your student life specialists

Archive for the ‘grad school’


the final countdown

Hello Aska,

I am a student going into my fifth year of undergraduate studies in Honours Life Sciences that is hoping to apply to the UofT Psychology Graduate Program.

I had a question pertaining to the details of one of the admission requirements. It states A- in the last two years and I was wondering if that meant my fifth and fourth year marks, or my last 20 courses up to the deadline (December)? So, that would mean my last semester of third year, fourth year, and my first semester of fifty year.

Basically, how much can my fifth year effect what the school may take into account? My fourth year was pretty great GPA-wise and I’m confident for fifth, but my third year was a mixed bag, so I’m hoping that my fifth year will be considered.

I am working on making the rest of my application stellar, I’ve done a research practicum, I will be doing a thesis in the fall, and I’m going to work hard for the GRE. If the last part of third year is taken into account my average will be B+ instead of an A-, even if I get the highest marks possible in my fifth year first semester courses, but I can get it to an A- if my whole fifth year will be considered, so the distinction is important to me.

Thank you for any insight you can provide!



i made a quick call to the psychology grad department and they let me know that they will be looking at your 10 most recent credits, which is technically good news because that means your last two years will actually count, but i would call them just to ask exactly WHEN in the year they would be looking at these grades. each grad school varies greatly; some schools look at everything before december of your last year and others do it differently.

good luck with your applications, it seems like you’re preparing very well! you got dis.




fail, retry, tail, refry

What happens if I failed a course that is not part of my program, but a course I needed to get into a program? Can I retake it? Also do graduate programs look at overall grade-point average, or do they mostly look at 3rd and 4th year?

hey there,

if you failed a prerequisite to get into a program, you can absolutely retake it in order to try and achieve the mark needed to get in. it becomes trickier when you passed the course but didn’t get the mark you needed to get into your program; in that case, you would need to go to your registrar’s office and have them enrol you in the course. in this case, the second attempt at the course would be marked “extra”: that means that the course won’t count towards your 20.0 degree credits or GPA, but it would count towards breadth/program requirements.

regarding grad school, most graduate schools (that i’m aware of) look mainly at your upper year courses. the thing is, there are a LOT of grad programs at many institutions across the world. they have different requirements, and some are more competitive than others. it’s always good to look into the requirements for any graduate program(s) you may be considering in order to have a better idea of what you’re looking at.





Hey aska, does UofT have any grad programs for International Relations/Global Affairs?


hey there,

they do, actually! uoft offers an M.A. in Political Science, and one of the streams you can apply to is international relations. through the Munk school, you can also pursue a two-year Master of Global Affairs (M.G.A.).




do you really want to talk to divorcees all your life

Hey aska! I am a current undergrad student at UTSG who is interested in becoming a family/relationship counsellor. I was wondering what grad school programs uoft offers for this type of career?


hey there,

unfortunately uoft doesn’t have a graduate program in family/relationships. to become a certified marriage and family therapist (RMFT), your only option in Ontario is to do an M.Sc. in Couple and Family Therapy at the University of Guelph.

the next-closest things we have to that at uoft are: OISE’s M.Ed. in Counselling Psychology, OISE’s M.A. in Clinical and Counselling Psychology, and Factor-Inwentash’s M.S.W. (Master of Social Work).




the lesser of two evils

hey aska!

straight up – I took up a 6th course this semester as compensation for only taking 4 courses last term. Said 6th course is really hurting my gpa right now (got a 55/100 on the first test that’s worth 25%). So I’m thinking of either cr/ncr-ing or dropping it. I’m conflicted because

1) I heard cr/ncr looks bad on paper for grad school and

2) dropping it would mean only completing 4.5 FCEs this year which also hurts my grad school chances since it’s not a full course load. (ps. I had 2 transfer credits from high school, so I’m not worrying about graduating a semester late.)

So, between cr/ncr and dropping, which is the lesser of two of two evils?

much appreciate


hey there,

  1. it really depends. if it’s not a course affiliated with your program or the program you’re hoping to go to grad school for, CR/NCR’ing it is’not the end of the world. also, one CR/NCR in a transcript otherwise full of good marks is not going to destroy your chances. however, it all depends on the school/program you’re applying to -how competitive they are may affect their policy on CR/NCR.
  2. again, double-check whether having a full course load is relevant to the program you’re interested in. as far as i know, the only cases in which a full course load is a really big deal are medical school, pharmacy school, nursing school, and possibly similar professional programs in the field of medicine. usually, graduate (as opposed to professional) programs aren’t too concerned about the difference between 4.5 and 5.0 credits in a year.

the drop deadline has passed now, which is too bad, but at the end of the day, neither credit/no-credit nor a less-than-full course load will completely destroy your chances at getting into graduate school. if one of those options will make you breathe easier, let you focus on your other courses, or otherwise positively impact the rest of your transcript, then that’s the one you should go with. however, both options are valid, as far as i’m concerned.




automatically rejected?


So im a 3rd year physics specialist, and i took a course That was not required for my degree( Just for the fun of it) and i got the mark back and its 50. This Is the first time i have gotten a mark like This. I am usually a high 70-low 80 Student. I had prospects for physics graduate school at uoft and some other school in Ontario. M’y question Is: How Bad Is going to look on applications or am i automatically rejected? Also, Is it possible to ask my college to base This course on a cr/ncr basis? I only took the course for fun. It has nothing to do with my study. The test of my marks for This semester have been 3.7-4.0, So Can i make a case That This Is not a representation of my academic ability? I am worried because Most Schools look at last two years and This Is going to be a cold sore of sorts in my transcript. Thanks


hey there,

you can always ask, but it’s unlikely that your college will make the course credit/non-credit after the course is over. like, very unlikely.

however, the fact that your mark is so unusual, and that it has nothing to do with physics, can only help your application to graduate school. that means that when a graduate admissions committee looks at your transcript, they are more likely to see this particular mark as a fluke. yes, it might cause your GPA to dip a little, but it’s not going to ruin your chances.

the M.Sc. requires at least a B+ average or better, so if you’ve been sitting at a 3.7+ GPA, this mark probably will not be the tipping point from accepted to not. in other words, your GPA leaves wiggle room for a mark like this.

now i want to be clear that i’m not guaranteeing your admission to any program: competition varies widely from year to year and i can’t make very accurate predictions because i haven’t seen your transcript. all i’m saying is that all hope is not lost.

something that might help your application, if you feel comfortable doing so, is sending an explanatory letter along with your application. most admissions committees will allow you to send along a letter explaining any unique circumstances or unusual results. you can use this opportunity to explain the outlying mark – just make sure to ask whether they’ll accept such a letter first.




(Ph)enomenal (D)ollars

Hello ! I’m an International student that wants to go to UofT for gradschool (phD). I’m academically okay for the program (I have an overall A and all that jazz) but…. Where can I start looking for scholarships to live and study at UofT during those years? I’m a bit lost since I don’t know a thing about scholarships for international students that wants to go to Canada – Thank you !!


hey there,

the major scholarships that fund postgraduate study in Ontario are the NSERC and OGS scholarships. unfortunately, those are only available to domestic students. what i’d recommend is taking a look at your home country’s opportunities, if any, that are available for students travelling abroad. most countries have some form of financial aid for postgrads.

we do have some scholarships available for international students, and i’d strongly encourage you to apply to as many as you’re eligible for, but they do not provide nearly as much funding as is probably ideal.

the good news is, as a PhD student, the university is committed to funding you. all the information about how financial support works for a physics PhD is available on page 29 of this document provided by the department of physics. it shows that if you don’t have access to any scholarships, the university will still be able to support you through RA and TA-ships, and internal scholarships.

here is a breakdown about how much physics PhDs were funded depending on their year, and where the money came from. the aid hovers around $40k per student, depending on the year of your PhD. which is totally liveable.

if you have further questions about how this all works, i’d recommend contacting the financial counsellor at the School of Graduate Studies.

best of luck,



“third year” or THIRD YEAR

Hi! I know that a lot of grad schools look at your third and fourth years only. This may be a dumb question, but third year literally means taken during your third academic year (or I guess maybe after you get 9 or whatever credits), right? I’m asking because I’m a second year and I did badly in PSL300, which is a 300-level course, so I was wondering if that counts as third year. Also, if I take MAT135, a 100-level course, during third year, that counts as third year too or no? Thanks! 🙂


hey there,

that is actually not a dumb question. i know – shocking, right? it’s been known to happen.

the frustrating and unhelpful answer is that it kind of depends on the graduate program. sometimes it means that they will only look at the courses you took in your third and fourth year (some programs say this very explicitly by saying that they will only look at your last 5.0 or 10.0 credits).

on the other hand, some programs will focus just on your third and fourth year, regardless of whether you threw in a 100-level course in there or not. i would say that research-based science master’s programs – generally speaking – tend to do it this latter way, but that is VERY GENERAL, so you have to do your research.

read the website of the schools you’re interested in carefully, and if they don’t specify which one they do, you can always call them to ask. also, check to see whether PSL300 is a requirement for any of the programs you’re interested in, because that may also be a factor.




1 1.0 course or 2 0.5 courses is…the same…

So I just finished the first semester of my third year, and I think I’ve failed my first course at UofT. How badly do you think this will effect my chances of getting into law school? I know I have to retake the course cause I need it for my POST minor, but because it’s in 3rd year I’m worried about the impression it’ll create for grad school.

Also, is there any difference between getting a high grade in a 1.0 credit course vs a 0.5 credit course. I just want to know if taking a full year course does anything to boost your GPA compared to a half year course?


hey there,

i can’t say for sure how this would affect a law school application. all i can say is the more this grade looks like an anomaly, the better. like, if you get, let’s say, a 45% in one course in your third year, but everything else in your third and fourth years is in the 80s and/or 90s, then the admissions people for law school will likely to see that one mark as a fluke. if it becomes part of a trend however, then it might be cause for concern.

and to answer your second question: if you have a course worth 1.0 credits, that is going to weigh exactly double a 0.5 credit course – as the math would suggest. but there’s no difference, GPA-wise, between taking two half-year courses and getting an 80% in each one and taking one full-year course and getting an 80% in that course. so…you know…just take what you wanna take…u do u bae.




gonna boost my GPA with some 100-levels right quick

Hi aska,
I have a question regarding graduate school. I’ve read many of your posts on your blog and noticed that you said many students take an extra year to boost up their grades for graduate school. Meaning that they would look at your fourth and fifth year right? But wouldn’t the admission office see that you just took an extra year full of electives to boost up your GPA? Do they not care? With that being said the programs I am looking in to are in the sciences, Molecular Genetics at UofT and Pathology Assistant at Western. If I were to do decent in all the classes that they recommend , have relevant research experiences/ independent studisees would staying an extra year; taking a couple of electives to boost up my GPA look bad to the admission office?



hey there,

firstly: not everyone is taking a year “full of electives” during their extra year. in many cases, they’ll be taking courses that are relevant to their program, or even completing requirements for graduate school.

however, a few random elective courses may be just what some people need – but it all depends on the grad program.

for you, “a B+ average or higher in the last two years of a B.Sc. degree to be considered for our M.Sc. program,” so depending on your average right now, it may be in your best interest to take some courses that you anticipate will boost your GPA. however, i wouldn’t recommend just taking as many 100-level courses as you can: that can look a bit bizarre on a transcript. also, there are only too many 100-level courses you can take in a degree: 6.0, to be exact, and you probably used up most of those in your first year anyway.

you want your “boost” year to look pretty similar to your fourth year: 300+ courses mostly, with maybe a couple of electives if need be.

as for how that would be considered by the grad program: obviously, i can’t speak for any admissions committee, but good marks are good marks, and whether they happened in your fourth year or your fifth year shouldn’t make too much difference. however, this is and only can ever be conjecture from me – only the actual grad school/department knows what they want in a potential student, so feel free to contact them as a follow-up.

secondly: the molecular genetics program doesn’t recommend any courses (from what i can tell), so you don’t have to concern yourself with that, as long as you have a background in any of the programs listed.

experience in a wet and dry lab is also important, so the fact that you have research experience can only help.

if you have all of that, taking a few courses to boost your GPA is not the end of the world. you may want to stay in the general area of upper-year biology courses, but other than that, i doubt it will be looked upon negatively.

as always, i recommend you mull this over with someone at your college registrar’s office. as well, it never hurts to talk to the actual department itself about what would be most advantageous for you.



P.S. i won’t be able to answer questions about Western’s program since this is a uoft blog – hence our .utoronto URL – but i can recommend this tumblr blog which is all about Western.



a smorgasbord, and #7 twice


I am a 3rd year Arts & Science student who needs some questions answered!

1.) Is it better to graduate and then come back for a 5th year, or post-pone graduating and do a 5th year?

2.) Will postgrad schools look at my 4th/5th year grades instead of my 3rd/4th (considering I know that they typically look at our last 10)?

3.) If I want to re-do a course, that is one of the prerequisites for my postgrad program, do they ONLY look at the better mark? (and is re-taking courses looked down upon?)

4.) If I have more than one of the prerequisite options for a postgrad program (ex; must have 0.5 credits in X or Y- but I have both), do they just look at the course I received a higher grade or both?

5.) If I want to CR/NCR a course that is not mandatory for my major/minor, can it still be used to satisfy the x amount of courses I need to successfully complete my major/minor?

6.) I am NOT a Psych student, and was told that I am unable to do summer school psych courses because of this. Is that true?

7.) Do summer school courses count towards the last 10 grades that postgrad schools look at?

7.) Does having a transfer credit look bad?



hey there,

a good old omnibus question – i love it. as always, let’s not waste any time and get RIGHT TO IT:

  1. it really depends on your situation. if you want to add a subject POSt to your degree, it may be easier to postpone graduating, get that subject POSt on your transcript, and then graduate. however, if you want to take some courses that are a little bit different from what you did in your degree, or just increase your GPA, you may want to graduate and take an extra year as a non-degree student.
  2. depends on the graduate program. typically, they’re looking at your past year or two of study, as opposed to a specific year. however, you should take a look at the requirements for the specific schools/programs you’re interested in, because it varies. the “last ten credits” rule you quotes doesn’t always hold true – sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less, and sometimes there’s a cooky, alternate system of ranking credits that is non-chronological.
  3. retaking a course is never great, but again: whether they will only consider the higher mark or look at the transcript more holistically depends on the school and program.
  4. see #3.
  5. if you want a course to count towards a subject POSt in any capacity, it can’t be credit/no-credit. even if it’s just, “you need 7.0 PHL courses.”
  6. most psychology courses are behind an enrolment control, which means that only certain students (in this case, students in a psych POSt) can access them. once the summer timetable comes out next term, you can take a look and see if any of the courses would be available to you, but in the meantime, the fall/winter timetable should give you a good indication of what the summer one will probably look like.
  7. typically, yes, but if it’s the last summer directly before entering grad school, that gets kind of dicey. again, you have to contact the specific program in question.
  8. not usually.




shoot for the stars

Hi! Do you have any info on where to find program prerequisites for grad school for astronomy and atrophysics? And also, on whether it is possible to get in with just an major as opposed to a specialist in the subject? Thank you!


hey there,

according to the department of astronomy and astrophysics at the university of toronto, “[s]ince many universities do not offer extensive undergraduate training in astronomy and astrophysics, preparation in physics and mathematics is considered an acceptable background. It is up to the Admissions Committee to determine whether an applicant meets the admission requirements or not.”

they then go on to say: “In terms of prerequisite courses to our graduate program, our advice is to make sure you have a significant number of upper year physics courses, including at the minimum E&M (Electricity and Magnetism) and quantum mechanics.”

obviously, a specialist is going to give you more upper year physics courses, but it is not absolutely required. since terminology, parameters of programs and the availability of programs at different universities differs so greatly, grad schools are rarely able to put such narrow limitations on their application requirements.

what i’m saying is: it doesn’t make much sense to say that a specialist is required to be considered for the program if your university doesn’t even have specialists.

take a look at the rest of the requirements here (requirements for entrance into the M.Sc. are the same as entrance into the direct entry-Ph.D.) and see how you measure up. if it looks like you’re meeting a lot of them, then the difference between a major and a specialist certainly should not discourage you from applying.

you may also want to speak with the department itself. they’re the ones who actually look at the applications, and will probably be able to give you more insider info than i can.

best of luck!



down to the wire

Hello Aska,

I intend to graduate at the end of the academic term, but I want to change my subject post to something that helps me meet degree requirements. The thing is that I can no longer add a subject post on ACORN/Rosi. The next open enrolment date is on April 1, 2016. Will I be able to graduate on time for summer 2016? In other words, can I have the subject post added even though its been 3 days past the last day to add a subject post that meets the 2015 program requirements?

On another note, throughout my undergraduate years, I haven’t really come to know any profs really well, nor have they gotten to know me. Since I plan on graduating and look to apply to graduate schools, how can I get a reference letter from someone? I know it depends on profs, but is there a rule or protocol where I can get a reference letter?

Thank you!


hey there,

subject POSt stuff

if you are graduating in June, any subject POSt changes want to make after the last day to add/change subject POSts have to be through your college registrar’s office. even if you were to wait with April, it’d be no dice. after making a graduation request, your POSts are pretty much frozen.

also, it just makes good sense to talk with your registrar about any changes so close to graduation. they can make sure that you actually meet the requirements for the POSt, so you’re still able to graduate.

as long as you’ve actually completed the requirements for the POSt you’d like to add, your college registrar may be able to add you to the POSt.

HOWEVER, there may be complications in terms of the requirements in the year you’re adding the POSt (versus 2015-2016, or even the year you entered uoft), and it may not be possible to add the POSt so late. so definitely talk with your college registrar about it as soon as you get the chance.

reference letter stuff

i do appreciate how tricky this is. asking for reference letters is probably on my top ten list of things i hate doing. however, if you want to get to graduate school, it’s something you have to do.

that means that you’ll just have to pick the professors who you think you’ve been closest with. you may not be best friends with any of them, but as long as you did pretty well in their class, you prepare a really strong package (sample work, explanation of what you need from them, deadlines, etc.) to allow them to write a reference letter for you, and – ideally – they remember who you are.

then just dive in and ask them. some conversations may be more comfortable than others, but at the end of the day, professors who teach third and fourth year courses KNOW people will want reference letters from them. they expect it. and they do do it. so don’t be so afraid. still respect their time and and don’t expect a ‘yes’ as given, but don’t be AFRAID.

finally, consider attending an info session offered by the school or department you’re interested in. there are a whole bunch of them here, but if the program or school you’re interested in is not listed, you can always contact them and ask if they will be having some kind of event. they will rarely have absolutely nothing in the way of recruitment.

best of luck with it all!



  • Caution! student content ahead

    This site contains candid exchanges between students. Prepare yourself for vivid language and opinions.
  • Categories

  • Archives