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Q&A with American McGill Arts Student

canadiantexancanadiantexan Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
edited March 2013 in McGill University
Hi everyone,

I am an American first-year at McGill in U1 Arts. I am completing a B.A. double major in computer science and art history. I live at Douglas Hall. I am very active at the campus radio station and participate in McGill Christian Fellowship events.

I remember last spring I couldn't find very much on what it was like to be a student at McGill (particularly the school's culture), so I figured now that I'm here I could be of some help. Feel free to ask me anything about life as a first-year, AP credits/ advanced standing, Arts classes, residences, Montreal/McGill culture, campus extracurriculars, adjusting to winter or anything else you can think of!
Post edited by canadiantexan on

Replies to: Q&A with American McGill Arts Student

  • seachge333seachge333 Registered User Posts: 21 New Member

    Thanks for offering this opportunity! My daughter was accpeted at McGill which we are thrilled about! I am wondering how it is for American students to adjust to the academics there - eg, my daughter went to a US system highshool ( not IB) and she is used to a US educational system only. Do you think it's a big adjustment to acclimate to the European sytem and the general approach to education, (above and beyond what adjustment to a US college would be)?

    If you have time, I'd also love to hear any other thoughts you have about the school ( possitive and less positive, if applicable)

    Thanks so much!
  • canadiantexancanadiantexan Registered User Posts: 6 New Member

    You will definitely be having a different experience than your friends who go to liberal arts colleges. The general approach to a university degree here is that you have already decided where you want to specify, and you're here to take classes only in that department. There is definitely more freedom to take electives in Arts, but for Science and Engineering your major leaves you with only a couple of courses for electives. Fortunately, however, McGill offers a Freshman program for everyone who enters as a U0 (most American and Canadian high school students, or anyone with no advanced standing) which makes the transition very easy. This U0 year is basically a year to discover your interests and get prerequisites out of the way before you declare your major and get into more specific courses in U1-U3. I entered as a U1 and had no idea what I wanted to study, so last semester I wished I was a U0, but now I feel very comfortable in my department and have transitioned very well.

    Overall, I am really really happy I chose McGill. The university has such an international focus and the people I've met here have really broadened my horizons. Almost everyone I know is (at least) bilingual, and most of my friends are either from other countries or have lived abroad for a significant part of their lives. I feel like Montreal is the perfect mix of a European and American city, and the music and art culture here is really great. I came from a tiny private high school, so the size of McGill was pretty overwhelming. It's really easy to find smaller communities within the thousands of people, however, especially in residence.

    Sometimes, I feel like I'm just a number at McGill, especially in some of my bigger classes or when I see an advisor. If you're not willing to make an effort, McGill is kind of designed to crank out degrees, but I don't think it has to be that way at all-- you just have to decide to care. McGill definitely doesn't baby you, but I think that's a good thing! Having to take care of myself really made me grow up much more than my other friends who attended American colleges.
  • hickton45hickton45 Registered User Posts: 51 Junior Member
    Could you elaborate some on the difficulty of Arts? I've read many horror stories about how it is nearly impossible to get what would be considered a very good GPA at an American school. Is this true? How would you estimate the distribution of GPAs for Arts? If it's any help I'm planning on East Asian Studies and Econ.

    Thanks a lot, these threads are great.
  • canadiantexancanadiantexan Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
    Those stories are true in that McGill does NOT inflate grades, but I have a few friends who have 4.0s. You have to work pretty hard to do well in a class, but getting an A is usually achievable. Because Arts is such a huge faculty, there's a lot of diversity in the difficulty of classes too-- it really depends on the class and the professor.

    A really great thing that McGill does is on your transcript, they print the mark you got in the class as well as the class average. If your GPA isn't great but you were in a bunch of really rigorous courses, your hard work will show on your transcript.

    For distribution, I think Arts aims for the median of the class to be a B or B- (grading scale is here: Grading and Grade Point Averages (GPA) | Programs, Courses and University Regulations - McGill University ).

    Econ is tough, but there's a lot of people in it so you'll have lots of friends to study with! :)
  • Uni2013Uni2013 Registered User Posts: 31 Junior Member
    Thank you so much for this opportunity! :) I will be joining the Faculty of Arts next year and also plan on getting involved in the Christian Fellowship!

    1. Do you know anything about La Citadelle? Like the general atmosphere/how things are going because it's so new (any problems etc.)?

    2. How do you decide which classes to get credit for with AP credits (I haven't decided what to major in yet...but the process with APs is confusing me a little)

    3. When I looked up the extracurriculars on the website, I found a few different Christian fellowships listed. What are the differences? What have you guys done this year?

    4. Do you know how easy/difficult it is to get a job on campus? What jobs are available?

    5. Have there been any needs for more formal attire (I'm trying to figure out if I need to buy any new clothes)? my next question is a little weird haha but I don't really like a whole lot of layering, so how many jackets would you recommend (like thick, in the middle, and light)?

  • canadiantexancanadiantexan Registered User Posts: 6 New Member

    Awesome! Congratulations :)

    1. Yeah, my close friend from frosh lives there! It's definitely the nicest of the hotel rezes (there's a flat screen TV with cable AND a bathtub in every single room...) and the kitchens are really nice! My friend isn't very happy there though, he says that the lack of common areas on each floor make it really hard to create community (but I think that's the case with all hotel residences). If you're set on living in a hotel rez, I would definitely recommend Citadelle over New Rez or any of the others though.

    2. You don't decide, there's a chart that tells you which AP scores correspond to which classes (and whether you get 3 or 6 university credits for the AP test). If you have enough credits (24 i think), you have fulfilled your Freshman Requirements and are now a U1 departmental student (so you declare a major and start working toward that). Don't worry if you don't have your major totally narrowed down, just pick classes that line up with what you think you're interested in, and whatever you don't choose will count as elective credits.

    3. I just went to the first small group I found (through McGill Christian Fellowship) and I've been really happy. I'm not quite sure what the differences are, but there's a street fair in August where every club is available to answer any questions you may have.
    The Christian groups on campus often work on a bunch of events together throughout the year.

    Do you know which Frosh you want to do? If you want to get connected immediately with Christians at McGill, I would strongly recommend doing Fish Frosh (it's one of the Alternative Froshes). All the Christian groups on campus and some local churches get together to organize it. My friends who did it all had really great experiences.

    4. I'm not sure. I don't know any first-year who has an on-campus job, but it seems fairly straightforward if you want one. In each residence, there are older students called Floor Fellows who are super helpful when it comes to stuff like that-- just ask yours in August and they will definitely show you how to get one.

    As for available jobs, I know students work in the cafeterias (as long as you have prior food service experience). You can work at the bookstore also. My friend works in the graduate offices, but she's not a first year so I'm not sure if that'll be possible for you.

    5. I brought a pair of heels and one cocktail dress and that's been sufficient (I've worn them about three times, mostly for rez events). If you're a guy, you should bring a suit if you have one, but it's not necessary; a nice collar shirt and slacks will suffice.

    For jackets: most people have a huge Canada Goose that they wear December-March, a light coat for early fall and spring, and lots of sweaters for everything in between. A wool coat is nice for warmer winter days too.

    McGill is a really great place, I hope you enjoy it this fall!
  • Uni2013Uni2013 Registered User Posts: 31 Junior Member
    Thanks for the quick reply :) I'm really excited to go and am driving up to visit during my spring break next week!

    I was mainly confused with the AP credits because, for example, they give you credit for an ECON1XX for Macro and Micro, but when I looked up economics classes on the course listing online, I didn't find any "ECON1XX."

    What exactly is a Frosh? xD I've been seeing it everywhere but I don't exactly know what it is...haha

    I don't plan on working during my first year since I still want a chance to explore everything available, but I just wanted to know what's available so thanks ^^

    Would you say that a lack of community would help one stay a little more focused on school work? :O I plan on using my first year to establish a better study/work ethic...haha

    Also, how big is McGill Christian Fellowship? Is it easy to get close to people?
  • canadiantexancanadiantexan Registered User Posts: 6 New Member

    Ah yes, 1XX stuff. My friends and I all thought this was super confusing too. So if the corresponding class is "ECON 1XX," that means it doesn't line up with a specific course-- you just get credit for a 100-level Econ course. If you only have a few AP credits and you're still U0, this means that you've filled your Social Science requirement for your Freshman Program (in the General Option of B.A. Freshman Program | Arts OASIS - McGill University). If you have enough AP credits and will enter as a U1, the corresponding course is pretty insignificant-- it just means you've eaten up some elective credits.

    Between move-in day and the first day of classes, McGill hosts all these events to make first-years feel welcome at the university-- we call this "Frosh Week." There's some info sessions and orientation stuff in the beginning of the week, but the biggest of these events is definitely Frosh. This is a really fun time of year! I felt like I was a character in "The Sun Also Rises" when they go to Spain.

    There are two kinds of Frosh you can sign up for: Faculty and Alternative Frosh.

    About 90% of people choose to do their Faculty Frosh. The Faculty Frosh you do depends on which Faculty you're in (there's Arts Frosh, Science Frosh, Engineering/Nursing, and Education I think). You're divided into groups of about 30 with 2-4 frosh leaders and it's basically 3 days of nonstop pub-crawling, power hour-ing, clubbing, and other drinking-centric activities from 8am-2am every day. A lot of people love it because you get all your super wild partying out of your system before classes start, but others didn't like it because they felt like it was trashy and impersonal. Generally, you don't stay friends with the people from your frosh group.

    But if endless alcohol isn't your thing (or you're under 18), don't worry!! There's a bunch of really cool Alternative Froshes, sponsored by different clubs on campus, that cater to specific interests. Some of the major ones are Rad Frosh, a social justice and activism frosh sponsored by QPIRG McGill. You listen to panels, watch cool documentaries, and hang out with radical people (I've heard mostly good reviews about my friends' experiences, just be sure to choose your panels wisely). There's a Fish Frosh where you can meet other Christians and explore the city and stuff. There's Outdoor Frosh, sponsored by the McGill Outdoor Club, where you can go cycling, hiking, canoeing, or whitewater kayaking for 3 days in the wilderness. They also have a Residential Option where you stay at the MOC Clubhouse (the club owns a house in a town an hour north of Montreal) and do a day of rock climbing, a day of hiking, and a day of whitewater rafting. This is what I did-- I could not recommend it more!! Seriously. If you're remotely interested in seeing the great Canadian outdoors (and who isnt?) or if you want to meet a really cool group of people who stay your best friends throughout the year (and who doesn't?), DO OUTDOOR FROSH.

    There's more Alternative Froshes (a Muslim Frosh, a Jewish frosh, Theater Frosh, some others I think) that you can ask your Floor Fellow about when you move in. The religious froshes are dry. Most of the others don't have a stance, meaning drinking is allowed, but they won't be encouraging/providing alcohol. Most people don't know about Alternative Froshes when they do Faculty Frosh, and really regret not doing something else.

    No, I think that finding a tight community is really really important to your happiness at McGill regardless. Because the school is so large, it's really easy to get overwhelmed and feel isolated in the mass of people, so you need that smaller community to feel like you have a place at McGill. The people I've talked to that are happiest with their rez experience have been from Douglas (we're known for having a really close community), with other dorm-style rezes in second place. The shared complaint among ALL my hotel rez friends is that they feel like there's nowhere for people to conveniently congregate, so everyone just stays in their rooms and isolates themselves. I'm sure this isn't true for everyone, but it's a common complaint. I mean, if you feel like having no friends in rez will help you academically, maybe hotel living is for you. But I personally have no problem with getting my work done at the library in isolation and then hanging out with my best friends at night as a reward.

    I think there's about 250 people, but I've never seen us all together. There are 10 people in my small group and I'm super close with those 10, but I haven't been TOO involved with MCF outside that. If finding a strong Christian community is really important to you, I would recommend doing Fish Frosh. It immediately connects you with great local churches, other Christian first-years (which are very hard to find if you're looking on your own), as well as cool upper-years who can really help you out. If you decide to do a different frosh, however, you can still totally get involved later on.
  • Uni2013Uni2013 Registered User Posts: 31 Junior Member
    ok thanks :) that information really helped! :) I'll have taken about thirteen APs once I enter this year so I guess I'll need to choose wisely xD

    one more question haha:
    I have never had a phone and am thinking about getting one when I enter school. How do I go about getting a plan? Are there any that can work in the US without being too overly pricey? (Basically, can you share about having a cell phone and about the different plans available that you know of?)
  • EdDaltonEdDalton Registered User Posts: 32 Junior Member

    plans here with a contract usually run 3 years in length. there are plans that cater to Americans (e.g 200 minutes north american talk time per month) so explore your options when you get here. the major providers are bell, rogers, telus. of course, if you do not want a plan, you can choose to pay month to month but it will cost you more in the long run.

    to keep it short, there are definitely plans that allow you to call back to the US but you need to shop around when you get here. otherwise, just get a cheap plan and buy one of those calling cards from the deps. these cards allow you to call internationally for real cheap.
  • Uni2013Uni2013 Registered User Posts: 31 Junior Member
    is it possible to text to us cell phones? :O are there any plans that include this?
  • canadiantexancanadiantexan Registered User Posts: 6 New Member
    @Uni2013 I don't think you can choose which AP scores you use, just send em all to McGill and they'll let you know where you stand :) The classes you get credit for will appear on your unofficial transcript as soon as McGill has processed your scores.

    As for phones, everything @EdDalton said is accurate. I would suggest getting a Canadian number because your friends won't like you for having to pay long distance/ international rates every time they text or call you. Unfortunately, you're going to have international rates if you use your phone at Christmas, but there's just no way around it that I know of. I used an old phone/sim card and just kept my Canadian phone off.

    I would recommend getting a a phone with internet capabilities and using that for all international communication (instead of add-ons from a Canadian phone company). If you have an iPhone, iMessage lets you FaceTime and text internationally for free as long as you both have WiFi-- that's what I do. Most smartphones have apps available where you can call and text (WhatsApp, Viber, etc.) so you can use those too.

    There will be huge tents on campus during Frosh Week with banks and phone companies that offer good deals for first-time customers.
  • Uni2013Uni2013 Registered User Posts: 31 Junior Member
    so even if I will have well over the maximum amount of credit they give for AP scores, the school still chooses what courses I receive credit for? o.o do they take into consideration what your major is? when do I declare a major if I can go in as U1? when does class enrollment start? when does the school get the AP scores and decide what classes to give credit for? how (if at all) would it affect my course selections?

    sorry for asking so many questions haha ^^;;
  • petitbleupetitbleu Registered User Posts: 57 Junior Member
    Hi! Thanks for doing this Q&A. Would you say the Arts classes are challenging? I've heard that McGill is generally stronger/harder in the sciences, but the low-ish average GPA makes me think that if this is "easy", what must taking science there be like?! ;)

    Is there lots of wild partying at McGill? And if there is, is it possible to have fun if you don't like to drink?

    Also, I'm not going to be annoying and turn this into a "chance me" thread, but would you feel comfortable giving your general GPA in high school? People have told me everything from you have a good chance getting into Arts if you have a B+ to you have to have an A to even be considered.

    Aaand lastly . . . Is it possible to get a spot in Douglas if you don't have a scholarship? I've heard that almost everyone there has a scholarship, as it's a pretty popular dorm - does this concur with your experiences?

    Argh, lots of questions. Thanks again for doing this!
  • petitbleupetitbleu Registered User Posts: 57 Junior Member
    Aaand I just realized this thread is 2 years older than I thought it was. I really need to start reading dates, don't I . . .
This discussion has been closed.