Erin Written by Erin (she/her), student

No one expects you to have your whole life mapped out when you apply to university. There are so many universities and choices. You may discover new programs after you apply or even once you get to university.

It's okay to change what you'd like to study. Many students do. Everyone has a different path to success and you have options and opportunities to make yours unique. So what happens if you change your mind?

First, let's review some terminology...

  • Major/program: the main focus of what you'll study and most of your courses will be in this subject
  • Faculty: a collection of academic departments that offer majors/programs

Changing your mind after you’ve applied to university

Choosing what you want to study can be tough and sometimes we pick wrong! Whether you picked a program your family loved and now realize it's not for you, or you attended an open house and discovered a program you feel is a better fit, you have options. First things first, your course of action is going to depend on deadlines.

If you’ve changed your mind prior to the application deadline, then you can update your application through the Ontario Universities' Application Centre. If the application deadline has passed, you may have some options — like applying to a different program that is still accepting applications. The best thing to do is to contact the university where you'd like to study to see if you can change your application.

In many cases, you don't choose your major until the end of first year. This is great because it gives you a year to explore the many subjects at university before selecting a major. And there are some programs where you don't need to choose a major at all!

2 students looking at a cell phone.

Chatting with friends at university may introduce you to new programs or areas of interest you'd like to study.

Changing what you study

Once you start taking classes in different subjects at university or talk to friends in other programs, you may discover an area of interest you didn’t even know about! Or you may find that your program isn't what you expected or you’re struggling academically. That’s okay. University is all about self discovery! You have a few options.

Switch your major

If you're not enjoying your major or it doesn't reflect your interests and goals anymore, you can often switch majors. You're never really locked into something that isn't for you although it may take more time and money (if you can't transfer all of your credits towards your new major).

There is no single rule about switching majors and how many credits you'll be able to transfer. Generally, you can transfer more credits going from a highly structured program with many required courses (such as many Engineering programs) to a more flexible program with not as many required courses.

If you're switching into a major that's unrelated to your original program, you may be able to transfer a lot of credits or you might need to start over as a first-year student. It really depends on the program you want to get into.

Programs that are competitive for admission from high school are usually competitive as well for switching into once you're a university student.

Add a specialization or double major

Many programs allow you to take electives or add a specialization in different subjects, so you can try a class before switching majors.

Or if you've already committed time and energy towards one major and don't want to lose that investment, an option would be to a pursue a double major. This isn't available in all programs but could help you keep the credits you've earned and add a major that really excites you.

Your academic advisor is there to help

Usually the first person to see is your academic advisor: they’re available to support and advise you. They can be an amazing resource and help you figure out the right path! Remember it's okay for your change to be subtle or drastic, it's your path to forge! Talk to other students and see what they love about their programs.

Students walking across campus.

Many students change their major during university. University is short so you should study something you enjoy and that will help achieve your goals.

Changing universities

In some cases, students find that the university they've chosen isn't for them anymore or their family circumstances have changed and they'd like to switch universities. It's possible to transfer between universities, although whether you can transfer some or all of your credits will depend on the university and the program you wish to transfer to.

I realized I was only staying in my program because it felt like failure (no one likes admitting they made the wrong choice)... [but] I changed programs and found a place where I felt like I belonged and a subject I am genuinely passionate about.

Claire, fourth-year Knowledge Integration student

One student who made the switch is Claire, a fourth-year student at Waterloo. She says that she would "hear my friends talking about how much they loved what they were doing. They were interested in their classes and were excited about everything they were studying and the projects they were working on. I definitely didn't feel that way about what I was doing. I didn’t feel like I fit in."

She adds that "I realized I was only staying in my program because it felt like failure (no one likes admitting they made the wrong choice). At the end of my second year I knew it was do it now or stick it out. I emailed the academic advisor and was in my ideal degree a week later. I am so thankful that I changed programs and found a place where I felt like I belonged and a subject I am genuinely passionate about."

Final advice

Whether you're applying for university and are unsure about your choice of programs or you've spent a year or two in a program that you feel isn't for you, it's important to talk to people, whether that's your high school guidance counsellor, parents, friends (especially any who are at university), an academic or career advisor at university, or a counsellor for help. Remember that you aren’t trapped, change might be the best option for you, and your university is here to help!

If you've applied to Waterloo and have questions about your application, you can email or call 519-888-4567, ext. 43106. Remember you always have options and Waterloo is here to help the best we can!


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