Changing your university course?

17 August 2016 | University Advice | Guest Author

As a career coach and mentor, I have seen it happen many times. Students begin a course of study because they think it will help them achieve the life you deserve. So, your University life begins with a buzz; a new setting, new friends, new routines and a projected future second to none.

Then, without warning the wheels begin to fall off your wagon and the principal culprit is your degree course. You just do not like it, and perhaps, it does not like you. You are bright, hard-working, and have a focussed well thought out plan. So you persevere for a few weeks and possibly even a term. However, you need to face the fact that you and your subject must part. All your friends, new and old, seem happy with their course. Your parents have broadcasted to ‘all and sundry’ how proud they are of you studying ‘such and such a subject’ at that university.

The reality is that you are not alone. More than 15 percent of students are projected to fail to complete the course they started after either dropping out, transferring to another university or graduating with an alternative qualification (HESA figures).

Changing degree course can be tricky. Your university department has a dilemma. Places on your course were contested fiercely; the department chose whom it believed were the best candidates; this included you. The course is promoted as one of the best, and there is a financial consideration that your university cannot overlook.

It is always easier to change course if you are not failing at your existing one. While this is rather counterintuitive, the truth of the matter is that your potentially new department must be convinced that you will succeed if they take you on.

Whether or not you are planning to stay at the same university, your existing department will be approached for a reference. The buzz around your name needs to be positive, emphasising your overall academic ability and unquestionable work ethics. The ideal conclusion from such a reference must be that you and your existing course simply do not gel. Your reasons for wanting to change must be clearly thought out. Be critical. Is the course too mathematical or too broadly based? To say simply that you do not like it is not sufficient.

If you try to change too early, you may be criticised for not giving your course a chance. Alternatively, if too late, you will probably have to redo your first year. In either case, do your homework and find out about the course that you prefer. Go a bit further and look at what is being taught. If possible complete some of the assignments; this will demonstrate commitment and desire. If accepted on a new course you may be expected to pass the first year where you are. Therefore, do not overplay your contempt for the course.

There is no standardised process for changing your degree course, whether or not at your existing university. Develop a plan of action before you make your intentions clear and, leave on a high note.

This piece was written by Dr Ambroz Neil, Managing Principal Partner at Alexander Partners. For more, visit their website at

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