Understanding Academic Structure

Semesters

Most university classes run for a single semester (also called a 'term') which is about four months long. The Fall semester runs from September to December, the Winter semester from January to April, and the Spring/Summer semester from May to August. The Spring/Summer semester is a little unusual in that most classes are offered in a six-week period, in either May and June or July and August. You can find exact start and end dates for each semester in the Academic Schedule.

Courses

Most courses take one of the three following forms:

  • lectures: instructors convey most of the information in the classroom, with students taking notes and asking questions (though some lecture-type classes also incorporate group discussions and in-class activities); lecture classes typically meet three times per week for one hour each, or two times per week for 1.5 hours each
  • seminars: students come together to discuss a pre-assigned set of readings; the instructor often says very little, leaving students to work out their ideas for themselves; seminar classes also typically meet for three hours per week, but often in one long sitting
  • directed reading: students read on their own and meet periodically with an instructor to discuss what they have read and ensure that they have understood it; there are usually no set meeting times, but reading classes are expected to take as much of the student's time as lecture or seminar classes; such classes are usually set up on a case-by-case basis to meet the needs of students in Honours programs

Some classes will combine lectures and seminars. Others combine lectures with special lab sessions, where students meet in smaller groups, for one to three hours per week in rooms specially equipped for carrying out specific, practice-based assignments.

Credit Hours

Most semester-long classes are worth three 'credit hours'. But courses can be worth fewer or more credit hours than the standard three; some have no credit hours attached at all. Most undergraduate programs require that you have 120 credit hours (40 standard classes) to graduate. You will have to plan for and monitor the credit hours you accumulate closely, to ensure you will meet the requirements of your program.