Academic Terminology FAQs

Get to know the academic terminology that you will regularly come across.

Subjects of Major and Minor Interest (Program or Major)

A subject of major interest is the area in which you’ll focus and take the majority of courses. For example, a university might have a degree program called “Arts”, but within that program you could study a number of subjects including History, Drama, Economics, English, French, Sociology and Philosophy. When you choose a major, you take several courses in that area over your time in university.

You can also have 1 or 2 “minor” subjects of interest, which require fewer course credits. For example, you could major in History and complete a minor in Political Science.

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Prerequisites are courses that you must successfully complete before you can register in a particular program. These are usually listed in course calendars so you can plan your courses for the next year. For example, the prerequisite to take a second year chemistry course might be a specific chemistry course offered in first year.

A faculty is a way to group similar programs together. For example, a Faculty of Science could include departments of Biology, Chemistry and Kinesiology, while a Faculty of Arts could include History, English and Global Studies. Faculties are usually headed by a Dean. Each Dean has his or her own office and staff who may provide academic advising services or other student services. Professors are also called faculty members so you may sometimes see the word faculty being used to describe a group of professors in a Faculty.

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Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree, also known as an undergraduate degree, generally requires 3 or 4 years of full-time university study to complete. You can enter this degree program directly from secondary school or as a mature learner. There are many different types of undergraduate degrees. Some common examples are a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BSc) and Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA).

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Master’s Degree (MA)

The master’s degree (MA) takes between 1 to 2 years to complete after your bachelor’s degree. Starting a master’s degree requires you to specialize and undertake research in an area of study, often supervised by a professor or university researcher. Some common examples are a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc) and Master of Education (MEd).

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Doctor of Philosophy Degree (PhD)

The doctor of philosophy degree (PhD), also known as a doctoral degree, usually takes between 4 to 6 years to complete after a master’s degree. In a PhD, you will focus even further in 1 area of study. Throughout your doctoral degree, you will undertake an original piece of research that you will present and defend at the completion of your program. You can pursue a PhD in various disciplines both in the arts and sciences and in professional fields that include law, medicine and engineering.

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Professional Program

A professional program includes advanced learning that leads you to a certification or training for a particular profession. Some examples include Physiotherapy, Dentistry, Optometry, Pharmacy and Nursing. Professional programs also include medical school that results in a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and teacher education that results in a Bachelor of Education (BEd).

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Course Syllabus

A course syllabus is an outline and summary of topics that will be covered in your course. Instructors will usually distribute the syllabus on the first day of class, for an overview of the course for the year. Think of it as a road map for weekly readings, course assignments, course expectations, deadlines and exams. The syllabus will include contact information for your instructors and teaching assistants, and may also outline plagiarism (academic misconduct) policies and student codes of conduct.

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The registrar’s office at a university handles student records and class registration, so office staff will be the ones to register you as a university student. They can provide services such as guiding first-year class registration, processing your request to graduate and printing transcripts. At some universities, the registrar’s office also includes the financial aid office.

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Tutorials and Labs

Tutorials are small weekly classes in which teaching assistants (TAs) hold discussions on topics covered in lectures, as well as advice for completing assignments and preparing for tests or exams. For example, in a first-year course of 300 people, you might expect between 15 to 30 students in your tutorial.

In labs, you complete hands-on experiments to apply what you learned in a lecture, which is also led by a TA. These small labs will allow you to undertake research that’s relevant to your class.

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