Planning Your Academic Path

Whether you’re a first year student trying to decide what to major in or a third year student with only one more year until graduation, one of the most important and crucial things you must do is make sure you’re on the right track. On track of what you may ask? I mean, on track of the classes required for your major, the number of credits required to graduate from your university, the minimum average in your program to advance to the next year…you get the idea. As students, it is vitally important, and our responsibility, to ensure that we are on track with what is required in order to complete our degrees, diplomas, certificates, etc.

Now let me tell you a cautionary tale. Hilary Smith, a student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario began her post-secondary pursuit in the fall of September 2010. Originally, Smith was enrolled in an honors bachelor of science with a math major alongside concurrent education. However, upon completion of her first year, she decided that teaching was not the right path for her and she decided to change her major (as many students do).

In the fall of 2011 she switched into an honors bachelor of commerce with a major in human resources:

“My top marks from first year counted towards my first year in the business program as elective so I only had four classes a semester instead of five in my first year of business,” says Smith.

Planning Your Academic Path

However, it was not until speaking with a friend from the business program who had transferred from another school that Smith was given some extremely valuable information:

“In the first semester of the business program, my friend Kristi told me she was able to pick up a second year level business course. So I then went to a guidance counselor and they said, ‘Oh yeah, you can pick up a second level course if you have the space.’ But had I not known Kristi, I never would have picked up the course, or even thought to.”

In order to help you avoid misinformation, and missed opportunities pertaining to your own academic path, here are some tips that should help you keep on top of, and tackle, your degree.


What are university general requirements? These are requirements that your university may have in place that students from different faculties must complete in order to graduate. For example, if you are enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts program, your university may require you to take certain courses that are outside the faculty of arts in order to graduate. (I.E. A science elective.)

What are program specific requirements? These are requirements that your program may have listed in order to graduate. For example, if you declare a major in theatre, the theatre department at your university may require that you take certain theatre classes as well as a certain number of theatre electives. These kinds of requirements are additional ones on top of your university’s general ones.

Make an appointment with a guidance counselor or academic advisor

Even if you think you know what classes you need to take in the following year, it never hurts to double check. Make an appointment to speak with a counselor or advisor, as they are there to help you, and they usually are able to offer valuable information that can’t always be found online or on your school’s website. They are a free resource that every school offers in some shape or form; do not be afraid to use them!

Do Your Research

When the day comes to register for your classes, don’t go in blind. Do your research beforehand; check your degree requirements online; then check your program requirements. You can’t graduate without having satisfied both your general requirements as well as your program specific ones. So yes, unfortunately those first year student intro classes are probably necessary. Remember, it never hurts to double-check either. Every few months or so, check out your requirements again to make sure nothing has changed. If something has, you can call a guidance counselor or the head of your program to inquire about it. Remember, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Ask Questions.

Speak to your professors

They grade you, they lecture you, they teach you, but they are also willing to talk to you.Very often, the most reliable source to speak with in regards to your program specific requirements is a professor who works in that department. If you want information on a class, whether to learn more about what it’s about or to see if it will be right for you, the best bet is to go to the source and talk to the professor who is teaching it.