The best little research tool you don't know about: the calendar
In my 10+ years of experience working with students, I’ve found very few of them know how to properly research a university program they’re considering.
They go to the university website, probably to the departmental website, and perhaps have a short conversation with a university admissions rep. or recruiter, and that’s usually it. They make a very important decision—what they intend to study for 4+ years, to presumably prepare them for a career in that area—based on relatively little information. It’s no wonder many students find themselves in first or second year with little interest in their program and applying to change their major or transfer universities. And, depending on what they change from and change to, this switch can add year(s) to their program, resulting in paying more money for tuition and delaying employment after graduation. In other words, a poor choice at the beginning can end up costing thousands of dollars unnecessarily.
Part of what I do is I help students make more informed decision about their future, including spending more time and energy researching programs of interest up front to minimize making costly mistakes.
One of the tools I find really useful to research programs with students is the university calendar. Whether you’re in high school researching potential degrees, or as a current university student, the calendar is a great source of information to help you make informed decisions.
What is the calendar?
Contrary to the name, a university “calendar” is not simply a schedule of dates. Although the calendar has list of important dates, it’s a lot more than that. A calendar is a publication that lists and describes the academic offerings, and academic rules and regulations of the university. It has detailed information on curriculum, course requirements and descriptions, as well as scholarship and other financial information. It’s the go-to resource for information on academic matters.
When I was an Assistant Registrar, I got to know the university calendar very, very well. Intimately even. That's because part of my job was to assist students in interpreting academic regulations and to help ensure they understood the degree requirements necessary for graduation. There can be many requirements for one degree, and each student’s record is different, so it can get confusing. It’s important for students to understand that although there are advisors at university to help you figure out if you’re meeting your requirements, it is the responsibility of students to ensure the requirements are met. There was more than one occasion where I spoke with a student who didn’t know about requirements and who was missing a particular kind of credit, and was therefore unable to graduate on time. This situation can have severe financial and emotional ramifications, so it’s in your best interest to get to know the academic calendar (and sooner rather than later).
In addition to knowing the degree requirements of your program, the calendar can also be a useful tool for students looking for information on programs they’re interested in. So, for example, let’s say a Grade 12 student thinks she might be interested in Kinesiology at Acadia University, but doesn’t know much about the program and wants to know more. She can look at the university website, and go to the Kinesiology Department’s website which has good information. It even has a handbook with a course checklist (well done, Acadia!). However, most programs don’t have nearly this much online information, and unless students know how to dig further, they won’t have a lot of information to help them make a decision.
USING THE CALENDAR TO RESEARCH PROGRAMS
To better understand the programs the university offers—and to help decide which one you may want to pursue—it helps to look at the courses offered in that program, what you will be required to take, and what you can take in combination with it (specialties within the program, certifications, combination with other majors, recommended electives, etc.). This information is not normally found on the program webpages themselves; it’s found in the calendar.
Here’s a short tutorial on how to use the calendar to find this kind of useful information:
As an example, let’s stay with the Bachelor of Kinesiology at Acadia University. It’s a popular program, but students often don’t know that much about it before they choose it.
To find the calendar, it’s sometimes best to use a Google search, e.g. “Acadia University calendar” than to wade through the university’s website looking for it. You will often get options for the format of the calendar. For our purpose, choose the .pdf version. Here is the direct link: http://registrar.acadiau.ca/tl_files/sites/registrar/pdfs/Academic_Calendars/calendar_final.pdf
Note: Always make sure you’re using the newest edition of the calendar! Check date on cover and ensure it’s for the current academic year, e.g. the latest edition is for 2016 – 2017.
Once you click into the .pdf calendar, do a “CTRL F” to pull up the “find on page” search feature. In the search, put “kinesiology”. We see there are 88 results in the calendar. Use the arrow keys to move through the results until you find the main entry for the program. In this example, it’s 15/88.
As you move through the entries using the arrow keys, you’ll come to a section on degree options, specific requirements for each one and additional information.
In this example (starting on entry 28/88) we come to the Bachelor of Kinesiology degree program with the Nutrition specialty option. We see the required courses the student needs to complete in this program, and we see it requires a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) for admission to this option.
So it’s great to see the names of the courses required in the program, but what are the courses like? Continue using your arrow to move forward in the calendar until you get to the course descriptions, in this case 70/88.
OTHER REQUIRED COURSES
So those are the specific Kinesiology courses. But we also saw that there were other courses required in the program, e.g. Math. It’s a good idea to look them up too so you understand what kinds of additional courses you will need to complete.
To find the descriptions of the other kinds of courses, put the name and number of the course, in this case Math 1213, into the search feature, and use the arrow button to move through the results until you find a description of the course.
Here is the description, result 22/27. We see it’s a Statistics course, it has a lecture and lab format, and has pre-requisites and anti-requisites (meaning you can’t get credit for this course and the ones listed).
By reading some of the kinds of courses and requirements in the calendar, coupled with the other information on the website and what is gathered from talking to recruiters, it should give students a much better idea of what the program is like.
There are lots of ways students can get information about the programs they’re interested in. It’s always best to find out as much as you can before you make a decision about what you’ll study for the next 4+ years -- and before you make a $30 - $80,000 financial investment!