First Year: The Small Classes at U of T – blogUT

You’ve just received your offer of admission from the University of Toronto. Congrats! While you may feel excited and hopeful now, there’s still time for you to encounter the dread and anxiety experienced by most students about to start university. You might even be missing high school already. Never fear! U of T knows just how to handle this – let me introduce to you… the seminar course.


I see you.

Seminar courses are small-size classes that allow students to develop the necessary skills  for university by means of interaction and discussion. They are designed around a funky topic that the professor is highly knowledgeable about, but classes are usually loosely structured so that, due to the amount of discussion in a seminar course, they are tailored to the students’ strengths and interests. A list for the 2011-2012 seminars and the Vic Pathway seminars can be obtained here and here, respectively.  As a newly-admitted Victoria College student, taking a seminar course (a 199 half or full year course or a Vic Pathway seminar) is necessary to fulfill the first year small class requirement. Note: not all colleges have this requirement. However, I highly recommend that first year students enroll in a seminar course, regardless of what college they’re a part of.  The seminar I enrolled in was XBC199Y: Roll over Beethoven – Music, Media, and the Marketplace.

Not only do seminar courses give students an opportunity to develop personal relationships with their peers and professor, but most seminar courses are designed to have a lighter course load in comparison to other first year courses to prevent first years from feel overwhelmed by too much work. There is also the added plus which appeals to just about every student – most seminars do not have a final exam.

Every first year student here at U of T is bound to take one or more enormous class comprising of well over 500 students, and often over 1000. Seminar classes have the intimate environment of a high school class where students can interact and participate. In a seminar class, a significant proportion of the student’s mark will usually be based on their classroom participation. This can be a refreshing change from bigger classes, where it is virtually impossible to have class discussions. My seminar was structured so that, each week, a small group of students gave a presentation on a chapter from the reading package, which would then be followed by a discussion. This allowed me to hone and refine my presentation skills. Several of the more interesting topics led to heated arguments among us that lasted the entire class! Not to mention, a lot of time was shamelessly spent talking about Justin Bieber. No one in the class did own up to be a fan, which is probably why the singer was the base of our jokes almost every week.

The environment of a seminar course is very different from regular lecture-style classes. Seminar courses give students an opportunity to make friends easily as students see each other every week, as opposed to in bigger classes where you may meet someone and never see them again due to the sheer size of the class. There is also the  benefit of being able to get to know your professor. While many professors in large classes make an effort to provide office hours, seminar courses provide an opportunity to connect with the professor in a way that is not possible in a large class. I can praise Professor Brock MacDonald for hours for the effort he put in to enrich my class. Seminar courses allow students to get the personal guidance from professors we all seek, and the professor actually knows your name – a feat almost impossible to achieve in freshman year with classes in Con Hall. Most students in my class developed an established relationship with our professor. Seminar courses give students the opportunity to have a relationship with their professor not only for the duration of the class, but also for the future. My professor was kind enough to act as a reference for me for a leadership position I applied to on campus. This is imperative for many senior students who need references for jobs or graduate school and do not personally know any of their past professors. Seminars give first year students the opportunity to establish key faculty contacts early in their undergrad career.

Seminars provide the advantages of a high mark (wouldn’t you love that 4.0?), a cool professor, and a small class with familiar fellow students. A large number of first year students fail to utilize this great tool provided by the university to better their first year experience. So, first years, go ahead and enroll in a seminar course! I guarantee you will not fall asleep during this class.


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