How I tailored my science degree

I got a Bachelor of Science degree with a specialization in psychology, and I tried all sorts of cool classes in university!

Jul 10, 2017

When it came time for me to plan for post-secondary, I knew two things for certain: that I wanted to get a degree while playing volleyball; and that I like biology in high school. Knowing those two things helped me plan my path.

I was recruited to play on the University of Alberta’s volleyball team, and I chose to enroll in General Sciences to pursue my interest in science. In this post I’ll explain how I chose my courses, what it means to enroll in a specialization, and how I tailored my degree to my interests.

How I chose my courses

When I got to university, for the first time in my life I felt like I had control over my education. I’ve always known that I have a science brain: I like facts, memorization, and knowing how I got from A to B. Writing essays and long answer questions on tests was never my thing. When choosing courses, I decided to play to my strengths.

My strategy was a bit unconventional: I’d over-enroll in courses, attend the first class, and read the syllabus to see what the classes would entail. A syllabus is basically a detailed course outline you get on the first day of class that describes what you’ll be learning, and what sorts of tests and assignments to expect.

Once I had a better feel for what would be involved in each class, I’d stay in courses that had multiple choice tests and limited group work, and drop the rest! This might not be possible for everyone, but it worked for me.

What about choosing a major and minor?

For any university degree, there are courses you have to take (required courses) and options, kind of like in high school. This means that in general undergraduate programs like the Bachelor of Arts or Sciences, you get to tailor your degree thanks to the flexibility of those optional course credits.

In my first year I assumed I’d major in biology because I’d enjoyed it so much in high school. To my surprise, that didn’t end up happening. I ended up taking a Psychology 101 course and loving it, so I started taking more psychology courses.

By my second year I’d decided to major in psychology, and figured I’d choose my minor later on. Turns out I never had to declare a minor after all! I found an alternate route called the Bachelor of Science with Psychology Specialization program. While a degree in General Sciences is, well, pretty general—by choosing a specialization I was able to tailor my degree to my interests.

What’s a science specialization?

The University of Alberta defines Science Specialization programs as specialized training in one area of study. Specializing in a particular area means that you get to dive deep into that field, and really hone your knowledge and skills. But don’t worry, specializing doesn’t mean that you’ll only get to study one thing.

Choosing to specialize meant that I didn’t have to declare a minor at all. Instead, I took extra Psychology courses, and the rest of my credits I put towards courses based purely on interest, including cool stuff like:

  • Pharmacology of Drug Plants
  • Sociology of Deviance and Conformity
  • Business Law
  • Violent Weather
  • Geology of the Solar System

What’s the benefit of taking a variety of courses?

You might ask: with all of these random courses, how do you ever figure out what you want to do for a career afterwards? Turns out, taking a variety of options actually exposed me to more fields that I wasn’t aware of. My “Human Sexuality” course is the perfect example.

My professor was an Occupational Therapist who specialized in sexuality. Through this class I was exposed to a small portion of what Occupational Therapists do, and was intrigued to find out more about the profession. Fast forward five years and I’m in my second year of the Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy program at the University of Alberta—all because I took this one class that piqued my interest!

Pro Tip: Talk to an advisor

I met with an academic advisor once in the first year of my program who set me up with the university’s course calendar (a big book that lists all the courses offered), as well as template of what courses were required to finish my degree. I treated my course calendar like a bible, filling it in when I had finished a course and pulling it out to reference when I was selecting courses.

The most important part of tailoring your university degree is making sure that you fulfill your requirements so that you don’t have any last minute surprises: like finding out you need to take an extra semester because you forgot to take a certain class you need to graduate.

Of course, this does happen to some people and it’s not the end of the world, but it saves you time and money to plan in advance. Never hesitate to visit your academic advisor to ask about any questions relating to your courses and to your degree - that’s what they’re paid to be there for!

If I can leave you with a final thought, let it be this: you don’t need to know what you want to study as soon as you get to college or university. If you have some general interests, explore them, and see what opportunities arise.


Rehabilitation Medicine
University of Alberta

Full-time Master's student discovering my new identity and interests after life as a varsity volleyball athlete.

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