tempting as it might be to jump ship when things get rough, changing programs should be a well-thought out decision, not just an escape plan.
Green discourages students from changing programs based on one bad semester. “You don’t want to make that kind of decision based on one course …. Sometimes students have really bad terms, right? There are other things going on in their lives, and whatever is happening academically and outside of university is causing them to have a really bad term. You might not want to generalize that term to mean the program is terrible for you.”
On the other hand, if—during your lectures—you realize that you’re more interested in the origins of pocket lint than you are the course material, or if your grades just aren’t up to snuff, it might be that your strengths lie elsewhere. Thomas George, 22, a business technology management student at Ryerson University, switched out of his computer science course after he found out it wasn’t exactly what he had imagined it would be. “Like most of my peers, I found computer science to be very difficult, and the expectations to be completely different from what high-school had led me to believe. I also realized that I could not imagine sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, figuring out how to fix programming errors.”
“If you hate doing it in university, what’s magically going to happen that’s going to make you like doing that job in real life?” says Green. “I think sometimes there’s such a focus on getting out [of university] and getting a job that people forget to think about what I’m going to do if I actually get it and hate it. What’s my life going to look like then? A large part of [students] coming to university is getting on a good career path, but it needs to be a reflection of what they want to do, not a reflection of what other people think they should do. And, chances are, it’s going to be really hard to do well in your area if your heart’s not in it.”
Jennifer Browne, the director of Career Development and Experiential Learning at Memorial, says “It’s much better to switch and study what you love than to continue down a path that may lead to uncertainty and possible dissatisfaction with your education.
“I had a student work for me a few years ago that was in her third year of biology. She was struggling, maintaining a C average, and not really happy with her education. When I asked her why she was studying biology, she said she thought she would be more employable with a science degree than another. That semester, she took an anthropology course as an elective and I witnessed her ‘come alive.’ She couldn’t stop talking about what she was learning. Her marks rose, and she got her first A since first-year. She decided to make the switch, though it added an extra semester to her schooling. But her marks and GPA had improved significantly, and two years after graduating she was successfully accepted into a completive graduate program and is enjoying a satisfying career.”