Laddering Programs: Flexible Pathways to a Bachelor of Commerce Degree

Laddering programs are a great option if you want to pursue a degree but aren’t yet ready to commit to a full-time undergraduate program.


Meet Naheli. Right after graduating from high school, she started a computer science degree program at a top Canadian university. However, by the end of her first semester, Naheli felt like she made a mistake. She was completely overwhelmed with her workload, and wasn’t even sure she liked studying computer science – never mind spending the rest of her life building a career in that field!

By spring, Naheli decided to withdraw from the program and was left feeling confused about her next steps. She didn’t want to give up on university, and thought business might be a good future area of study. Unfortunately for Naheli, she missed the application deadlines for admission into the Bachelor of Commerce degree programs that started in September. Naheli didn’t want to “waste” a year of not being in university and, with the low grades on her transcript from the computer science program, she worried she might not even be accepted into her top choice schools.

In 2020, stories like Naheli’s are commonplace. In fact, it is estimated that 65 percent of post-secondary students in Ontario schools experience overwhelming anxiety due to the academic, social, and emotional stressors of this time of life.

Many post-secondary institutions now understand there is no “right time” or “right way” to start university. In fact, for a number of good reasons, Harvard University encourages the students they admit to take a “gap year” before starting their program. It is increasingly understood that the time is only “right” when the student is motivated to learn and they have the necessary support in place (financial, emotional, psychological, and academic) to help accomplish their goals. The “right way” to transition into a Bachelor degree program is the pathway that best sets a student up for success. And, like Naheli’s story, some students start on one path and then realize they need to change course!

Fortunately, high school graduates and mature students have more options than ever before. A great option for those who are not ready to commit to a full-time undergraduate program is a laddering program. In this context, “laddering” means exactly what the word evokes: a program designed to help someone climb up the first few rungs of the “ladder,” getting a few steps closer to reaching their longer-term academic goals.

Laddering programs are diverse, but they typically have a few things in common, including:

  • offer a simple admissions process
  • are comprised of courses that mirror the requirements of the first semesters of the degree in which they ladder into
  • offer flexibility in terms of start dates, delivery format (in-class or online courses), and timing of courses (evening classes, summer terms)

One of the most successful laddering programs offered by The Chang School is the Certificate in Business Management. In this certificate, students take eight university-level degree credit courses that mirror the first year of the BComm program at Ryerson’s Ted Rogers School of Management (and also at many other Canadian universities). Students in this program earn degree credits while they navigate a time of transition. Motivations for choosing the certificate range, but some common reasons given by students are:

  • looking to take a “gap year” after high school to travel or volunteer
  • wanting to work and save money for tuition
  • looking to “try out” different business courses to be sure a BComm is the right path to choose
  • wanting to improve their GPA to make their university application more competitive
  • wanting to take one or two courses at a time to manage their anxiety and build confidence in their ability to succeed in university-level courses

The outcomes from laddering programs are very positive. For example, students who have completed the Certificate in Business Management (or, sometimes just four or five courses in the certificate) have been successful in gaining acceptance into BComm programs at Ryerson University, and at other universities across Canada.

We’re happy to report that one of these students is Naheli. She used the certificate courses to boost her GPA and after doing well in four courses, she had the confidence to apply to the Ted Rogers School of Management. She was accepted into the BComm degree and was able to transfer credits earned in the certificate into her degree program, and she is now just two years away from graduating with Ryerson’s Bachelor of Commerce in Business Technology Management!