Totally Not Boring Academic Talk: A Literal U of T 101
Hello, Wolfpack, and welcome back to our bi-weekly orientation blog! This week, we are going to be discussing the reason we’re all here– yes, we’re talking academics. I mean, the ACTUAL reason we’re all here involves a shadowy government conspiracy concerning sending all of us to Woodsworth College for the 2016/17 academic year so as to secretly build the next generation of mutant, crime-fighting X-People. But we figured you’d all want to hear about school more.
The only way to deal with this dry stuff is to nose-dive right in (and make casual references to conspiracies that, like, go all the way to the top, man).
(Oh, here’s a little disclaimer: I’m not a professional academic counsellor, I’m just a Promotions Manager with wifi and a dream. If you have academic questions you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org)
“HOW DO I ENROLL IN COURSES?”
We begin today’s lesson with the temperamental she-creature you will grow to hate and love in rotating bouts of frustration and appreciation: ACORN. Fun-fact about ACORN: her name used to be ROSI, and we all complained so loud about how poorly she was built that the school decided to scrap the entire thing, redo it, and name her after a nut. This is how ACORN was born. You can still use ROSI until late 2016 if it suits your fancy, but don’t. It sucks. The nut will guide you, friends. *the more you know image*
ACORN is the student web service where you will pick courses and enroll, manage your schedule, deal with financial stuff, and a whole list of other important things. It can be found at acorn.utoronto.ca. Having suffered through ROSI, I can assure you that ACORN is actually super user-friendly and self explanatory. Here’s what’s relevant to you about ACORN:
Course Enrollment Basket
– This is kind of exactly what it sounds like. The way enrollment works is that you go to ACORN, find courses you want to take by searching for course codes (we’ll talk about how you find course codes in a second, don’t get anxious) and add them to your “enrollment basket”. ACORN will hold your courses here indefinitely until it’s time for you to actually enroll. Then, when the moon is right, you just go to your basket and click “enroll” on the courses you want to take! It’s easy.
ACORN crashes way less frequently than ROSI, but it does sometimes happen. If ACORN crashes when you’re supposed to be enrolling– DO NOT PANIC. It is most likely crashed for everyone. You’re not missing anything. Just sit tight and wait. In my first year, I had to wake up at 5 in the morning to enroll in courses. ROSI crashed and stayed down until 7. BUT! I got into all my first-pick courses, because it went down for everyone. I know that’s not entirely comforting but it all worked out in the end.
“HOW DO I FIND THE COURSES I WANT TO ENROLL IN?”
U of T offers so many weird courses, Wolfpack. Would you like to know how I know this, and how me and two members of OEC ended up in a winter anthropology course about the history of public nudity? Course Finder. http://coursefinder.utoronto.ca is a mystical website where you can filter in certain requirements (U of T St. George only, winter courses only, English courses only, etc etc) and up pops a list of literally every course under your filters, neatly organized with course codes and descriptions and class sizes. Fam, I’ve spent HOURS on this thing. Hours. You can also type in any code (ex: ENG215) or the prefix of any code (ENG) to find all courses matching your description. It’s kind of useless to describe Course Finder, so I’m just going to tell you all to go explore. Take a sword. It’s dangerous out there.
“SO I KEEP HEARING ABOUT FCEs?”
This is going to be one of the more straightforward lessons. FCE stands for Full Course Equivalent. Courses are either worth 0.5 or 1.0 FCEs (with some rare exceptions). If you take a year long course, it’s worth 1.0 FCEs. If you take a semester long course (so half a year) it’s worth 0.5 FCEs. It’s effectively the same as “credits” in high school, just with different terminology. Different majors have different FCE requirements, but in order to qualify for graduation, you need to pass 20.0 FCEs. This shakes down to 5.0 FCEs per year over a four year period (conventionally, but you can take as little as 3.0 FCEs a year while still being considered a full time student).
“HELP! WHAT COURSES DO I TAKE?”
Okay, don’t freak out. What do you like? I know that’s a painfully annoying question but you just have to consider what you’re into, padawan. Or, more specifically, what you think you’re going to major in. If you have some idea, look at course requirements for your major and try to pick first year courses that can help knock out the easy stuff. However, if you have no idea and you’re totally floundering, that’s okay too! A lot of first year courses are pretty communicable to a variety of majors, so even if you pick randomly, as long as you’re in the right vein of study, you’re probably going to hit something useful. For example, here are some of my first year courses: Intro to Psych, Intro to Political Science, Intro to Sociology, The Magic of Physics (it’s exactly as non-scientific/artsci as it sounds). I had no idea what I was doing, but somehow, all four of those courses have helped me knock out parts of both of my majors– because the first three are within my general area of study (social sciences) and the last was an interpretation of a science course created to help sad English majors like myself survive the last breadth requirement (if breadth requirement is an alien term to you, don’t worry, we’re going to get into it).
Also, if you’re looking for a GPA-booster, take a first year seminar. Seminars will only be available to you in first year, please take advantage.
Here’s some free advice: experiment with weird courses in first year. I experimented with taking random, out-there courses just to be young, wild and free in the second semester of my second year and got record-breakingly low marks. Damaged my GPA a bit, there. As it turns out: when you pick majors and stick to them, it’s because you’re good and interested in those things. Don’t doubt yourself so much! First year is a year for exploration, you’ll get more serious later!
Also, if you think you can manage it, I encourage you to take 5.0 FCEs in your first year. Again, not everyone can manage 5.0 FCEs right from the jump, so know yourself. But if you think you can, do. A completed degree from U of T shakes down to 5.0 FCEs over (typically) 4 years of study. However, you have the option of taking 3.0 – 4.0 FCEs (anything over 3.0 means that you’re still a full-time student) instead, and some students do in their first year to acclimate to university level studies. This is a totally viable option, but you will have to make up those lost credits by taking a whole bunch of 6 course semesters later in your education, and that’s no easy feat. It’s doable, but it’s a heavy load. So if you think you can survive 5.0 FCEs in your first year, go for it.
“WHAT’S A BREADTH REQUIREMENT?”
Every course you take falls into one of five groups about what they’re teaching you. Here are the five groups:
- Creative and Cultural Representations
- Thought, Belief, and Behaviour
- Society and Its Institutions
- Living Things and Their Environment
- The Physical and Mathematical Universes
In order to have a well rounded education, U of T has determined that ArtSci students must complete EITHER
- 1.0 credit in 4 of these groups, or
- 1.0 credit in 3 of these groups, and 0.5 credits in 2 other groups
Most of your breadth requirements you’ll complete accidentally, so you should really only have to go out of your way taking one or two courses.
Also, remember that “1.0” here doesn’t mean one course, but 1.0 FCEs– so a full year of study, or two semesters.
“WHAT IS WOODSWORTH ONE?”
This is basically an academic bridging course, but way cooler than that sounds. It’s the most high-schooly course you’ll take in your university experience, only way better because you’re not actually in high school. Every college has a version of this, but Woodsworth’s is the best. Totally not biased. Just stating facts. I met some of my closest friends at Woodsworth through this course! Again, not biased. Here’s a link describing what the Woodsworth One course entails. **** If you’re interested in these topics and/or debating a major in social sciences or humanities, I highly recommend you take Woodsworth One.
“WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO CREDIT/NO CREDIT?”
CR/NCR is how you save your GPA in times of desperation and panic, my friends. If you decided to be a crazy youth and take some course that’s totally out there and not your jam, but it’s too late to switch into a new course, Credit/No-Crediting is your lifeline. Basically, it means that whatever grade you get in the course will be displayed on your transcript as “Credit” (meaning you passed the class with a 50 or higher) or “No Credit” (meaning you did not pass the course). So if it’s likely you’ll pass a course, but with a mark that isn’t so hot, CR/NCR is a great option. And if you fail, instead of having some 38 or whatever dragging down your precious GPA, you just have “No Credit”. Your average remains intact. You only get 2.0 of these, so use them carefully. But also: know when to say uncle. Even if you pass the course, getting a mark in the 50s or 60s could do some damage to your GPA– there’s no shame in admitting that this course wasn’t your thing, and you’d prefer a little “CR” instead of that 50.
Note: getting a “No Credit” doesn’t exempt you from having failed the course, you will still have to make up that lost credit. Fortunately, you can just take something else, as long as it fulfills whatever requirement you were using that course for.
“OKAY… BUT IF I CAN CR/NCR, WHY WOULD I LWD?”
Basically: if you’re confident you’re going to fail the course (or do so poorly that it’s a waste of your time to see the course through to the end). This is when you pull out your last weapon– Late Withdrawal. If you missed the deadline to drop courses without it showing up on your transcript, but you got some initial marks back and you know it’s not worth it to finish the course, you can withdraw beyond the drop deadline. The course will still show up on your transcript, but there will be a little “LWD” instead of an actual mark. It’s not an ideal situation, but LWD can be a huge stress-saver.
Note: Both CR/NCR and LWD are good resources to have, but it’s highly recommended you don’t use them beyond your first two years of study. There’s no rule against having them on your transcript in your third and fourth years, but grad schools tend to look past them in your first two years. Not so much later down the road.
“WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH POSts?”
POSts are an article in and of themselves, so I’m just going to cover some basics– your POSt is your main area of study. POSts break down into majors, minors, and specialists. At U of T, the minimum POSt options are: 2 majors, 1 major + 2 minors, or 1 specialist. You can enroll in up to three POSts, but most people stick with one of the three aforementioned options. Note: this means that at U of T, you cannot just do 1 major and 1 minor. You enroll in POSts once you complete at least 4.0 FCEs– for most students, this means the summer in between first and second year.
For more information about POSts (including how and where to enroll, requirements for different posts, etc), click here. http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/current/course/timetable/1516_fw/step-2
“WHEN DO I HAVE TO MAKE ALL THESE SCARY DECISIONS?”
You have a month, incoming Wolfpack. You will find out when your enrollment time is on July 24th, and you will enroll on July 30th. Click here for confirmation that I’m not telling tall tales http://www.artsci.utoronto.ca/current/course/timetable/1516_fw/step-4 .
“OKAY, I’M ENROLLED… NOW HOW DO I SURVIVE THESE CLASSES?”
All my high school friends scared me senseless about my first year at U of T. I heard endless rumours about how classes at U of T are so big the profs can’t even see you, let alone care about your wellbeing. I also heard that U of T is ridiculously difficult to succeed at academically, and first year would damage my psyche with low grades and endless readings.
I don’t know why I listened to my dumb 17 year old friends who were also still in high school and very much clueless about university, but I did.
Now, I prowl the internet streets, trying to stop incoming students from making my silly mistakes.
We’re going to play Mythbusters with some of these rumours today!
“You’re just a number at U of T!”
Pictured: an actual image of OEC
Your professors and TAs actually do want you to do well. Obviously. Come on, folks, they are educators. Here’s the thing, though: unlike in high school, no one’s going to chase you to do well. If you fail a test/assignment/course, there’s no Misses Teacher Guy to stare you down in the hallway and ask if everything’s alright at home. I think that’s probably where this idea comes from. In university, if you’re struggling with a class, it’s on you to approach your TA and/or Professor for help. But if you do, they’re more than happy to help you! You’re only a student number until you introduce yourself.
“Classes/Tutorials are optional!”
MYTH MYTH LORD HAVE MERCY THIS IS A MYTH
Buddy. You’re paying for class. Go to class. If it was possible to learn everything from the readings, “Professor” wouldn’t be a job title. Come on. This is one of the top schools in the world, I promise you if you go to class you’re going to learn something.
Oh, and here’s some more free advice– like magic, going to tutorials improves your grades. Your TAs are GPA warlocks, okay. They hold the key.
“It’s impossible to get good grades at U of T!”
It’s not impossible, it’s just harder than you’re used to. Everything is impossible until it’s done. I’m pretty sure that’s a Nelson Mandela reference, but it also could be Marilyn Monroe.
It’s true that most students do experience a drop in their grades from high school to university. It’s not impossible to maintain the same average from secondary to post-secondary school, but it is exceedingly difficult. When you see 70s where 90s once lived, try not to stress too much– it doesn’t mean your work sucks, or is being valued less. It just means that the scale has changed. The good thing is, the scale has changed for everyone else too– the number is different, but it doesn’t actually mean you’re doing worse.
“The readings at U of T are too large for you to be able to complete!”
MYTH. Kind of. Sort of. Well.
It depends on the person, the course, and how hectic your life is. Mostly, readings are doable. Keep in mind, there is a difference between high school homework and university readings, and it takes time to adjust. In high school, you’re meant to read every word of what you’re assigned. In university, you might be assigned 100 pages to read per class every week. Obviously you can’t read hundreds of pages a week– because you’re not meant to read every word, you’re meant to skim, taking information about what the author is trying to argue. It has more to do with reading comprehension than actually reading. (Unless you’re in English courses, then you might actually find yourself finishing an entire book every few weeks, but you’ll be surprised with how easy it is! Here’s a tip that saved my life– if you’re a commuter, you already have a couple of distraction-free reading hours set aside in your day. Use them.)
It’s not easy to leap straight from word-for-word reading to skimming and pulling information, but you’ll get better at it with time, and most professors actually take it easy on first year students because they know you most likely don’t have this down perfectly yet.
This is my final tip: Relax. We know, it’s a stressful time. Here’s the thing– first year is when you make mistakes. If you mess up right now, you’re going to have an easier recovery than if you mess up in three years. Put yourself out there, try weird, crazy courses, and GO TO YOUR CLASSES.
If you want to learn more about academic stuff, WOLF has your back!
Woodsworth College Office of the Dean of Students (Dean’s Office)
This office oversees and supports all student life activities at Woodsworth College, including orientation, mentorship, leadership development, community outreach, the Woodsworth One Program, and the residence. The Office of the Dean of Students also directly supports the efforts of the Woodsworth College Students’ Association (WCSA). You are always welcome to come by!
Woodsworth College Registrar’s Office
This office is like your high school guidance counselor. This is where you can go for advice on academic, financial, and personal issues. You can drop in or make an appointment, send an email or call. The Registrar’s Office is located at on the second floor.
Woodsworth College Academic Writing Centre
The Writing Centre offers one-on-one help with aspects of academic writing. You can either book an appointment or even submit your paper or questions online. This is a great way to improve your writing skills and help you excel during your undergraduate studies. The Academic Writing Centre also has some great handouts about essay writing, researching, editing, and more!
Woodsworth College Math Aid Centre
The Math Aid Centre offers tutors who can provide assistance with math. These services are provided by the Department of Mathematics, and other drop-in centres are at New College Trinity College, and Sidney Smith Hall. Check the website below to find the schedule and location for the upcoming year.
Woodsworth College Academic Learning Strategist
Our Learning Strategist, Sandra Moffat, offers students the opportunity to develop strong academic and life skills. Woodsworth College is the only college at the University of Toronto with an embedded Learning Strategist, who supports and helps students with learning disabilities and helps all students to develop approaches to learning that will lead them to improved academic performance.
On a one-to-one basis, the Learning Strategist teaches students how to manage their time, prepare for tests and exams, enhance their reading speed and comprehension and develop their writing skills. During these sessions you will also learn about different learning styles, and wide range of academic strategies and a range of technologies.
That’s it for this week, Wolfpack!