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Think you've chosen the wrong degree course?

Concerned that your course isn’t the right one for you? Don’t ignore the issue, instead follow our advice on how to deal with the situation.

No one can get every decision right and when you know you’ve made a mistake or a wrong move, the important thing is to rectify it. Having worked hard for your place at university and looked forward to embarking on the next chapter of your life, the feeling that you are on the wrong course can threaten to sour the whole experience.

Some students decide to live with such a wrong decision while others opt to do something about it. If you genuinely know you have made a mistake and are pursuing the wrong engineering discipline, it is much better to confront the issue.

There will be implications from such a move, but engineering students are fortunate in that there can be a degree of overlap across the different disciplines. As long as you approach the move in the right way, you can minimise any negative impact.

Have the right conversations

Before making the ultimate decision, talk to a personal tutor, mentor, supervisor, fellow students or anyone else who can provide you with reliable advice and input.

“Get as much information as you can,” advises Dr Ella-Mae Hubbard, lecturer in systems engineering and undergraduate admissions tutor at the School of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering, Loughborough University.

“Understand why you feel like you're on the wrong course and talk to people. Courses can often change as you go through a programme. All disciplines will have early content which is important if you want to continue in the area, which may not be too exciting, but you've got to get through it before you know enough to do the cool stuff.”

Before transferring, students need sign-off from their personal tutor or programme leader, says Dr Andy Gravell, associate dean for education at the Faculty of Physical Sciences and Engineering, University of Southampton, so it is important to have had the right conversations first.

“Have discussions with relevant academic staff who can provide insight into the suitability of both their current and proposed new programme.”

Also talk to those on the discipline in which you are interested. In short, carry out your own due diligence on making such a move.

When should you make the move?

Having made the decision, it is better to act sooner rather than later as the entry requirements across the different disciplines are similar.

“Later on, it would depend on whether the topics which lead into the next stage have been covered,” says Dr Helen Prance, head of the Department of Engineering and Design at the University of Sussex, and an engineer herself. Dr Hubbard agrees moving as early as possible make best sense but adds: “Courses may ask you to start again from year one, depending on what you have covered and your achievements in these. However, it may not be possible to change until the end of an academic year. If this is the case, then keep going, learn what you can and try to get the best marks possible.”

Enquire about in-built flexibility

In some cases, there may be more scope to change than you think. The University of Southampton, for instance, is building greater flexibility into programmes to allow movement across disciplines and subject areas.

“In electronics and computer science, we have recently restructured our programmes to increase overlap between our electrical, electromechanical and electronic engineering programmes,” explains Dr Gravell. “Students may now transfer between the programmes up to the end of the first year as at least seven out of the eight modules students take are common.”

He adds that some self-study over the summer may be required to make up the missing material. Meanwhile, the University of Sussex runs a mostly common year one across all of its core engineering courses, so that students can take that time to make sure they have made the right choice, explains Dr Prance. “Later years are common across groups of courses, for example mechanical or automotive engineering, so the option to change is still fairly flexible.” Dr Gravell explains that Southampton has strong links between its computer science and software engineering programmes, “allowing relatively late transfers,” he says.

What are the implications of changing courses?

In most cases these will be largely time-based and it can lead some students to feeling like they have wasted their time. Rather than dwell on this – especially when they are waiting to make the move -- Dr Hubbard says students should still take every opportunity to learn what they can.

“Many engineering disciplines have overlaps, so you may find something you learn early on in one course can give you some great insight later on in another discipline.”

Aside from it adding to your overall study time, if a course is accredited by a professional body such as the IET, you need to check what effect a change may have on study modules. “Those institutions specify what should be covered in a particular type of course, for instance to be accredited as an electrical engineer,” says Dr Prance.

“If a change of course means that a student misses out on any of this required knowledge, they may find that their degree is not accredited. This is particularly important if they want to move into the final year of a different course, in which case they may have to check with the professional institution that their prior study qualifies them for the accredited degree.”

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