Change at Your Own Risk

Monday, November 10, 2008


Written by Catherine Norman

I am a victory laper, having returned to high school after graduating to pick up science and math courses I elected not to take until after I had a career change and decided I wanted to be a veterinarian. I achieved high marks however have always lacked interest in sciences but figured I could rough it out in university. On the contrary the science program has roughed me up as I struggle to understand the academically rich and high content volume of the courses, especially when I lack good science fundamentals; so I am finding myself with below-par marks, struggling not to roll over and die from stress and workload. I came to the conclusion that perhaps sciences just aren’t my niche. I have always had great interest in businesses, but felt if I didn’t give the sciences a shot I would have always wondered what would have been if I hadn’t of given it my best efforts.

So I decided to change programs. Easy right? On the contrary my friends, when you are as fortunate as I, you’ve figured this out after drop dates and program change dates. At this point, you are left with few options. Rough it out, buckle down, drop out? All great options, I know, precisely my thoughts. I was informed by a counselor that I needed a 70% university average to be considered for entry into my desired program, and I wondered to myself, how can I attain that average if I am struggling with the programs right now where students more competent in them are barely making 75 averages? What options am I left with? Shadowing. Yes, shadowing your desired program, oh but there’s a catch; it’s “at your own risk”. It works by remaining in your current program while taking the courses for your desired program in hopes that you can attain an overall 70 average and then gain entry into the program. There is a chance though that you can shadow for years and never get high enough grades to be considered, where you then find yourself without enough credits related to your program and no degree. That sounds fun.

I don’t find consolation in the fact that others are in my shoes nor do I enjoy the idea of shadowing at my own risk. So where does this leave me? There is a great injustice or fault in this matter. When I possess 80s and 90s in my high school courses and find myself being penalized for having difficulties in my first semester of university because I chose the wrong program for myself. I am paying for this education, so why am I finding myself in such a bind? So many questions and so few answers. I am finding that university is so very much a photograph of the future, no one is here to hold your hand. The only advice I can give to those in my position, is that you should be happy to know where you want to focus your education and that now you need to fight hard to get where you want to go. After all, the only person you need to learn to count on is yourself because in the end you’re all you’ve got!

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  1. Posted by: Daniel Pohl on Nov 19, 2008 @ 3:44pm

    Catherine makes some very good points.

    Although I have never experience switching from one program to another myself, I would find it very frustrating if the university would not let me transfer into a different program during my first semester if I required doing so. Really now, what high school student knows what there getting into when they apply to a specific program at university? If you are very lucky you will find what you want to do for the rest of your life on your first attempt, like I did. However, this is usually not the case. University is supposed to be a place where you find yourself. It seems like they’re trying to turn it into a cold business, rather than a nurturing environment where one can develop and grow.

    Keep on fighting the good fight Catherine!

  2. Posted by: George on Nov 20, 2008 @ 11:56am

    I transferred out of my original program in first year and switched into business. I understand your concern with the 70% average requirement. I encourage you to still apply, there is an opportunity to write a “letter of intent” when transferring. Spill your heart out in this letter, say what you will bring to this program and why you are most suited for it. Be open with your struggles in your science program, highlight your high academic performance in high school, and say why you will once again excel academically in a business program.

    Despite less than par marks, you can still get in.

    Good luck!

  3. Posted by: emma on Nov 20, 2008 @ 1:06pm

    I am not sure that I would agree with George's advice...the vet program is very very cut-throat and competitive and a letter may or may not work in that case as there is usually a huge waiting list of people with full qualifying marks. It is very hard to have a social life and maintain an A average at university, and it is generally not worth it. Maybe you should explore some other options with a counsellor (vocational or academic) to see what you might enjoy. Or consider college after university to gain some hard skills in a related field. Good luck! It sounds like you are doing a good job at helping yourself, very admirable. Be a squeaky wheel with the academic people...once they have your cash they do NOT give one cent about you...I know this well. :)

  4. Posted by: Victoria on Nov 25, 2008 @ 12:45am

    Hello Catherine:

    Four years ago, I was in the exact same position you are in right now. I had always thought I wanted to be a surgeon, ever since I was about 7 years old. I did well in sciences in high school, and began my first year here at Guelph eager to succeed. I met with nothing but depressing failure, part of it my own doing, and some of it not. I stuck out the first semester, failing two courses completely, and barely passing my three others. I gave sciences one more semester, engaging tutoring, slgs, and study sessions, before ending off my first year on academic probation. This was the last straw for me. I had tried as hard as I could, and still was at risk of being kicked out of school. I took a year off of university to clear my head, and really think about what I wanted to do with my life. When I returned a year later, I talked with a program counsellor about my options. Because of my horrible grades, my only option was to shadow my desired program, or drop out of school. I highly reccommend you consider the shadowing option.

  5. Posted by: Victoria on Nov 25, 2008 @ 12:46am

    I know it sounds daunting, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. It took me only one semester to improve my average enough to apply to my desired program. I was accepted for winter enrollment, and have been happily, and successfully, studying something I love ever since. Though your options right now seem limited, give the shadowing a chance. It certainly can't make your grades any worse, can it? I know you are upset and feeling trapped by university politics and procedures, but please don't give up. I am sure you will find your niche, even if it takes a bit longer and a little bit more effort to find it.

  6. Posted by: Victoria on Nov 25, 2008 @ 12:56am


    (stabs spelling mistake)

  7. Posted by: George on Nov 25, 2008 @ 9:47am

    emma, applying to vet school is entirely different from switching undergrad programs.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that having two consecutive semesters of a 70%+ average will suffice to meet the minimum requirements to apply for a program transfer.

    If in your first year you finished with a 57% average, you would need an 83% in your second year to even be considered. The university realizes this isn’t realistic and allows students who can achieve two semesters in a row with a 70%+ average to transfer to a competitive programs. Also, anyone can at any point default and switch to a BA with a sub-par average.

    See, the university demonstrates some compassion!

  8. Posted by: Alison on Dec 7, 2008 @ 1:53pm

    I switched programs after 1st year and didn't even know about the 70% average requirement. I had to pay $40 and apply to switch through OUAC, and then after 6 months of not hearing anything I called up the admissions office and they switched me then and there (given, I'm not sure if my average was below 70 at that point).

  9. Posted by: Kristie on Dec 27, 2008 @ 11:42am

    I don't know how much I can really contribute to this discussion since I'm one of those lucky people that knew when I was 4 that I wanted to be a vet and never changed my mind. I'm also very fortunate in that I love science and I excel in it, so motivation to study and marks have never been an issue. I love vet school and wouldn't change a thing, but I will say that if you find undergrad science to be tough just know that if/when you get into OVC it's going to be a rough ride. The good thing is that in vet school you have LOTS of support. I would also disagree with the earlier comment that vet school is very "cut-throat". Once you're in everyone helps everyone else out. And I honestly got lots of help and advice from other applicants when I was applying. We all really helped each other out.

  10. Posted by: Kristie on Dec 27, 2008 @ 11:43am

    So while I'm all about going after what you want and fulfilling dreams, I will caution that if you find that you're not wholeheartedly interested in science, being a vet might not be for you. It is after all a field that, at least clinically, relies on science first and foremost. If you don't enjoy science you may just be trying to put yourself through hell only to find more of it on the other side of the door in vet school. I advice volunteering at a clinic and seeing what a vet does and how much science is involved even after you're done vet school. It's a requirement for applying to OVC anyway, so you might as well if you really want to go down that road.

    Whatever you choose, do what will make you happy and what you really want. Good luck!

  11. Posted by: Nicole on Jan 14, 2009 @ 5:33pm

    Shadowing the program you want to be in is your best option. It actually works quite well because it gives you an opportunity to see if you like the courses and program. Chances are if you like your courses you will do better in them, at least somewhere in the 70s.

    I started out in animal biology and made the switch to a business program all the while fretting that my less than stellar marks in sciences would ruin my chances but I explained in my letter that I wanted to switch for various reasons and that if they looked at the courses that would apply to my degree low and behold I had that desired 70 average.

    Shadow the program you want to take, take a course that isn't required for either your current degree or that new program and see what you like, spending an extra year or some summer semesters is better than hating your program and eventual job.

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