Dear Heather

Dear Heather,

I have done a few courses through AU and enjoyed them, and I’m thinking of trying to get a bachelor’s degree. How do I plan my program and decide which courses I should take?

Steve, Calgary AB

Dear Steve:

Congratulations on deciding to earn a degree! It’s a challenge and requires lots of perseverance, but when you’ve finished you’ll really have something to be proud of.

Your first step is to decide which degree you want. Since you’ve already taken a few courses, you probably have an idea of what subjects interest you the most. You also need to think about what you want to use your degree for: do you want it to get you a job in a particular field, or is it just for your own interest and personal development? Some programs are more directly applicable to future employment than others, and some may get you a job only if you pursue further study after your bachelor’s. Many people just take whatever program interests them, in the hope that it’ll turn into a job later. Often it does, but not everyone can afford to take that chance. Regardless of the course of study you pursue, having a degree is bound to open doors for you. Many employers prefer to hire people with a university degree, but don’t have any particular preference as to what sort of degree you have. The mere fact that you have one shows that you’re intelligent and dedicated, and that you finish what you start.

Once you’ve chosen a program, you need to select your courses. This is a bit of a balancing act: you need to ensure you meet all the requirements for your degree, but you also need to fit in any courses you might need for your future career, as well as at least a few that interest you.

It’s a good idea to (at least tentatively) plan your entire course of study early on. This means deciding which courses you’re going to take and when, for your entire program. You can always change it later, as your schedule or interests change or as new courses become available, but a little advance planning will make things much easier for you later on. Here’s an example: I’m working on my B.Sc. in Human Science. One of the prerequisites is a nutrition course, either NUTR 330 or NUTR 331. When they offered NUTR 331 in paced format (i.e., in the classroom rather than distance ed) a few years ago, taking it seemed like a no-brainer. Then I got into my final year and was trying to meet all my course requirements, and wanted to take NUTR 405. Unfortunately, the prerequisite for that one is NUTR 330, not 331. I ended up taking something else instead, but with a little advance planning on my part, it never would’ve happened. By planning your entire program early on, you make sure you have the right prerequisites for courses you’ll want later, and you also prevent yourself from signing up for courses you don’t need. This is especially important if you’ll need to take some lab courses, since they are only offered at certain times and if you haven’t completed the prerequisites by that time, you may need to wait an entire year for the lab to be offered again.

There are now some excellent planning tools available to help you decide which courses you’ll need. If you need help, you can consult an advisor either by e-mail, phone or in person: e-mail if you have questions or to make an appointment. Even if you plan your program on your own, it’s a good idea to have an advisor look it over to make sure you haven’t missed anything.

If you’re a do-it-yourself kind of guy, check out the AU website’s program planning page: by going to you can view or print a chart showing all the requirements for your program, and then check off each requirement as you meet it in your overall course plan. When trying to decide what courses to take and when, consider your program requirements, your own personal interests and career aspirations, the apparent difficulty of the course, and how much time you have available (check the syllabus to see how many and what type of assignments there are; that will give you a good idea of the time required). You will have to take some challenging courses, but if you plan carefully, you can ensure that you don’t take all of the hardest ones at once. Pairing an easy course with a hard one is a great way to ensure that you don’t get behind or start to feel too discouraged. You may also have other factors to consider: I try to take courses with a lot of reading during the summer. (Somehow that huge textbook doesn’t seem as bad if I can read it in my backyard hammock, with a cold drink in hand!) If you’re not sure which courses are particularly time-consuming, difficult or dull, you might want to check out the AUSU course evaluation page. Visit and click on “?course evaluations’ to see what other students thought of the course. This is a great service that will only become more useful as more students fill out evaluations, so make sure you also take the time to provide feedback on the courses you’ve taken.

Once you have your courses all planned out, it’s just a matter of taking them! Make sure you review your plan from time to time, to make sure that what you have planned is still what you want. Check the AU website or calendar for new courses being introduced; there may be a great new course that will fit into your program (and replace a boring one that you had planned). Your plan may need to be flexible to accommodate changes in your future plans and personal schedule, but it will be a great guideline to keep you on the right track to getting your degree. Good luck!


E-mail your questions to Heather at Some submissions may be edited for length or to protect confidentiality: your real name and location will never be printed. This column is for entertainment only. Heather is an AU student offering objective advice to her peers; she is not a professional counsellor and this column is not intended to take the place of professional advice.