So you want to switch programs

Janessa Morin - 26 March 2021

Navigating major changes

Think about it: It’s kind of wild that we’re expected to pick a major based on what we want to do for the rest of our lives when we’re 17 or 18 years old. That’s not even 10% of the average bowhead whale lifespan!

With that in mind, it makes sense that lots of people change their academic program throughout university. After all, when we apply to post secondary, we really only have limited experience from high school. So if you’re reconsidering your choice in programs, let me assure you—you are not alone. I’m here to answer some questions you may have about switching degrees.

How do I know if I want to switch programs?

Sometimes when these thoughts start to come up, you might not know right away that you want to switch programs. It could start with general feelings of unhappiness with the courses you’re taking, or it could start with a change in your goals for after undergrad. Regardless of how it comes up, it can be worth reflecting on these thoughts to make sure you’re getting the most out of your education.

What do I do if I don’t meet an academic requirement and have to switch programs?

Not meeting a GPA requirement can be really disheartening. It’s important to consider all the factors that contribute to our lives as students and be kind to ourselves. Recognize that you were doing the best you could at the time.

One step you can take is to talk to an advisor. Lots of honours programs with set GPA requirements have a specific program advisor. Odds are this advisor has had lots of conversations with students who don’t quite make the grades, and may be able to help you figure out similar programs to switch into that have less heavy requirements. Plus, some programs might let you reapply in a few years if you get your grades up, so it’s worth exploring your options.

Another good practice is reflecting on what your motivation was to be in that program in the first place. Was it genuinely something you were passionate about? Or were you in it to make someone else (maybe a parent or teacher) happy? Were you in it just for the title of an honours degree? Exploring your intention can help you choose how to move forward, and can prove to be quite enlightening.

I’ve decided I want to switch programs. Now what?

If you’ve come to that decision, congrats! It can be really overwhelming figuring out what you’re interested in, so if you’ve made it one step closer to discovering that, that’s great!

If you’ve decided your current program isn’t for you, the next thing to do is look into what is. Think about what classes you’ve really enjoyed and what you could see yourself doing in the future. Once you’ve got that laid out, one possible course of action is reaching out to advisors both from the program/faculty you’re leaving and the program/faculty you’re hoping to switch into. Knowledge is power, and talking to advisors can help you understand the process as well as the program you’re switching.

student working at whiteboardHow can residence help me while I change majors?

The Academic and Faculty in Residence are great resources if you have questions about anything related to academics. They can help you talk through goals, grad school, choosing courses and a bunch more! If you wanted to read more about them, you can meet them on our blog and get even more tips from these lovely folks.

You can also reach out to your RA if you’re unsure of where to go or what to do. RAs are there to help, and would be happy to support you through the process.



Why should I believe some random fourth year writing a preachy blog about switching programs?

You're valid. But you’re hearing this from someone who’s been there not once but twice! I switched programs at the end of my first and second years, and let me tell you I don't regret either decision.

Despite being dead set on getting an honours neuroscience degree, I learned by the end of my first year that it wasn’t the path for me. It was a really hard decision because I had been so invested in the program, but it became clear that I was a lot more interested in the psychology side of what I was studying than anything else. So I switched into psychology for my second year, but midway through I realized I wanted to get into research and switched programs again into honours psychology.

With the switches, I had to add an extra year of my degree, but honestly it is completely worth it to be studying something I care about. Plus, taking 4 courses per semester is a game changer, so it worked out anyway. It was a bit of a winding road, but I’m happy with how it turned out.

If you’re thinking about changing programs, know that it is totally okay. Even if you’re thinking of switching to something that’s not even remotely similar, it’s all good! University should be what you want it to be, and it’s okay to change paths to do what makes you happy.