How to pick what to study in university

It can be one of the hardest decisions you'll have to make. But don't worry—there are plenty of options.

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Choosing what to study in university can feel like you have to choose what you want to do with the rest of your life before you’ve even figured that out.

You might have an idea of what your goals are, or what type of career you want, but aren’t sure which program will get you to where you want to be. We talked to admissions experts, student advisors, and some Dal students for their thoughts on what you should consider when choosing what to study in university.

Figure out what you love

As Marie Kondo says, does it spark joy? Our No. 1 tip is to start with what you already love. Think about how you like to spend your spare time and the activities that make time fly by. Learning more about what you’re already passionate about will make your university experience that much more fulfilling and successful.

"Think about which podcasts you love and which YouTube channels you watch," says Patricia Laws, assistant dean of Science. "Think about why you're watching it and what it is that interests you."

Maybe you like to code websites, create music, explore the great outdoors, help others, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Whatever it is, once you’ve figure out what you love, start researching the programs that will allow you to dive into those topics.

Research your options and classes

When 3rd-year student Kate McKesy was going into university she wanted to be a doctor, so she enrolled in Medical Sciences. But after a year of doing that, she discovered the Health Promotion program was a better fit for her. “In switching to Health Promotion, I found what I was looking for,” she says. “I’m going to my classes and I’m interested and engaged the whole time, I feel like I found the right place.”

Consider all the options available to you, because there’s likely more than one path to take you where you want to go. Comparing programs can also help you figure out which one is the best fit for you. Look into the classes you’d be taking as a part of a particular program to make sure they align with what you’re interested in. “Health Promotion looks more collectively at health which was what I was interested in,” says Kate. “I feel in a sense it was what I thought my original program was going to be like.”

Think about what you’re good at

You may be starting a new chapter in your life, but it never hurts to reflect on where you’ve come from. What did you love doing in high school? What were you good at?

Were you on student council? Maybe you’d like political science or management. Were you part of your school’s Women in STEM club? Maybe you’d be great in the Applied Computer Science program. It was Kate’s love of science that inspired her to keep pursuing it in university.

If you’re stuck between two program options, try a little of both. “Look to see if there are options where you can take one program and pick up electives in the other—you might open up a certificate or minor option or even a double major,” says Laws. “You won’t know unless you try some of the classes. Work with an advisor to try and figure out what works best for you.”

Go one step further

Kate says that although she searched for programs on Dal’s website, she went to YouTube to find out firsthand why other people chose their programs. "I feel like you can relate to other people this way, who are going through the exact same thing."

If you go to Dalhousie’s Open House, you can sit in on a lecture in a topic you’re interested in. Getting creative with your program search can open new doors you didn’t know were there. Looking into research opportunities, meeting with an advisor, and taking a campus tour are also good ways to help you make your decision.

Don’t be afraid to change your mind

Even if you choose one program, it’s OK if you don’t get it right the first time and you spend a year or two exploring. You can always use your first-year electives to explore topics outside your program, and Dal offers a lot of support services to help you find your way.

“With the Stay on Track program, we meet with students regularly and talk about what their strengths are who they are as a person, and create an educational success program and a pathway that lets them study what they want to,” says Tyler Hall, a student success advisor. “You don’t need to know what you want to do in your first semester, you can always change your program. It’s all about learning about who you are as a person.”

If you have questions about programs, admission requirements or anything else connect with one of our Recruitment and Admissions advisors. Visit dal.ca/connect to find an advisor helping students from your area.