Making major changes: How to switch and make it work for you We all change our mind. What happens when we want to change our career?


I’m a major changer.

Whether it’s in academics or in life, I’ve felt the unease that comes with finally making that big switch.

Maybe you, like me, came into university with a set goal, and maybe that goal came with a definitive major.

After spending some time in their courses, people often know whether something is right for them or not.

Should you fall into the category of “or not” and start to think about changing your major, you should know that you’re not alone.

It may not feel that way at the time, but lots of people end up changing their majors. Some even do it three, or even four times. 

Let’s distinguish between “small” major changes, what I like to call “medium” major changes, and ultimately the “major” major changes.

Small major changes (the changing of majors within a faculty)

Let me get this out of the way: majors are arbitrary. So many people get hung up on their major’s  name, but at the end of the day (or at the end of several years), we get a diploma that states Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Arts, or Bachelor of Engineering, and what have you. From what I’ve been told by many an academic advisor, it’s the courses you take that matters more than the major name on your diploma.

Many programs these days are created so that they offer varying degrees of flexibility in course selection, and often programs will have you taking a relatively broad spectrum of courses. While a little cumbersome, having you take courses in a few distinct fields can allow for an easier major change later on. For example, Biomedical Sciences majors often switch into Honours Science with no delay in graduation or term time, as their courses already align with the requirements of Honours Science, but with even more freedom than the former program. Of course, this is not always the case for every program. But consider that switching may be less tedious than you thought, especially when you (or your academic advisor) feel it’s right. Just hop on it soon!

Medium major changes (the addition of a major in the same, or different, faculty)

Some people can’t make up their mind, and that’s totally fine. In fact, in some cases it might even be a superbly great thing. People often begin university with a single major in mind, but even after choosing one, you might find that you like a new topic more than you anticipated, or that you just can’t let your other, non-major passion go. Don’t feel like you need to tear yourself in two, pursuing one subject and letting the other one go. Do note that there is always the option to fulfill your other interests through electives and extracurriculars, but if you want to go full steam ahead with your new topic of interest, go for it! How? A double major.

Double majors can be a little tricky to tack on, as they can add a term or two to your undergraduate career, but can definitely be worthwhile. Like many universities, UW offers a “double counting” rule, meaning that they will allow you to apply any applicable course towards two academic plans. This means that you can use a course to fulfill a requirement in your first major, and subsequently use that same course to fulfill a requirement in your second major, or your minor(s), option(s), diploma(s), and/or certificate(s). Though the “double counting” rule makes it easier to fulfill degree requirements, do note that “triple counting” is not allowed. So plan accordingly.

Major major changes (the changing of majors between faculties)

Welcome to the big leagues. You’re thinking of completely, or nearly completely, uprooting your undergraduate study and moving to a new faculty. This, like changing majors within a faculty, is not entirely uncommon either. Students will often move from the Faculty of Engineering to the Faculty of Science, or the Faculty of Science to the Faculty of Arts, but of course there are moves to and from all faculties. These big moves can also be completely warranted. Maybe you feel that the program of study you have chosen is not a good fit at all, or you had thought it would be different from what it is, or you are not doing as well as you had hoped and believe you could excel in passions elsewhere.

In this case, the first step is to figure out why you want to move faculties, and what faculty and corresponding program of study you would like to pursue instead. The second step is to check whether your newly chosen program of study is offered at the University of Waterloo. If it’s not, you might have to check out other universities that could better accommodate your field of study.

The third step is to check the admission requirements for your new program. Can you get in? Scary, but that’s the real talk you’re going to need. Be sure to meet with one or a handful of academic advisors, too. Meetings with advisors sometimes require an appointment, so check this out ahead of time. And, of course, this is all better done sooner rather than later.

Hopefully you are where you need to be, and if not, I hope you end up there soon. Study what you like, do your darn best to succeed, and I am sure it will work out for you. It worked out for me.

One major change, two minors, and an option later, I can happily say that I graduated from my undergraduate career on time. There were bumps along the way, as I’m sure you will soon find, but savour every moment. You’re finding out who you are. And, between the academic chaos, that’s something worth celebrating.



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