A Big Decision: Changing My Academic Plan
By Becky Bando, 3rd-year Concurrent Education, English student
Imagine you’ve changed half of your courses six weeks into the year. But these weren’t just any random courses; these were courses required for your new major. And this change wasn’t just a small shift in your major, like moving from Chemistry to Biology; it was a drastic change, like moving from Math to English. This means weeks of work to catch up on as well as learning a whole new set of skills connected to your major. Not to mention, entering new classes not knowing anyone. What if you change your mind and regret your new major?
I remember when I changed my major, I felt as if I had failed. I was scared that others would also view me this way and think I took the “easy way out.” And yes, sadly, there were some people who made comments like, “oh, that course was too hard for you?”. This social pressure didn’t exactly make my transition to learning, studying, and catching up in my new courses any easier. It wasn’t until I talked to my academic advisor that I truly felt confident, or at least more at ease, with my decision. Instead of dissuading me from changing my major, she admired my confidence in being able to choose something that was right for me. It was through talking to my academic advisor, my family, my peers, and members of SASS that I got back on track, and I have never been happier with my decision. Now I’m studying something that I actually like, which is really the best thing you can hope for out of your university experience. However, it was definitely a little stressful in the beginning. Through this experience, I learned that with the right resources, you can make a smooth transition to a new major, minor, or even faculty.
Talk to your professor
While some professors will only give you a syllabus and wish you good luck when you transfer into their course, most professors are extremely understanding and will go to great lengths to ensure that your transition into their classroom is as smooth as possible. It can be intimidating approaching a professor not knowing what to expect, but you must remind yourself that only good can come out of speaking to them. To make this process easier, it’s a good idea to generate a list of questions that you would like to ask them so that you can start the course off on the right foot. Here are some examples:
- How much time should I allocate to the readings each week?
- What are some great resources that could help catch me up in this course?
- Are there any specific note-taking or study strategies that you recommend when approaching readings?
- Will my mark be affected at all due to my late transition into the course (ex: participation marks)? If so, are there any alternative method for catching up on those marks? (Make sure that you won’t be surprised when you receive your final mark for the course.)
- Would you be able to provide me with the lecture notes that I have missed, if there are any? (You would be surprised at the number of professors who are willing to send you their powerpoint slides.)
- Is there any other advice you can give me?
Make a friend
While it can be even more intimidating to approach a student in class, getting to know someone taking the same course will help give you the inside scoop on how to do well. Besides, what if your roles were reversed? You would probably be happy to help and give advice to an anxious student if they approached you. In fact, you would probably feel flattered that a student thinks you look like you know what you’re doing. Here are some good questions to ask your new classmate:
- Is there a Facebook page or group chat for this course where students ask questions or share notes/resources? (You’d be surprised at how quickly Facebook pages made by students can bring you up to date on what’s been going on and the overall vibe of the course.)
- What should I prioritize in this course? Should I invest more time in completing assignments or studying for quizzes? (This is a question that a lot of professors might not provide a clear answer to since they likely consider everything in their course as being equally important.)
- What’s the best way to take notes for this course? Do you mind if I look at your notes from last week to see how I should be framing mine? (Some students may even give you their notes if they’re generous.)
- How are you finding this course? Are there any tips you would give to doing well in this course?
Find Resources on Campus
While your professors and friends can help you start a course off on the right foot, there are some things that only you can figure out. This includes new strategies and skills you need to learn for studying for course-specific exams and managing stress levels. For example, you wouldn’t study for an English exam the same way you would study for a Biology exam. There are many resources on campus that can help you with this transition:
- Student Academic Success Services: SASS offers many great resources for conquering the academic skills to succeed in any course. This includes workshops run by Peer Learning Assistants, Writing Centre consultations for essays and lab reports, appointments with Learning Strategists, helpful online handouts and much more: https://sass.queensu.ca/.
- Student Wellness Services: It can be overwhelming trying to catch up on everything within the first few weeks of transferring into one, two, or even three new courses. Health should always be a number one priority, and Student Wellness Services is the best place to ensure you are maintaining both your mental and physical health: http://www.queensu.ca/studentwellness/home.
Of course, the best resource available to you is the academic advisor in your present faculty. Each faculty has an academic advisor whose role is to help ensure the success of your academic journey at Queen’s. They can help you readjust your university course plan and provide more insight on specific courses you’re thinking of taking.
An academic advisor will also tell you that changing majors, minors, and faculties is common in university. Most students don’t get to see how common this actually is because of how put together everyone appears on the outside. Trust me, no one is that put together. Changing your university plan shouldn’t be something to be ashamed of. In fact, it should be seen as something quite courageous, since you’re taking the initiative to explore and follow your passion. Isn’t that what university is for?
Photo courtesy of Queen’s University under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0.