Picking your Perfect Program of Study
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
Written by Ann Lambert
Edited by Farah Farhat
There is no doubt that picking a program of study for post-secondary can be incredibly daunting. Not everybody knows what their educational calling is right away, and that is totally okay. Remember: your program can change if you don’t like it, and there are plenty of useful resources to consult and things to consider when making your decision. If you feel like you’re having a full-on crisis over not being able to pick a major, or you simply want to feel more confident in your decision, here are my tips for choosing the very best program for YOU in the pursuit of your post-secondary career.
Arts, or Science?
The very first thing to think about is whether you are more of an art or a science person. Now, “arts” does not simply mean visual/performing arts, and science does not simply refer to biology/chemistry/physics. In the context of university programs, “arts” usually refers to all humanities, fine arts, and languages/literature, while “science” refers to all science and math-related programs (i.e. engineering, nursing, statistics, data science, etc.).
So, which did you prefer in grades 9/10, English and history, or science and math? To get more particular, do you prefer disciplines with subjective answers to the big questions, which tend to entail some creativity and critical thinking? Or do you prefer subjects with objective solutions that require you to use calculations, measurements, and observations in your work? If you prefer the former, you’re probably more of an arts person. If the latter is more appealing to you, you’re likely more drawn to the science side of academics. It’s okay to prefer one, and it’s certainly not abnormal to be better at one than the other. If you enjoy both, a happy middle could be found in social sciences (for example, think of psychology or economics).
Here’s why I’m bringing this up: if you absolutely can’t picture yourself in any particular program of study yet but you know where you fall in terms of arts vs science, a general degree is always something to consider. Most schools offer general arts and general science programs, and some schools also offer general social science. General degrees allow you to take courses in a wide variety of different disciplines. With this, you’ll get tons of electives (i.e. non-mandatory courses you get to pick for yourself), which makes for a super flexible program structure. If you find one of your first-year courses to be particularly enjoyable, you could then look into the process of making that discipline your major, or keep things flexible and proceed with your general degree. Either way, a general degree program allows you to go to post-secondary without having to settle on one specific discipline before you feel ready to do so. Thus, if you know you want to go to university but haven’t yet found your calling, this is something you could look into.
Look at what’s ahead
In first year, many of your courses will be compulsory. They won’t necessarily be the most interesting, the content will be pretty general, and they will have a lot of students in them from across different programs. But don’t base your opinion on a program off of its first-year content! As early as the second year, your course options become much more specialized and specific to your program, and you’re more likely to find yourself in classes that truly interest you. Therefore, I would recommend doing some research on your school of interest’s website to find out what some of the upper-year course options/requirements are for the program you’re looking into. If those 2nd/3rd/4th year courses appear to be ones you’d enjoy taking, chances are that’s a good program for you!
Those specialized, upper-year courses are a much more accurate depiction of what that program’s all about than a quick program description or some general first-year courses. Upper year courses should definitely influence your program choice because they will teach you most of the practical, hands-on knowledge in your field of study, which you’ll likely use throughout your professional career if that field turns out to be the path you choose to stick with.
Do your research
If I gave you thirty seconds to name as many university programs as you could, how many would you come up with? You’d probably name nursing, engineering, psychology, health sciences… those tend to be the most popular. However, if that’s all you can list, maybe you haven’t done enough research.
Ever heard of Gerontology? Biopharmaceutical science? Digital Humanities? Geomatics? The learning opportunities out there are truly endless and there are so many you haven’t even heard of yet. Take a few hours to dig deep into your school(s) of interest’s website(s). Check out the programs they offer, read up on their descriptions and courses, look up more information about the disciplines that stand out to you, and stay open-minded.
There are quite literally hundreds of disciplines out there to choose from, and innumerable combinations of majors, minors, options, and other degree add-ons that you can look into to craft your dream program.
Pursue your passions and study what you love!
This one should be obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. Studying in a discipline that you are passionate about or, at least, highly interested in will make your educational career infinitely better (full blog on this coming soon!). Remember that post-secondary is a chance to receive a specialized education that is uniquely suited to what YOU want to do with your life; that’s about as exciting as schooling gets. Studying something you’re passionate about simply makes that experience all the more surreal.
Chances are, if you were to ask any university student about whether they like their program, how they went about selecting it, or for any general advice on that matter, they’d be happy to talk to you (Passionate Minds’ mentors would be an amazing resource for this type of information!). Every university is also heavily staffed with academic affairs representatives of some kind who are always ready to answer your questions about applications, admissions, degree planning, or anything else along those lines.
Again, it’s okay to change your mind a few times on what to study, because what truly matters is that you enjoy yourself. An enjoyable academic career is most often a successful one, which then leads to all sorts of open doors as you begin your professional career. At the end of the day, remember that this decision is an exciting one, not a scary one!