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Nov 13 2017
by Jamie Su

A Comprehensive Guide to Switching Programs Within Your School

By Jamie Su - Nov 13 2017
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Sometimes, first-year students — and many upper-year students — realize that the program they're in isn't for them. If you're one of those people reconsidering your academic pathway and thinking that switching programs would be the best decision for your academics and well-being, don't worry. Many people have been in the same boat as you, including me. Instead of switching schools, some consider switching to a different program under the same faculty or to a completely different faculty because they enjoy their school environment or like the convenience of internal transfers. Here's a guide with some steps for you to follow on how to go about the internal transfer process within your college.

1. Assess whether your current program is the right fit for you.

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Profs usually tell you when something is directly related to your future. If you don't enjoy doing most of those things, then the program is not the right fit. There will always be some part of a job that you won't like, but if you hate almost every aspect of the job then it's really not worth it. -Haley C., University of Ottawa (Plans on switching into: Double major in Computer Science and Math; previous program: Civil Engineering)

Here are some questions to think about: Is the program what you expected? Do you genuinely enjoy your major? Is your resentment for your program taking a toll on your mental health? 

It's best to reflect on whether this is just a problem with your work ethic and learning style tactics, or because you are genuinely unhappy with the courses you're taking. If you think your mental health is disrupting your daily life and affecting your grades, seek help from an academic advisor and counselling services. There are ways to seek help and improve your studying habits if you are genuinely struggling with the material, such as through teaching assistants, professors, tutorial sessions and tutors. But if it goes beyond not understanding the material, ask yourself if your current program is suitable for you. 

2. Speak to the academic advisor for your program.

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My advice would be to do extensive research about [what] you're switching into, especially if it's an inter-faculty transfer, because your advisor may not know much about degree requirements for other faculties. Know what you want from your degree, why you want to switch and if they're transferable credits. You also don't want to put it off, because the longer you wait to transfer, the further behind that puts you once you do transfer. - Alexis J., University of Waterloo (Current program: Honours English - Rhetoric, Media, and Professional Communication; previous program: Honours Science and Business, Chemistry Specialization)

It's always good to get a second opinion from someone. Academic advisors are here to help you, especially if you're struggling with your program. Though they may not be able to advise you if you're completing an inter-faculty transfer, what they can do is suggest a lighter course load and other options within your faculty and program before you make the final decision to switch programs. Go in prepared with what you want to get out of that advising appointment and get your questions and concerns clarified.

3. Research other programs within your school that you're interested in.

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Find students in those programs or who have graduated from that program and talk to as many as possible about their experiences, and see if it aligns with what you're looking for. - Jenny X., University of Waterloo (Current program: Systems Design Engineering; previous program: Architecture) 

Researching programs is important, like how it was during the college application process — except this time, it's more crucial than ever. Utilize your university's webpage to read up on potential programs. Does reading about this program spark excitement or interest within you? Realistically consider whether you can excel in that program and if it better lies with your interests than your current program. Find students enrolled in that program to talk to for more insight to compare your interests with what this new program entails.

4. Talk to the academic advisors of potential programs you want to switch in to.

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I think firstly, for internal transfer[s], since the faculty has a webpage about the process and minimum requirements, checking the information on the webpage could be very useful for students to determine their situations and also their concerns/questions for the transfer before actually talking to an advisor. Generally, the advisor [is] very helpful, and if the transfer is competitive, get advice about course selection for the term before you can transfer, as grades of some related courses are taken into consideration. Course planning, transfer credits, co-op/non co-op, submitting forms, etcetera may be some questions students [should] consider [discussing] with their advisor. - Ziying L., University of Waterloo (Current program: Honours Computer Science, previous program: Honours Biochemistry)

With your research and understanding of what the program you're interested in entails, talk to the academic advisor for that program or new faculty about the major(s) you're interested in pursuing. It's your responsibility to come in prepared with your knowledge and understanding of the transfer process. When you're discussing this with the advisor, keep in mind the credits and average you need to officially transfer. Do you have transferable credits? Are your grades high enough to be admitted into the program? Do you need to take a nondegree term or extra term to complete courses or meet the required average?

5. Have a discussion with your parents before making any final decisions.

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Tell your parents your whole plan on switching programs. Lay out the reasons why you want to switch. Don't just go to them empty handed with no research. That just shows your lack of maturity and effort, and they won't take you seriously. You need to be prepared for them to challenge you, not because they're against you, but simply because they want to understand and make sure that you are making the best possible decision for yourself academically, personally and mentally. - Jamie S., University of Waterloo (Current program: Honours Arts; previous program: Honours Science and Business, Biotechnology Specialization)

If you're close to your parents, what you can do before you make any final decision is to tell them your plans for switching programs. Although they may be confused as to why you're struggling in your program, it's important for them to hear your side of the story. Thoroughly explain why you think switching programs would be beneficial for you so they can understand your point-of-view. Ultimately, they're here to support you through your academic journey because they want the best for you.

6. Carefully plan out course selection for your new program. 

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First, speak to an advisor; they're going to be your new best friend to make sure that you're keeping on track with all required courses or to get classes overridden if necessary. Take it upon yourself to spend an uninterrupted afternoon looking through your program's requirements, breadth requirements, potential major requirements. If you're in a time crunch and still want to graduate according to schedule despite having wasted time in the previous program, be smart about the courses you choose. Design your schedule to double count (if your program allows so) in fulfilling various requirements. Finally, be proactive and make sure to look back every so often to make sure your plan is actually viable, to account for certain terms that aren't offering a course for that year, and be flexible with these changes. Have contingencies for these situtions. - Jenny T., University of Waterloo (Current program: Honours Arts and Business, Political Science Major; previous program: Honours Science and Business, Chemistry Specialization)

One way to carefully organize your course selection and ensure that you meet all the requirements for graduation is to make a spreadsheet of requirements you need to meet, like averages and credits needed for your major, minors, specializations and options. This will be time-consuming, but you want to be as safe as possible and not miss any minor details you might have disregarded otherwise. Use this to set your academic goals and plan future terms accordingly. 

7. Fill in the paperwork for your switch.

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Once you complete all the other steps, you can either print the forms from your university's website or get them from the undergraduate advising office, depending on your school. Make sure to check that all the information you've filled in is correct. Submit it to your new academic advisor, wait for it to be processed and you're all good to go! 

Not everyone gets it right during the first try. You may have to do some summer courses or an extra term or two to take the courses necessary to complete your new program, but it is all about YOUR academic journey — no one else's. Staying an extra term or two doesn't matter in the long run. What matters is that you're happy with your new program and know that you can extend your capabilities and talents to that new area of study. I wish you all the best.

Lead Image Credit: Morgan Harper Nichols via Unsplash

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Jamie Su - University of Waterloo

Jamie is a second year student at the University of Waterloo majoring in Honours Arts. She spends most of her time reading, writing, fangirling over fictional characters, sleeping, and watching romcoms and coming-of-age films. Jamie gets distracted easily when she sees any kind of dog walking down the street, but she never minds.

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