Back when I was in high school, I always thought university would be straightforward; a one-stop-shop to get a degree before moving into the ‘real world’. Since starting uni, I’ve realised it’s a period for experimentation, a learning period where we can search for our careers, passions, or both. Sometimes we know exactly what we want to pursue. Sometimes, we choose the wrong path, or we find something better suited to us.
James Quach and Niall Murphy are quite different. James’s interests lie in science, and Niall enjoys the arts. However, both have one thing in common. They both changed their university courses. Not once, but twice.
James is a second-year RMIT student, studying a Bachelor of Pharmacy. Niall is a first-year Australian Catholic University student, settled into a Bachelor of Media Production.
In 2011, the Department of Education and Training released a report detailing the completion of study rates for university students. The report uncovered that one in five students who enrolled at a university course had not completed it. Of those numbers, 13,000 undergraduate students changed courses or institutions in their first year.
Both James and Niall cited a lack of interest as a reason for changing course. It’s one of the most common reasons why students either transfer into a different course, or drop out of uni altogether.
Niall first enrolled in ACU’s Bachelor of Nursing. Three weeks later he had transferred into a Bachelor of Game Development and, and after another three weeks, he decided the course wasn’t for him. “The idea of doing that as a lifestyle seemed fun and interesting, but as I sat in class, I realised I’d end up being bored,” he explains.
For those wishing to change courses, there are inevitably some downsides. Both James and Niall experienced the same difficulties many students face when changing from one course to another. Niall says the courses he moved into “were all very different,” claiming he felt like he was “repeatedly being forced into square one.”
“I had to dedicate even more study hours to do well academically across five subjects in semesters one and two of 2017,” James says. Previously, he studied a Bachelor of Biomedical Science for a year, after finishing high school in 2015. He decided to change majors to a Bachelor of Biomedical Science (Laboratory Medicine), but was then offered a place in the Pharmacy course.
The pressures of a more demanding course also added to the social pressures of being in a whole new environment. “I had to adapt to being with a new cohort. This meant that I had to quickly get to know others studying the pharmacy degree.”
As many students know, money is precious when studying. This was also evident in the report, which revealed that university students were likely to drop out of a course for financial reasons. Niall was one of those students. He had a plan that if he “realised [he] didn’t like the course, [he] was going to leave it, before being forced to stay due to fees.”
Those who changed courses also cited that schools and universities should provide information as to what to expect in terms of course structures and workloads, prior to enrollment. James felt that schools should allow students to identify and complete subjects that are of interest to them, allowing them to base their university course decisions around this interest, but Niall sees things differently. He says he “had a good amount of opportunities to test subjects.”
With a university course attrition rate remaining steady at 15.8 per cent in 2014, it all comes down to the students’ decisions. These days, James and Niall are moving forward on their career prospects in their new courses. They have one piece of advice for students who are contemplating course decisions; just “be aware of the options.”
Know that there are many options out there. After all, university is a place to make mistakes. Whether you’re happy in your course, or you’re thinking of changing, you may as well experiment while you’re here.