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Get to Know Your McGill Academics

Getting a great education is surely one of the reasons you’ve decided to attend McGill. There is a lot to know about the education system at McGill, though. It’s not just a matter of going to class, studying, and getting your grades. 

In an effort to make sure your transition into McGill is as smooth as possible, the team here at Campus Life & Engagement (CL&E) has collected and explained key topics and frequently used university terminology. Consider yourself culture shocked no more! Of course, there are some terms we haven't included, but to get you started on the right track, we thought it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with the ones below.

You can always contact CL&E if you have any questions or concerns!

Academic Standing

Academic Standing is based primarily on students’ Cumulative Grade Point Average (CGPA), but may also be affected by their Term Grade Point Average (TGPA). Academic Standing, which is assessed after the end of term, may determine if students will be allowed to continue their studies in the next term and if any conditions will be attached to their registration.
Being in Satisfactory Standing usually requires having a CGPA of 2.00 (C letter grade) or greater.

(Academic) Advisors

McGill offers students access to a variety of advisors, mentors and counsellors with different skills, expertise, and levels of authority. Depending on your degree and academic program, you may have access to a faculty advisor, departmental/school advisor, professor/lecturer or peer advisor to help you resolve a given problem. 
Be sure to seek academic and personal advice from the advisor most closely attuned to your academic needs or personal situation.
Learn more about the role of academic advisors.

First-Year Seminars

If you haven’t already done so, try to register for a First-Year Seminar (FYS). You can take only one FYS, but they’re offered in both the Fall and Winter terms. These classes are for first-year undergraduate students only, so grab one while you can! They cover a wide range of topics and offer more interaction with your classmates and the professor as there are only around 25 students in each class! They fill up quickly, but don’t give up. Keep checking as space usually becomes available during the Add/Drop Period. Try one - you’ll like it!
A full description of these seminars can be found on OASIS, the Arts Office of Advising and Student Information Services.

Academic Integrity

As a McGill student, you will have many assignments, papers, laboratory reports and/or presentations to prepare over the course of your studies. McGill University values academic integrity, honest work, the art of scholarship, and giving credit where credit is due.
Make sure you complete the mandatory Academic Integrity Tutorial, which is available to all entering undergraduate students on myCourses.
Please consult Student Rights & Responsibilities to find two important online resources:

Handbook on Student Rights and Responsibilities: The University’s policies and procedures pertaining to upholding academic integrity, specifically the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures.
Fair Play: A resource that clarifies academic integrity and citation styles with real-life scenarios. It is a helpful and interactive companion to the guidelines outlined in the Handbook.
If you need more information, you may contact the Office of the Dean of Students.

Course Load

The normal course load for a full-time student is 4-5 courses (12-15 credits) per term; a full year is normally 30 credits. Remember you need 12 credits minimum per term to maintain full-time status!

Course Evaluations

Conducted through Minerva, end-of-course evaluations provide valuable student feedback and are one of the ways that McGill works towards maintaining and improving the quality of courses and the student’s learning experience.

Course Withdrawals

After the Add/Drop (Course Change) deadline in the Fall and Winter terms, there is a period of a few days during which you may withdraw with a grade of “W” and a full refund of course fees. After the Withdrawal (with refund) deadline, there is a period during which withdrawal from a course will also result in a grade of “W,” but no course fees will be refunded.

Add/Drop Period (or Course Change)

Add/Drop is a-two week period at the beginning of each term (summer term not included) that allows you to add and drop courses without having to pay for the changes. It is a great way to see if a class is for you or not. Remember to take into account your major/minor requirements and to buy books (and course packs) after your schedule becomes permanent!

Keep in mind, too, that the Add/Drop Period is when you should check to see if previously full classes now have openings.


Each course taken is assessed on the basis of a certain number of credits. Most half-year courses are worth 3 credits and full-year courses are worth 6 credits. In order to obtain a degree, you must successfully complete a minimum number of credits.

Grading System

Courses can be graded either by letter grades or in percentages, but the official grade in each course is the letter grade. Where appropriate, a class average appears on transcripts expressed as the letter grade most representative of the class performance.
Grades A through C represent satisfactory passes, D a conditional (non-continuation) pass, and F a failure.
If you see the following “mysterious” grades on your transcript and don’t have a clue what they mean, don’t worry, we have the answers! And yes, they are grades!

  • J: You didn’t do all the work or skipped the final exam. This counts as an F in your GPA.
  • K: Incomplete course, but the deadline has been extended for you.
  • L: You’ve deferred your exam.
  • P: You passed, but it’s not included in your GPA.
  • S: Satisfactory (graded under S/U option)
  • U: Unsatisfactory (graded under S/U option)
  • W: You withdrew from the course after the Add/Drop Period, with permission (not in your GPA).


Minerva will calculate your GPA quite nicely, but if you’re detail-oriented and want to check it out for yourself, here’s how to do it: multiply the number of credits the course is worth by the grade points below. Do this for all your courses, add the numbers up, and then divide by your total course credits et voilà!

Letter Grade Grade Points Percentage
A 4.0 85-100
A- 3.7 80-84
B+ 3.3 75-79
B 3.0 70-74
B- 2.7 65-69
C+ 2.3 60-64
C 2.0 55-59
D 1.0 50-54
F 0 0-49

The term grade point average (TGPA) is the GPA for a given term calculated using all the applicable courses at the same level in that term. The cumulative grade point average (CGPA) is the GPA calculated using your entire record of applicable courses at McGill at the same level.

What this system means is that the fewer classes you’ve taken, the more impact each grade you get will have on your GPA. In your first year, this will make it seem like every class is so crucial, but remember that at the end of a four-year program, for instance, each class grade will account for only 2.5% of your CGPA. That means that even getting an F could only affect your CGPA by as little as a tenth point. In a 120-credit program, a B+/3.3 CGPA will only drop to 3.22 if you were to get an F.

Faculty/School & Department

Students at McGill are part of a faculty. Each faculty at McGill is headed by a Dean. Faculties are divided into departments and schools. Departments are devoted to a particular area of study, such as the Department of Philosophy or the Department of Chemistry. Professional Schools are part of a faculty, but offer more intense, specialized programs usually leading to a professional career.

Faculties and Schools include:
• School of Architecture
• Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
• Faculty of Arts
• School of Communication Sciences & Disorders
• School of Computer Science
• School of Continuing Studies
• Faculty of Dentistry
• School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition
• Faculty of Education
• Faculty of Engineering
• McGill School of Environment
• Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
• School of Information Studies
• Faculty of Law
• Desautels Faculty of Management
• Faculty of Medicine
• Schulich School of Music
• Ingram School of Nursing
• School of Physical & Occupational Therapy
• Faculty of Religious Studies
• Faculty of Science
• School of Social Work
• School of Urban Planning

Midterms and Exams

During the term, class tests/midterms in any course must be held during the time duly scheduled for that course in your course syllabus. Midterms can be held throughout the term so there is no real “midterm season”.

Formally scheduled final exams are three hours long. Unless given the choice, you cannot be asked to write a final exam worth more than 75% of your final grade. No final examination can be scheduled in the last 14 calendar days of classes (Excludes: oral examinations, assignments given in the syllabus (e.g., paper, presentation) and regular in-term assessments, so long as it is not worth more than 10% of the final mark).

A tentative exam schedule goes up early in the term, but do not make travel plans based on this schedule. It’s rare for the final schedule to be the same as the tentative one, so it’s wise to wait to make bookings (unless you have cancellation insurance or know you can make changes). For the Fall and Winter terms, the Tentative Exam Schedule is posted approximately the fifth week of each term, and the Final Exam Schedule in two weeks after that. If you miss an exam for a serious reason, such as illness or family affliction, and you have supporting evidence (such as a doctor’s note), you may be allowed to defer the exam to the next Deferred and Supplemental Exam Period (with the exception of courses given by the Faculty of Engineering. Deferral exams for these courses are written the next time the course is offered). In some cases, students receiving a failing grade in courses offered by the Faculties of Arts or Science may apply for a Supplemental Exam.
For more information: mcgill.ca/students/exams


Required courses are mandatory courses that must be completed to fulfil the requirements of a program, unless the student receives exemptions. Students have no choices among required courses.
Complementary courses are selected from a restricted list, a particular subject area, or a discipline. In some programs, students must include a number of these to meet program requirements.
Elective courses are, in some cases, taken outside of a student’s program of study and do not count toward the fulfilment of the specific program requirements. Some restrictions may apply, but students have the most choice in selecting elective courses.


Prerequisite courses must be completed prior to course registration.
Corequisite courses must be completed concurrently with another course.


Generally, these are smaller break-out sessions from your regular course. Oftentimes, they are led by a TA. All three are different and depending on what classes you choose, might become a part of your schedule. Most notably, when registering for courses, make sure that you also register for these.

Study Break / Reading Week

Similar to Spring Break, here at McGill University we have Study Break / Reading Week in the Winter term where classes are cancelled for an entire week.


A Teaching Assistant (TA) is a (usually) graduate student appointed to assist a Course Supervisor with the instruction and evaluation of students in a course.


Equivalent to “semester”, here at McGill we have Fall (September-December) and Winter (January-April) “terms,” which are four months long, and three Summer terms (May, June, July), which are each one month long.

U0, U1, U2, U3 or U4

(also referred to as Year 1, Year 2, etc.)

This letter and number system speaks to your academic standing at McGill, in respect to how many years you have completed/have remaining. At McGill, we don’t officially use the terms “freshman,” “sophomore,” “junior,” and “senior.” McGill undergraduate students also don’t necessarily study for four years to earn their degree. Some U1 students might only need three and some U0 students may need five, depending on the program.

S/U Option

The Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory (S/U) option is an alternative course-specific grading scheme that lets undergraduate students take courses outside their areas of specialization without fear of decreasing their GPAs. Courses with final grades of “S” or “U” are not included in GPA calculations and do not count towards your major or minor requirements. Be careful, though, because the credits you get for a class taken S/U may also not count towards credits needed for awards. Check with an advisor first before choosing this option. The decision to use the S/U Option for an elective must be made within the Add/Drop Period.

Preferred Name

The university recognizes that as a community many of its members use first names other than their legal first names to identify themselves. Students can add a preferred name to their record using Minerva. Your preferred name will then appear on your Student ID card and other university documentation. Here’s how you do it:
• Go to Minerva
• Select “Personal Menu”
• Select “Name Change”
• Enter your Preferred First Name


Your syllabus (plural: syllabi) is the written course outline you get from your professor during the first week of lectures.

Information in syllabi should include, in part:
• A description of the topics to be considered in the course,
• A list of required and recommended readings and other materials,
• A description of the means of evaluation to be used in the course,
• The instructor’s office hours for students, office location and telephone number for office appointments,

No syllabi can be changed following the first day of class without unanimous approval from the entire class, unless reasonable accommodations are made to those students who disagree with the changes.