Make your program work for you

How rethinking your academic path might save your GPA

Nicole Costa advocates evaluating your strengths and weaknesses as student and adjusting your course load accordingly.
Nicole Costa advocates evaluating your strengths and weaknesses as student and adjusting your course load accordingly.

Sometimes, the most difficult path to follow is your own. 

“One size fits all” systems of education are designed to benefit as many people as possible. However, certain students in post-secondary schools who have a difficult time learning or staying mentally healthy may benefit from the exact opposite.

Instead of nixing certain career paths because things aren’t working out in first year, we can find a way to keep doors open for students through a little bit of problem solving. 

But it requires us to find the courage to take charge of our education and follow our own, unique path — even if we’ve already started in a different direction.

The first step: make your education profit from your strengths and not suffer your weaknesses.

In post-secondary institutions like ours, the default way to learn is through note-taking during lectures. However, this method doesn’t work for everybody. To discover a learning style that suited me, I went to multiple Queen’s Learning Commons workshops and scoured YouTube for study tips and tricks.

Once you identify what’s made you successful or held you back in the past, don’t just stay on your path. Look for a major or classes that play to your strengths.

If you’re still in first year, here’s a little secret that nobody tells you: If you know you’re going to do badly in a full-year course, you can still salvage your GPA by appealing to drop it after you take the final in April. You will then be able to choose a major because all courses, even electives, count. 

The required courses for your major don’t have to be taken in first year, which helps if your study habits haven’t yet lined up with your learning style — all the more reason to balance your course load with subjects you’re comfortable with, which will help you determine how you learn best, develop your intellectual maturity and ability to focus for longer periods of time. 

This might mean you’ll have to graduate late or take summer courses to fulfill elective requirements, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Taking your first year to learn your strengths and weaknesses will ensure you get a chance to build your confidence as a student, which is an important part of feeling ready to tackle a challenging major. 

Learning how to become disciplined in your studies is far more useful than struggling in prerequisite courses for certain professional schools. 

Many students considering law or med school might have more options than they realize. 

Even if first year feels like a distant memory, it’s still not too late to save your GPA. For example, most people don’t realize that all majors are “pre-med”. Only half of Canadian medical schools require prerequisite courses and none require prerequisite majors. 

That means that you can take those difficult prerequisites at a later date, when you feel ready, online at Athabasca University, or not take them at all and study for the MCAT on your own. 

I was never a particularly disciplined student until I started taking control of my education. Knowing that you’ve committed to a new program that better meets your needs and caters to your interests can be a real source of motivation.

Now that I realize that I have a say in how and when I learn, I’m able to stay on top of my grades and my ambition to become a MD, even if I failed first year.

Taking your education into your own hands teaches maturity, patience and problem-solving skills you might not gain otherwise and certainly wouldn’t learn in a first-year lecture. 

In the end, these skills are much more useful for any career than the half-understood knowledge you might garner by struggling in the back of a lecture hall.

Your education doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s, or even how you thought it would look when you started. It’s merely a matter of finding the will to find your way.

Nicole Costa is a third-year English major.

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