Maybe you’re just starting university, or already in your second year, or even close to graduating, when you realize that the academic program you chose is “not for you.” At this point, you might think: “Oh no, I’m stuck! What am I going to do now? I have no idea what else to study!” But don’t fret: it is far more common than most people think for students to change academic programs and to reconsider career paths. It’s not the end of the world! In fact, making a change may open up a world of possibilities.
Many students change programs while in university because they come to a better understanding of their educational interests and career options. Their choice of program can be based on many factors: they enjoyed specific classes in high school; they did well in particular subject areas; they wanted to pursue a certain career and believed the program to be the best preparation for it; or other reasons. Whatever your chosen program, your education offers you the chance to learn more about yourself, find out what areas of study suit you best, build skills that are valued in the workplace, and gain awareness of how academic programs relate to occupational choices.
If you are trying to choose a new academic program, it is important to try different things and get to know what you like most. So ask yourself: what interests me? What skills do I have, and what skills do I want to develop? How do I like to connect with people? What are the important qualities I want my career to have? With these questions in mind, you have started the process of self assessment. An academic or career counselor can help you take this process even further.
It is also important to understand the value of your program and degree in relation to occupations. Does an English degree mean that your only career options are to become an English teacher or a writer? Not at all! There are many more careers that you can secure with this background. According to a recent Ontario University Graduate Survey, 46% of graduates don’t work in fields closely related to their former program of study. The reason graduates are able to move into other fields is because they are able to leverage the transferable skills they developed through their studies, as well as the skills they fostered outside their academic work. A list of these might include working collaboratively, communicating well in a variety of formats, analyzing information and thinking creatively.
What you should know, as your enter and progress through your university career, is that graduating from your program of study should be just one of your many accomplishments. Getting involved in a variety of activities outside of your academic program is a great way to expand your career prospects while completing your studies. These activities can include participation in campus clubs, paid work, unpaid internships or volunteer work.
There are many benefits to getting involved in extracurricular activities. First, you are adding value to your degree and following up on your interests—and in case you need to change direction from the current program of study, you can acquire many transferable skills. Second, employers will view you in a more positive light in hiring decisions, because they look for well-rounded candidates with a range of work and life experiences. Third, your participation in a variety of activities will contribute to your understanding of yourself as a person, which is a key component of making the best choices for your education as well as your future career.
One last thought: when faced with the question of changing direction with educational programs, make sure that you tap into the resources available to you at your university, such as academic and career counseling services. These can help you in countless ways during the process of choosing the academic path that’s right for you. Good luck in your adventure at university! CO
Hana El Kaissi, M.Ed, and Elena Pizzamiglio,
M.Ed are Career Counsellors at the
University of Toronto Career Centre.