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Aspiring university students can take steps to make sure they end up in the program that works for them.izusek/iStockphoto

The time has come to apply to university and, while exciting, the prospect of choosing what to do for the rest of your life can also be overwhelming. According to these education experts, however, there are some simple steps that prospective students can take to make sure they end up in the program – and the university – that works for them.

Work backward

One way to help narrow down the search is to “work backwards,” says Stenley Philippe, a member of the undergraduate recruitment team at Carleton University in Ottawa. “Look at the jobs that interest you and research what the requirements are for that particular job and it may give you insight into what programs or courses you need to pursue in order to get that job.”

Make a plan using your experience

Wayne Bobrosky, academic and postsecondary education coach at Kaizen Education Services in Calgary, says that making a plan early on in the research process can reduce stress. One of the first questions he asks his clients is, “What are you interested in now, in high school?” The courses high-school students gravitate toward can often tell a lot about where a person’s interests lie and can help narrow down the programs they might pursue at university. “There are a lot of choices out there, so this is how we start,” Mr. Bobrosky says. “Using tools like aptitude or interest tests can also give us the insight we need to start the research process.”

Take ownership of the process

Some prospective postsecondary students feel a lot of pressure from their parents, friends or mentors to choose a particular career path. But you should make sure it’s something you want to pursue because if you make this decision based on other people’s needs or wants it could end up costing a lot of time and money, Mr. Bobrosky warns. “Put the onus on the student because they are the ones who will be doing the work and following that path, so you want them to take ownership over the process.”

Don’t be afraid to be undeclared

The term “undeclared” often receives an undeserved – and potentially detrimental – bad rap. Jessica Morrow, student recruitment officer for the University of Victoria, says pursuing an undeclared major in the first year allows students to explore their options and see what is out there before committing fully to a specific program. “It keeps a lot of doors open,” she explains. “And those courses you take in your first year are often transferable into the program you eventually choose or can be counted as electives, so it’s not a waste to remain undeclared throughout your first year.”

Call the university

It may seem obvious to contact the university directly to ask questions or get help, but it’s not something a lot of people do. “Although it’s not used as a tool as much as we want, one of the first things I recommend is to talk to the university themselves,” Mr. Philippe explains. “Universities often employ dedicated staff who are trained to help students and their families navigate the application process.” These people have knowledge about everything – from the programs to the living quarters to what the cafeteria food is really like. Drop them a line and use their expertise.