University bound

Don’t panic if career plan undecided.

For some, deciding which program to apply to at university is a no brainer but for others, just choosing between an arts or science degree is gut wrenching. Student recruitment advisers at universities from coast to coast have one word of advice: Relax.

“More and more students feel they need a set plan — they have to know what their life plan is going to look like, what they’re going to study and what classes they’re going to take,” says Mairead Barry, associate registrar and director of admissions as Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S.

“But the value of a university degree is the ability to be flexible in your academic learning and to try out a variety of subjects that could be potential areas of study or future careers. I encourage students not to get locked into a choice early and at least during the first year of an undergraduate degree to explore what’s available to them.”

While most students naturally gravitate to liberal arts or science by Grade 12, that isn’t a prerequisite to applying to university. “It’s a huge financial commitment to send your kids to post-secondary education and as parents we like it to be purposeful,” says Mary DeMarinis, director of student recruitment and advising at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

“If kids don’t know what they want to do right away, we encourage them to take a really broad array of courses. I believe they will be inspired and ignited by something,” she says. “There’s lots of time for kids to explore and take a number of classes before they have to decide their major.”

Students undecided about future goals should do some self reflection. “Too often, they apply to a program because they did well in that subject in high school … but they should think about what they’re excited about learning,” Barry says.

“It’s important for them to take ownership of the (application) process so they’re not choosing an area of study because that’s what their guidance counsellor or parents say would be a good fit.”

Barry suggests doing some career exploration through things like co-op programs or job shadowing.

Philip Varghese, a student recruitment adviser at UBC, encourages students to imagine the kind of work they’d like to do while thinking about everyday experiences — a class or volunteer experience — that are particularly meaningful.

“Most universities organize career selection around the career development process. As they do some career exploration, they know what kinds of degrees they should consider to achieve their goals,” Varghese says. Campus visits can also be helpful in determining or confirming a program of study.

Related stories:

Find the right fit for personality, goals

Campus tour a must

Helpful resources for university-bound students