Choosing a program of study: A how-to guide

Posted by Megan on December 16, 2014

Journey to the Centre of York

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Many Ontario high school students have eagerly submitted applications for their programs of interest. This post is not for them. This post is for you – someone who knows they want to go to university but just can’t decide what to study. I was one of these students once and have learned a lot along the way. Here is my how-to guide on choosing a university program.

Step 1 – Identify your interests and skills

A gif reads
You might feel like this and that’s okay. But take a step back… everyone has skills and interests. You just have to find them! Image source.

Identifying skills and interests is one of the most important steps that will help you discover your perfect program and there are many different ways to do this. Here are some ideas:

  • Give yourself an hour to create a chart of interests and skills on a piece of paper.
  • Ask friends and family what they think your greatest skills and talents are.
  • Take an aptitude test online or even one of the many questionnaires that York’s Career Centre offers to help identify potential skills that you might have not known you had. Your high school guidance office might be a great place to start!

This is an active process, so don’t stop being aware of your strengths once you’ve decided on a program. You are still going to learn many things in the years ahead!

Step 2 – Gain experience

A gif of Robert Downey Jr. saying 'I am a lazy person.'
It’s always good to have time to yourself. But finding your perfect program might take some work and remember, you are only investing in yourself. Better to put the work in now so you can benefit later! Image source.

Gaining experience, particularly through work, volunteering, internships and clubs and associations will go a long way towards helping you decide on a program. All of these experiences will teach you something. Not only will your skill-set expand and evolve, but you will also be actively learning more about who you are as a person, what environments benefit you, what sort of people you like to work with and what kind of causes you care about.

Step 3 – Determine which skills and interests are for your enjoyment, and which are for your betterment.

A GIF of Bob Ross reads
This is the perfect example. Painting is a formidable skill to have. Is this is a skill you would like to keep as a hobby or one that you would like to  study? Only you can decide. Image Source.

This is one of the most important steps and often one of the most underrated.  For this step I highly recommend giving yourself some personal time so that you can really think about which skills and interests you think are best kept for enjoyment, and which ones might be suitable to study. Try to envision getting tired of an interest from a personal enjoyment perspective…would you be okay with that? Interests can change throughout our lives, but if it’s something really important to you it’s okay to decide to keep that to yourself. Also, keep in mind that it’s always possible to get the passion back.

Step 4 – Research

An image of Sherlock saying 'do your research'.
Listen to Sherlock, folks. He knows best. Image source.

Once you’ve focused on some skills and interests you might be interested in studying, it’s time to actually research university programs. You might be an avid painter and want to study visual art at university, but do you understand what the program truly entails? York’s Future Students website is a great place to start as it shares program descriptions, admission requirements and more.

Also investigate current program pages. This is where you find out what sort of courses you will be taking. Remember to look beyond first year, which contains more general subjects, into your second and beyond. You will likely have a lot of available options but it’s important to look at course descriptions too. You won’t likely love every course that you have to take, but you should feel excited and interested in a good portion of them.

Step 5 – Keep an open mind.

An image of Jay Z saying 'my thing is to open up people's mind into the possibilities
Me too Jay Z, me too. Image source.

This is the final step of my how-to guide and certainly the most important. There is no one path to university and if you are having a hard time figuring out what to study, it’s important to keep your options open. Many students, especially those that are finishing their final year of high school, benefit from taking a year to gain experiences through travel, work and volunteering. This is extremely practical and I highly recommend it. It’s beneficial to learn more about yourself and what you are interested rather than rushing into a program you aren’t sure about. It’s also okay if you change your mind along the way. You might go with one of your identified skills, take a first year undecided major and find a completely new passion. This might become a new minor to your degree, or it might even replace your initial major. Both options are completely okay. Some students even come back for a second degree!

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to sound off below!



Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

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