Make the most of your university years by customizing your learning experience
When it comes to your university experience, there’s no straight line from application to graduation. Your time at MacEwan might not fit neatly into a template—from choosing majors and minors that speak to your interests, to volunteering and workplace learning, you will have opportunities to shape your experience and make choices about what and how you want to learn.
We’ve rounded up some advice from our experts on how to customize your learning experience, make the most of education opportunities outside the classroom and navigate the forks in the road.
Pick a major...or two
Certain degree programs require you to choose a major and minor to narrow the focus of your studies. Simple enough, right? However, it’s not uncommon for students to be hit with nerves when it’s time to declare their major and minor (typically in second year). How do you choose from so many options? What if you’re stuck between two? How do you know what will benefit you most in your next steps, from graduate school to your first career job?
Related: Choosing your major – What to do if you don’t know what you want to do
According to Josie O’Reilly, program advisor in the Faculty of Arts and Science, the key to declaring a major is to approach it logically—what has been working for you so far?
“I tell students to think about what they’re good at and what motivates them,” she says. “Sometimes students think too much about going into an area they think will lead to a better career, even if they’re not excited about it. But if they’re not motivated, they’re not going to do well, so it’s best to study something you love."
If you’re feeling uncertain, there are plenty of people you can go to for advice. “Students can come to program advisors at any time for guidance. We’ll talk to them about planning and make sure they know the criteria for the major they’re interested in,” she says. “The Faculty of Arts and Science also has discipline advisors who can speak more to the exact courses within each discipline and the potential career outcomes.”
Sometimes, the best people to help you choose a direction are your professors. They’re experts in their disciplines and can tell you all about the ins and outs and career opportunities. “Faculty members at MacEwan love to teach and they make themselves available to answer questions,” says Josie. “If you’re curious about a certain course or what your options might be in terms of careers or grad school, they’re usually happy to share their expertise.”
And not to worry if you’re torn between two paths. In addition to the traditional major/minor format, some degrees allow you to choose two majors with no minor, or one major and two minors, encouraging you to pursue all of your interests. “Declaring additional majors or minors allows prospective employers or graduate programs to see that you are specialized in those areas, rather than just having taken a bunch of coursework and not getting the credential,” explains Josie. “And if you work with an advisor to plan out your course load, an extra major or minor won’t add any extra time to your studies.” Additionally, some programs allow minors from other faculties, so you don’t have to choose between your love of accounting and anthropology.
If you’re still worried about choosing the wrong major, know it’s not written in stone. “The declaration period is from September to February each year, and students can re-declare every year within that period,” says Josie.
Do the honourable thing
If you’re looking for a more focused or rigorous academic experience, you may want to see if there is an honours stream available in your program. Honours degrees include advanced coursework, a more narrowly specialized area of focus, and, depending on the program, may include intensive hands-on experience such as a research or capstone project.
“Honours programs are for students who are really focused on studying an area that they’re excited about,” says Josie. “A lot of students in honours programs are working toward graduate school.”
In order to apply for an honours program, you must meet entrance criteria, including having a minimum number of credits in your area of study, and a certain GPA, though criteria varies from one honours program to the next. Speak to a program advisor in your area to find out if your degree has honours programming available, the admission criteria, and whether it’s the right fit for you and your goals.
Do some experiential learning
There’s nothing like hands-on learning. The knowledge you gain in the classroom is valuable on its own, but it’s amplified when given the opportunity to apply it directly. That’s where experiential learning comes in.
Experiential learning at MacEwan encompasses practicums, internships, volunteer experiences, research, co-ops—any opportunity that gets you out of the classroom and into a lab, workplace or community. It’s dipping your toe into the working world, allowing you to gain experience while those around you understand that you’re still learning.
Related: Take it outside – The benefits of experiential learning
Many programs offer course options that include an experiential learning opportunity. “There are some faculty members that do more of that than others,” Dorothy Ritz, manager, Career Development and Experiential Learning. “So if that’s something a student is interested in, they should talk to a program advisor to find out which classes offer those options.”
In other programs, such as Bachelor of Science in Nursing or Arts and Cultural Management, there is a mandatory experiential learning component in the form of a practicum or clinical placement. But just because you don’t have a say in whether or not you participate in experiential learning, it doesn’t mean you can’t shape the process to your benefit. “I always tell students to bring a list of questions for their colleagues at their placement—what do you want to know?” says Dorothy. “Ask them about their career, their education, their experience, why they chose this career path and how they got involved in this organization. Take advantage of your time there to help you make decisions about your own career, in addition to learning new skills”
The whole world could be your classroom. From field schools to student exchanges to summer programs and conferences, just about anything you can learn here can also be learned in an exciting location rich with new cultural experiences.
Studying abroad allows you to pick up some unique skill sets—knowledge of another language, cultural fluency, and the kind of communication and planning skills that can only be learned by navigating an unfamiliar place. And if you have your heart set on a career with a company that has international branches or clients, studying abroad gives you a running start.
Related: Busting myths about studying abroad
The opportunity to pick up these unique, travel-related skills doesn’t mean compromising what you would otherwise be learning in a semester at home. “We help you select an international program that fits into your studies,” says Nina Delling, Education Abroad advisor. “We want you to benefit academically, professionally and personally, so we put every effort in to helping you find an opportunity that fits with your program and your goals.”
The best part about studying abroad? At MacEwan, it’s very accessible. The biggest concerns—cost, practicality, language barriers—are largely perceived barriers. Exchange agreements with other universities mean that your tuition is the same as any other semester at MacEwan, and the logistics are pretty seamless. Not to mention, the Education Abroad team are there to guide you through the planning process.
Develop a co-curricular record
Over the course of your university experience, your achievements might not be limited to the grades on your transcript. You might get involved with a club, volunteer for the university or start a community engagement initiative, and those activities say just as much about you as your grades. At MacEwan, you have the opportunity to record those activities in an official capacity.
“A co-curricular record is an official, validated document from the university that tracks involvement you’ve had at MacEwan outside of your academic studies,” explains Marg Ralstin, manager, Student Leadership Development. “It’s a document you can use to support graduate school applications or job applications. It’s a way to show some of the other skills you’ve gained and sell yourself beyond your GPA.”
Join a club
From finance to fine art to feminism, there is a club for just about any area of interest at MacEwan. Check out the SAMU club listings to find where you fit.
If you’d like your extracurriculars added to an official co-curricular record, have the overseeing faculty member of each activity submit an entry within the same academic year.
You and a classmate can begin your studies at MacEwan at the same time, in the same program, and graduate on the same day with the same credential. But in between those two days are countless opportunities to branch out and build a personalized university experience that continues to serve you throughout your life. Ask questions, seek advice, get involved, stretch your limits, change your mind. It’s all part of choosing your own adventure.