Choosing a university program

Posted by: Mike Peirce on August 24, 2015 3:10 pm


Over the past month, I have spent a great deal of time reviewing Canadian university programs as I updated the material for the 2015-16 edition of “For Grads Only”. This publication is near and dear to my heart as I believe it is a useful tool for students beginning their search for their ideal university and program. During my research, the program searches on the University Canada website made me think about what a student goes through as they decide their course of action for university application. Did you know that if you simply search for Bachelor degree programs taught in English in Canada, there are almost 6,400 possibilities to consider? There is no wonder students are often overwhelmed by deciding what to study. The importance of this decision can never be underestimated as a student needs to know what the program they will enroll in before they can decide which university to apply to. After all, if the university doesn’t teach the program, no sense in going there. Over the years, I have realised that students researching undergraduate university degree programs fall into one of three groups: 1) those who know what they want to study, 2) those who have some idea and 3) those who haven’t a clue. The neat thing is I believe there is no problem being in any one of these three categories. The process of choosing just needs to be adjusted a little.

Those in the decided group simply need to find which universities offer the program and then see if they have the pre-requisites and grades to gain entrance. While this group is often the easiest to counsel, I still suggest they take a look at what else is available to them. There is a reason so many students change a major following first year. They discover a new passion. Originally a physics major and then a life sciences major, I discovered that some of the courses I loved in high school lost their appeal to me during my first two years of university. I happened to take a psychology course which I fell in love with and the rest is history. Funny thing is, I wouldn’t be writing this blog today if I hadn’t read through a bunch of course descriptions and said to myself, this one sounds neat.

For those students who have some ideas, the trick is to ensure they keep the high school pre-requisites which keep those doors open. Most university programs (including those professional degrees) start out with general survey programs allowing a student to explore the discipline. Even engineering or business majors can usually change their focus within the degree up until the end of first or second year. Again, find out which universities offer those programs and check to see if the correct pre-requisites are in place and a competitive average is attainable.

For those who don’t have a clue, simply flipping through a university calendar and noting any subjects which sound neat can be a helpful exercise. I provide these students with a list of over 250 university majors and have the student highlight any which interest them. If they don’t know what the major is, I simply have them “google” it. It is remarkable how many students will discover patterns in the way they have chosen. It is also useful to educate these students about the flexibility of an undergraduate program in arts or sciences. When I ask grade 11 students how many history courses a history major studies in first year, few give the correct answer of one. A social science or arts major can literally meet the requirements for numerous majors through creative selection of their first year program. The important point here is that counsellors need to educate the students about the post-secondary system and not expect they already know.

To this day I love to run into students and hear about their educational journey and destination. Even those who were decided in high school have learned a great deal about themselves since that time. Simply encourage them to enjoy the journey.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA