How to Change Your Specialization

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During your degree, you might find that the specialization you are in is no longer the one that you want. There are a variety of reasons why you might explore switching your specialization – maybe you’ve changed your mind about the scientific discipline you want to study or you didn’t get into your first choice when you applied in second year. Whatever the reason, switching specializations takes some research and planning. 

How to change your specialization – the nuts and bolts of it.

First step: Maintain eligibility in your current specialization

Review the requirements for promotion to third year for the specialization you are currently in. Some also require that you have completed specific courses - see specialization-specific courses required for promotion

It’s important that you maintain a parallel plan to remain in your current specialization in case you are not successful in changing to the new specialization.

Second step: Researching your new specialization

Review the BSc section of the Academic Calendar for specializations. You might find it easiest to look for one that overlaps with your degree progress so far – e.g., if your specialization is math, look for other specializations that require many of the math courses you have completed: 

While maintaining eligibility in both your current specialization and working towards your intended specialization, you might find that you need to exceed the maximum number of credits allowed before promotion. If you are eligible to be promoted in both specializations in May, this may be ok. If you’re worried you might exceed the maximum credits allowed, please speak with a Science Advisor

Ensure you will not be at risk of exceeding the maximum number of credits allowed before promotion or graduation

Complete your research and identify the specialization you want to apply for 

Meet the requirements for promotion to Year 2 or 3 within the specialization you want to apply for, note that you may need a more competitive average to successfully apply to change your specialization

If all the above are satisfied: Applying to change specializations

Review the department website to learn more and apply. See below for more details.


Didn’t get the specialization you wanted and thinking about switching? What’s next:

As you likely know, if you are a registered student with the Faculty of Science and have been promoted to second year standing, you must be in a specialization before you can register for courses. As part of the second year specialization application, you were required to apply to your top three choices. Because some specializations are highly competitive, you may have gotten your second or third choice. It is possible to continue in your assigned specialization with the intention to apply for a different specialization at the end of your second year, but you should know about the process and do research for your personal situation to ensure that you’re familiar with what to expect, including what risks you may be taking. 

If you’ve just gotten your results and you know that you want to try to switch to a different specialization, you should still register for courses that will help you progress in the one you’re already in. Why? Getting into the other specialization isn’t guaranteed and you risk delaying your degree progress and eventual graduation or even reaching the maximum number of credits allowed in a certain year level before you are eligible for promotion.

  1. When planning for your second year course registration, make parallel plans that allow you to progress in the specialization you are in while pursuing the one you want. Prioritize any courses that overlap between the two specializations and courses that you need for promotion within your specialization AND to your next year level.

  2. Each department has different requirements for switching into their specialization. Check the website of the department you want to transfer into to find out what they require.  

  3. Check the timelines each department sets. Some departments have applications at set times during the year and some have rolling admission. Plan appropriately.

  4. If the specialization you are currently in - or would like to switch to - requires a standard timetable (STT) in second year, speak to the department to discuss your registration options.

  5. Keep your expectations realistic: some specializations are very competitive and have limited seats, such as Cellular and Physiological Sciences, Pharmacology, Microbiology and Immunology, Behavioural Neuroscience, and Computer Science. Typically, there are more students who apply to change into those specializations than there are spots. The best thing you can do to increase your competitiveness for any available seat(s) is to focus on doing well in your courses, and if you’re looking to switch to an Honours specialization, maintain the required course load of 30 credits for each winter session. 

  6. Review the information about changing specializations on the department’s website - you may be required to fill out a form or send them an email.


Changed your mind? How to change your specialization:

You might discover that the specialization you thought you wanted isn’t the right choice for you. Maybe that’s because of new career ambitions, or courses that you continually struggle with; changing your specialization might be a good decision for you. If you have made considerable progress in your current specialization, changing specializations may be “easiest” if you look at a specialization that has overlapping courses. Regardless of what you switch into, you should be prepared to take some extra time to finish the requirements for your degree.

  1. Look for a new specialization that has some overlap with the courses you’ve already taken. This ensures that you have some idea of what studying in that area is like, and any overlap will help you progress in your new specialization. The Academic Calendar has lists of all the required courses needed for each specialization. You can also consider the Combined Major in Sciences degree. If you are unsure, find out what you can do with your degree to narrow down your options.

  2. Ensure you will not exceed the maximum number of allowed credits for a given year level or before graduation (credit limits are listed below – anchor link to section)

  3. Each department has different requirements for switching into their specialization. Check the website of the department you want to transfer into to find out what they require.

  4. Check the timelines each department sets. Some departments have applications at set times during the year and some have rolling admission. Plan appropriately.

  5. Keep your expectations realistic: some specializations are very competitive and have limited seats, especially for students in third year standing. Some examples include Cellular and Physiological Sciences, Pharmacology, Microbiology and Immunology, Behavioural Neuroscience, and Computer Sciences. Typically, there are more students who apply to change into those specializations than there are spots.  The best thing you can do to increase your competitiveness for any available seat(s) is to focus on doing well in your courses, and if you are looking to switch to an Honours specialization, maintain the required course load of 30 credits for each winter session

  6. Review the information about changing specializations on the department’s website - you may be required to fill out a form or send them an email.


There’s no harm in taking extra courses, right? You need to know this. 

Something important to keep in mind if you are considering switching your specialization is the maximum number of credits you can take to achieve your degree. The BSc degree must be obtained within a maximum of 180 attempted credits including credits transferred to the degree. Review the Academic Calendar for full details, including the credit limits by which you must be eligible for promotion to the next year level.

You may still have questions - there’s a lot of information here! Bring your specific questions to chat with an advisor - Science Advising is open for drop-in advising on weekdays: science.ubc.ca/students/advising.