Charting the course

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By Amit Shilton

Course selection at university is kind of like eating at an all-you-can-eat buffet. You walk through the door with an empty stomach, or in this case an open mind, and fill up.

There are no restrictions at university, no limit to how many different types of food you can try.

Except at Ryerson. Here, the buffet may be open, but it’s like eating with a nutritionist who might not know exactly what he’s talking about.

From engineers to nurses, the school holds the students’ hands and tells them what courses to take and when. And when students do get the chance to choose their own electives, they’re forced to pick from a set of professionally-related and liberal studies tables.

For example, a politics student at Ryerson may take more electives (21) than required courses (20), but has a limited variety in what electives she can take. Meanwhile, a public policy and administration student at York has 10 mandatory courses, 18 credits in specified fields and 18  credits outside of the department altogether that can range from Yiddish to drama. As long as students meet the prerequisites, there is no set order the courses need to be taken in. The University of Toronto works in a similar way.

Don Murdoch, the associate registrar at York, says it’s because Ryerson’s programs are more career-oriented.

“Ryerson programs are a lot more prescribed,” said Murdoch, who couldn’t remember how many courses his school offered, only that there are thousands.

While he admits there are advantages to York’s free-form structure, it’s not always for the best. Although students are able to organize their class schedule better to suit their lives, the onus is on students to ensure their requirements are met to earn their degrees.

Josh Freedman, a political science major at the University of Toronto, can organize his fall class schedule as early as June. That’s because at U of T, students are given a timetable book along with a course calendar, listing when, how often and by whom each course is taught.

Despite being in the third year of his program, Freedman is currently taking a second-year course.

“I like our system,” Freedman said. “You make [your schedule] yourself and it’s really not that hard, it’s kind of fun.”

Deciding which school’s system is better isn’t easy – each has its flaws and advantages. Sometimes, it’s even nice having Ryerson ensure you don’t screw up the process. But it is some food for thought.

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