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February 21, 2019
7 mins read

How these 8 undergrads chose their majors

One thing that connects all of us is that, sooner or later, we have to decide what we want to specialize in.

Making this decision can be challenging and can come with a lot of uncertainty. Whether you’re declaring your major this year or next year, planning ahead is a good idea, especially if you need to take certain prerequisites.

To help you with determining your choice of study, we surveyed 8 students, each from a different faculty, to find out their experiences in deciding on their specializations. Read on for insight from those who have been in your shoes.

Click on a student story by faculty/school, or browse them all!

Applied Science

Arts

Forestry

Kinesiology

Land and Food Systems

Music

Sauder

Science

...plus bonus advice!


Carlos Doebeli

Engineering Physics, Faculty of Applied Science
Carlos Doebeli, a UBC student, standing by a colourful, graphic wall

How did you narrow down your choice?

At the end of first year, I had to carefully choose among different engineering specializations (Engineering Physics, Mechanical Engineering, and Computer Engineering). I’d taken into account the courses offered, as well as my interests, and talked to other people in the programs. I ultimately chose the one that I felt I would be happiest in.

Did you get into your first choice?

I had placed down Engineering Physics as my first choice, and I got in!

Did you feel any pressure when choosing your major/specialization?

There were always expectations held by friends and family as to which specialization I would or should choose, and I faced some pressure in choosing a competitive and challenging department. I tried to balance these expectations with my personal preferences to make my decision because my degree is really what I make of it.


Maham Khanum

International Relations, Faculty of Arts
Maham Khanum, a UBC student, outside on campus

How did you narrow down your choice?

I considered Econ when I transfered into UBC because I wanted to prove that I could take on a challenge and since my transfer credits applied there.

Did you get into your first choice?

I didn’t fulfill all prerequisites for Econ and had to go with International Relations (IR)—an alternative that allowed me to take as many economics courses as I could. The process was hard—I had to reconcile my interests, evaluate practicality, and plan out my career. But later, during registration, I realized that all the things I loved studying fell under IR, and I could still do Econ as a minor, so it was win-win.

Did you feel any pressure when choosing your major/specialization?

My parents have always supported me, but as a high achiever, I felt I should choose a difficult major to maintain my high standards. But I knew that Econ—and later, IR—was something I enjoyed, something that my interests and strengths lay in.


Emma Ng

Natural Resource Conservation, Faculty of Forestry
Emma Ng, a UBC student, posing while on a hike

How did you narrow down your choice?

I actually started in the Faculty of Science because I was interested in medicine and environmental sciences, and I thought that Science would give me the broadest options. But I quickly realized that Science did not suit me. I remembered that, back in high school, I’d done a lot of volunteering with environmental organizations, which solidified my interest in conservation and environmental stewardship. I transferred into Forestry after taking Cons 200 with Dr. Hagerman.

Did you get into your first choice?

Yes.

Did you feel any pressure when choosing your major/specialization?

I felt confused and lost after leaving Science for Forestry, and was not sure that Forestry would suit me, but I was sure that Science didn’t. My parents and friends expected me to do well in Science and, for a long time, I was disappointed that I could not fit myself into the "Science" mold. Although making this choice was personally challenging, I learned to listen to my gut and trust myself. My dad wanted me to pursue medicine, like he and my brother had. Even though the expectations were not explicitly said, they were there.

I’d also set up a lot of expectations for myself. I left high school, doing well in the IB program as did my brother, so I thought I would do well in first-year Science. I realized that, once I was in classes, Science was not for me, and that the Natural Resource Conservation program in Forestry would provide, for me, a broad, holistic education. So I decided to transfer. Turning my back on all those pressures was difficult—but it was worth it.


Sarah Semkow

Interdisciplinary Studies, School of Kinesiology
Sarah Semkow, a UBC student, outside on a snowy day

How did you narrow down your choice?

Going into UBC, I knew right away that I wanted to go into Kinesiology, because of my interests in nutrition and fitness. Interdisciplinary Studies, a specific stream in Kin, is more liberal compared to the other options, and allowed me to take any electives that I was interested in.

Did you get into your first choice?

I did!

Did you feel any pressure when choosing your major/specialization?

I felt some internal pressure to choose a major that has many well-paying job options e.g. medical school, but I did ultimately follow my heart’s desires. My parents solely wanted me to attend university and wanted me to study something that I was interested in.


Aditi Sriram

Global Resource Systems, Faculty of Land and Food Systems
Aditi Sriram, a UBC student, standing in front of UBC fountain

How did you narrow down your choice?

I started out in Science and switched to LFS. I didn’t know what I wanted out of my undergrad degree when I came into UBC; I’d chosen Science because my high school had specialized in science courses. However, I was also involved in many non-profit work activities and community initiatives. I realized that these were what I really enjoyed. Coming across the Global Resource Systems (GRS) program in LFS, which offered flexibility in courses and an interdisciplinary approach to solving societal issues, I knew it would be the right decision to switch.

Did you get into your choice?

Upon discovering GRS, I knew it was where I wanted to be, and it was my first choice. After speaking to the program advisor and working hard on my application, I was accepted. Although we are often told stories of people naturally knowing what path to take, it is not usually that simple to figure out where your passions lie. For most people, it can be a conscious process which requires effort and research. I put in the effort, knowing that choosing this program would be worth it.

Did you feel any pressure when choosing your major/specialization?

I put a lot of pressure on myself in first year. There was also peer pressure—it felt like most people in sciences knew they wanted to go to med school, while I did not have a similar plan. But ultimately, I was set on pursuing a path that aligned with my passions, which I prioritized over high job security. By ranking what was most important to me, I was able to pursue my passions while still placing an emphasis on professional development.


Albert Wu

General Studies, School of Music
Albert Wu, a UBC student, posing with a french horn

How did you narrow down your choice?

The Bachelor of Music program offers 4 majors from which students choose (during applications) before coming into UBC. Music brings me into another world, and I love the emotions that it could evoke in me. By performing for others, I wanted to share the feeling I get while listening to music. These passions led me to decide on the Advanced Performance stream.

Did you get into your first choice?

I didn’t make the Advanced Performance stream and was placed into General Studies. I remember being disappointed, but since the first year of the General Studies and Advanced Performance streams are almost identical in course options, it currently feels like the same degree.

Did you feel any pressure when choosing your major/specialization?

There was absolutely no pressure for me when I chose the degree I wanted; my parents were cool with it. The only pressure I felt was to actually make it in, which I didn’t. But I am planning on switching into Advanced Performance this year.  


Meg Kuang

Marketing, Sauder School of Business
Meg Kuang, a UBC student, outdoors on campus

How did you narrow down your choice?

I actually switched from Accounting to Marketing! I originally went into Accounting but quickly learned it wasn't for me. After chatting with many people and re-evaluating what I love doing, Marketing was the answer. In hindsight, I'm really happy I got the Accounting experience nonetheless.

Did you get into your first choice?

Yes, I did (both times I chose a major)! But when I switched specializations, I was initially scared about whether my choice was right. The undergraduate office told me that once I switched, I couldn't switch back. But I told myself that if I was at least 70% sure of something, I had to make that 100%. So I took a 180° turn, and life feels completely different now...in a good way!

Did you feel any pressure when choosing your major/specialization?

I felt pressured to stay in Accounting with all the effort I invested into this path. I was scared of disappointing my parents by letting go of my progress, but they were 100% supportive. My friends were also supportive with my decision, which made my switch a lot easier. But regardless of others’ opinions, I know I will stand firm to a decision if I believe it’s right for me.


Grace Kim

Biochemistry, Faculty of Science
Grace Kim, a UBC student

How did you narrow down your choice?

I mostly based my decision on my first-year courses, taking into account the courses/subjects I excelled in as well as those that I enjoyed most. These were mostly Biology courses, but I knew I didn’t want to give up Chemistry as well, which was why I chose Biology and Biochemistry as my top 2 choices.

Did you get into your first choice?

I actually didn’t get accepted into my first choice (Biology) because I decided to take one of the pre-requisites the summer after first year, which, I realized, doesn’t count during major declarations. I was confused and upset at first (especially about the standard timetables that are required for Biochem students), but I quickly found out that I was interested in the career options offered from studying Biochem.

Did you feel any pressure when choosing your major/specialization?

I didn’t feel pressured at all, and feel that I will stay in Biochem, even though it was not my first choice. If I don’t put in the work into changing my major, I probably don’t want it bad enough.


Some advice to guide you along

Figure out what you enjoy

Choose something you will feel comfortable with. Be courageous with your decisions—most things will fall into place. (Emma)

Find something that you feel emotionally connected to, something that makes you excited every time you talk about it. Pick that. (Albert)

Find the middle ground between what you’re passionate about and what has practicality. (Maham)

Don't stress out too much—I’m an example of someone who chose a major she didn't enjoy, and switched. It doesn't matter if you switch 1, 2, or 3 times, as long as you end up somewhere you love. (Meg)

Ask around

Definitely do your research. (Grace)

It's worth talking to upper years in the programs you're considering to make your decision, as learning about other students' experiences helped lead me to mine. (Carlos)

Talk to people who are doing what you are interested in and see if you can picture yourself in their shoes. (Sarah)

Remember that you’re not alone

Don't be stressed if you feel like you're the only one who doesn't have it all figured out. Most people are feeling that way and are too afraid to say it! Many of my friends and I were in the same place and found our ways into programs we love. (Aditi)

Recognize that everyone’s path can be different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all way for deciding what you want to specialize in.

If you’re uncertain, you still have time to decide. If you need some advice, reach out to your advisors, profs, and those you trust, and discuss what you want to pursue.

Choosing your major can feel daunting, but it’s not a decision you have to take on alone.