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March 5, 2020
10 mins read

Choosing your major: Stories & tips from 9 undergrads

Whether or not you’re declaring your major this year, it’s smart to think ahead!

We connected with 9 students for their tips and stories on choosing their majors. This way, you can have a clearer idea of what you’d like to pursue (and some reassurance if you're feeling unsure and still deciding).

Click on a student story by faculty or school—or browse them all:

Applied Science—Engineering Physics

Applied Science—School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA)

Arts 

Business

Forestry

Kinesiology

Land and Food Systems

Music

Science


Thomas

Thomas Deckers

Engineering Physics, Faculty of Applied Science

Story: Engineering Physics really called out to me and was well-aligned with my personality and interests, so it felt like a very natural choice. If I do end up working in the industry, I’d want to do something on the research and development side, or on the forefront of technology—which is where Eng Phys kind of naturally leads to. The program also implements a leadership component, which is something I personally feel passionate about. 

And I like physics—I’ve been interested in physics since I was a kid. I liked figuring out how things work, how the universe is.

Any pressure when you made the choice? I didn't feel pressured into it; it was my decision. My parents have thankfully been very supportive. I did put a lot of pressure on myself to get into Eng Phys and it is one of the more selective programs. First Year Eng was a stressful time—a real challenge. 

Top tip: Don’t be afraid to explore your options or take an extra year if that’s what that means. I know it’s not financially possible for everyone, but—if you can—the time I think is very well-spent on finding out what you’re passionate about.

Emma

Emma Ng

Environmental Design, School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA), Faculty of Applied Science

Emma was featured in our post last year, and had spoken about her switch from Science to Forestry. Now she’s in SALA—and here’s her update:

Story: Initially I switched out of Science because I just felt very out of place: I didn’t enjoy the classes I was in and didn’t see myself enjoying them in the future. I transferred into Natural Resource Conservation, which felt like a good fit and aligned with my interests at the time.

After one and a half years in Natural Resource Conservation, I transferred to the Environmental Design program at SALA. I transferred because I was always doing lots of creative side projects alongside my studies, and felt that the Environmental Design program might be a compromise between my creative and scientific interests.

Environmental Design is a program that’s very interdisciplinary, and I enjoy it immensely; there’s a surprising cross-over between my previous and current program. It’s also so nice to be in a program with like-minded individuals—I’ve rarely experienced that before. 

I will always hold an interest in my previous studies though, and am looking for a way to continue to pursue those studies moving forward—which may mean a second degree after I graduate.  

Any pressure when you made the choice? Throughout my university career I’ve felt a lot of pressure to just settle and choose a degree, so yes, there was definitely pressure when I made the switch. To this day, people I haven’t seen in a while will ask, “What degree are you in again? Are you sure this time?” It’s a difficult position to be in when you don’t have a strong sense of who you are and where exactly you want to go, but I think it's all a part of life, especially at such a young age.

Top tip: There’s no wrong answer. At the end of the day, there’ll be opportunities wherever you choose to be. Also, know there are always people like me who’ve been in 3 faculties and applied to countless others! 

Kana

Kana Saarni

Political Science, Faculty of Arts

Story: In high school I participated in Model United Nations, which got me interested in diplomacy and government. I was interested in policy processes and the Canadian government. I also considered going into Media Studies, but I felt that Political Science was a subject I would benefit from learning about in a classroom setting, and that I could continue to grow my creative skills through opportunities like clubs or work experience.

Any pressure when you made the choice? The pressure that I experienced came mostly from me being hard on myself and comparing myself to other people who were doing something different—and how it seemed, at the time, that maybe the things that they were studying had more career opportunities. But I’ve found over time that’s not necessarily always the case.

Top tip: Pick something you're genuinely interested in and can see yourself doing for a long time. Even when you’ve picked a major though, it doesn't mean that that’s the end-all-be-all: you can still find opportunities in other ways and you don’t have to be limited to doing what you studied.

Meg

Meg Kuang

Marketing, Sauder School of Business

Meg was featured in our post last year and had switched from Accounting to Marketing. Here’s her update: 

Story: Originally, I’d chosen Accounting because I was good at it in high school and at Sauder, Accounting has a lot of prestige surrounding it. It felt like a very big deal to get into Accounting and get your CPA, because that would mean your life was basically set up: you’d have a good income, a stable job; you’d be working for a big company. 

At first, I felt that I had made the right choice. My path in Accounting was as good as I could have possibly imagined. However, I felt like I was happy only for a short period of time—that happiness only came from validation that I was on a path to success. It quickly fell when I realized that Accounting wasn’t what I was passionate about; I felt burned out. 

I realized I was missing the spark that I felt when I was doing work I really enjoyed: helping people, and working in exciting, dynamic environments where things are always changing, where I need to come up with creative ways to solve problems. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get that sense of fulfillment in Accounting.

After some self-reflection, talking to a lot of people, and taking the time to journal, I decided Marketing was the specialization that would make me happiest—so I took the plunge and made the switch!

Any pressure when you made the choice? I was definitely scared. By making the switch, I was taking a risk and ridding the job stability I’d worked hard to gain. Some people also asked me why I planned on switching; I was already going to be working at a "Big 4" accounting firm. My parents were concerned: What if I couldn’t find a job in marketing, what if I delayed my graduation?

But it felt amazing when I did make the switch; all of a sudden I was surrounded by people I could relate a lot more to. We shared similar passions and goals; all the classes I was taking played on a different set of my strengths—and it was a set that I really loved to use. Now I’m actually doing my first marketing internship at SAP. I’m extremely proud of myself; in hindsight, I’m so happy I took the risk!

Top tip: Choose your major based on something you love instead of fear. If you make decisions out of fear—which often happens when you act on other people’s expectations, you’re less likely to feel fulfilled in what you’re doing.

Do your research and try to talk to as many people as possible—like mentors in your field and other fields, your peers, and your friends in an environment where you don’t feel pressured. Most importantly, make time for self-reflection. What do you see yourself doing 20 or 30 years down the road? Think about what will make you happy and set yourself up for that.

Kara

Kara Lindsay

Urban Forestry, Faculty of Forestry

Story: I chose this major after a bit of a crisis period in my second year. I was in Biology and I realized that I wasn’t enjoying the courses that I was taking. I wasn’t doing well, and I felt like I was just a number in these huge classes—so I wanted to go towards something that screamed "Community!" and allowed you to have a sense of belonging. 

Something that balanced aspects of the Arts and Sciences was what I desired—but since I didn’t want to take the full plunge into Arts, I decided that Urban Forestry was a nice in-between. I looked a bit more into the program and thought about it for a long time before I made the switch.

Any pressure when you made the choice? When I was thinking about switching, I didn’t have any pressure from my parents, per se. They just wanted to support me in whatever decision I made. But I did feel pressure to figure out what I wanted to be doing with my life. In the back of my head, there’s always a little voice saying, “You gotta get yourself together!” And so I guess the pressure is more from myself than from anyone else. 

Top tip: How are you supposed to know what you want to be doing when you’re 18 years old and the only things you know are the courses you took in high school? I went into Science because it was all I knew; I didn’t really understand what I enjoyed and what I didn’t. So I know it’s easier said than done, but stick to what you enjoy doing—because at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to get you through all the lectures and studying.

Rachel

Rachel Chok

Interdisciplinary Studies, School of Kinesiology

Story: I think I always knew I was a kinesthetic learner, and I wanted to serve people. I also love sports, working out, and exercising, and I’d like in the future to do something related to those—so, Kin’s the way to go! Interdisciplinary Studies gives you more flexibility to do the courses you want—and because you get to pick a lot of electives, it’s easier to choose a minor. In my case, I’m planning on doing a Philosophy minor.

Any pressure when you made the choice? Not really; I think the majority of people in Kin take Interdisciplinary. It’s the most common stream, so it’s not a big deal. 

Top tip: Choose what you actually like to do instead of choosing what you feel pressured to do. But also there’s the practical aspect of finding a job and then—in that case—you...pray very hard! But also if you really like what you're doing, results will still come out of that if you try really hard.

Shirley

Shirley Ting

Global Resource Systems (GRS), Faculty of Land and Food Systems

Story: For ENGL 112 in my first year, I had to write a paper on topics related to LFS. I decided to look into the socio-economic and anthropological factors that go into what affects someone’s diet—and from there, I realized I wanted something more interdisciplinary. I’m really happy I had that assignment, as I probably wouldn’t be in this program otherwise.

I debated between Dietetics, Food Science, and GRS for some time. I ended up going into GRS because Food Science and Dietetics are both very specialized, and, in GRS, you’re able to have a more interdisciplinary approach to your degree. GRS also gives me the freedom to switch back into Food Science or Nutrition, whereas if I decided to do Nutrition—because it has courses specific to that—it’d be a lot harder for me to switch majors.

Any pressure when you made the choice? My parents don’t really understand what GRS is about, just because it’s not really specific. But I handled the pressure by taking GRS as an opportunity to spur my personal interests and grow more as a person—it’s something that’s very meaningful to me.

Top tip: Figure out the motives that led you to choose the faculty that you’re in, and take electives outside of what you’re comfortable with just to see if you’d enjoy what you’re learning.

Deeandra

Deeandra Miranda

Performance: Voice & Opera, School of Music

Story: I’ve been singing and taking private vocal lessons since I was 12-ish and I’ve been taking piano lessons since I was 8. When I joined choir in high school, I felt very inspired by my director—you could just tell music was his passion, and I adopted that same passion for it. I said to myself, “Wow, if I could do this for the rest of my life, this is what I’d do.”

So, I made a purely emotional call when I applied to Vocal Performance; it wasn’t an “I think this is logical” or “I think this is going to make the most money” decision. This is what feels right for me as a person—what I want to do for the rest of my life, and who I want to be.

Any pressure when you made the choice? Just from myself, because it’s not typical. Whenever I tell people that I’m in Music, they’re like, “You’re the first Music major I've met at UBC.” It’s competitive, it’s a small program, so there's so much pressure to stay motivated and be very good at what I do if I want to make a career out of it.

I never really felt any negative pressure from my family...but there’s still that traditional approach in my family to post-secondary studies—that you should be a teacher, lawyer, or doctor. I've never had that shoved in my face, but I’m aware that mentality is present; it’s a pressure that compels me to be very proficient at what I'm doing and forces me to work hard. 

Top tip: If you have that gut feeling about something, you need to go with it. There's no arguing with yourself about that.

Kimia

Kimia Hosseini

Chemistry Honours, Faculty of Science

Story: I knew during high school that I was going to do Chemistry, because I had a really good teacher back in grade 8. He was 72 years old, but he was teaching Chemistry with such energy and passion; he had so many heart attacks during class. I also did Chemistry Olympiad competitions, so I knew more than just basic chemistry. That’s how I knew I actually liked chem.

Any pressure when you made the choice? Sometimes my mom’s friends and family tell her that there’s no future in Chemistry. She just really trusts me, I guess. I really don’t like the industry-related jobs in Chemistry, which is kind of scary. I want to do research—and teaching seems interesting, too! I know it’s really hard to get those kinds of positions, though.

Top tip: Go in more depth about the things that you think you're interested in. Try to think of the things that you like; don’t base your decision solely on first-year courses. First-year Chem doesn't represent what chemistry is like later on!

If you’re feeling unsure—and that’s okay!—getting in touch with your advisors, instructors, and friends can help you get more perspective. Choosing what to specialize in can feel like a big deal, but you don’t have to face this decision alone.

Looking for more stories on choosing your major? See our posts from 2018 and 2019 for more student tips!