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Undergraduate Study

Newly Admitted Students

SMC Office of the Registrar and Student Services


July 7, 2014

Greetings from the Office of the Registrar and Student Services at St. Michael’s College.

1. More about determining the best combination of courses for first year.

In the last bulletin I asked you to start identifying courses which you want to take in first year. This involves a fair amount of time working your way through programs of potential interest and then determining what is the optimal selection of courses which will keep as many doors open as possible.

This ought to be the main consideration when you are selecting what courses you will take next year.

There is also the question of how many courses you will take. This may seem pretty obvious. 5.0 courses is a conventional full course load and your tuition is fixed whether you take 3, 4 or 5 courses. The natural inclination is to take 5.0 courses.

However, in some cases, there are good reasons for taking fewer than 5.0 courses.

There are at least four considerations which you have to keep in mind. They are - knowledge of English, functional preparation, other obligations, and health.

Knowledge of English

If you are not yet at home in an English language environment, you should consider taking a reduced course load. If you are not fully at ease reading text books in English, listening to lectures in English, making notes in English, writing reports and exams and essays in English or if you aren’t familiar with the informal language of everyday speech, then you ought to consider taking three or four courses rather than five. It could easily take the better part of a full academic year for you to feel sufficiently at ease in English that a course load of 5.0 is reasonable. This, of course, is entirely a personal decision.

Look under English Language Help at the Academic Support site

Functional preparation

You have to make sure that you are functionally prepared to take certain first year courses.

You need the proper academic background. The first year courses which have high school pre-requisites are the four standard introductory science courses – biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics. In the case of these four science courses, the important point to bear in mind is that your preparation has to be strong and current. That would normally mean a grade of at least 80% in the past year. This is not a rule but it is sound advice. These are demanding courses and students who lack a solid foundation are unlikely to do well.

No other first year courses have a high school prerequisite.

Other obligations

Being a successful full time university student is like having a full time job – 35-40 hours a week, with the possibility of lots of overtime. By full time student, I mean a conventional 5.0 course load. Lectures and labs normally account for 15-20 hours a week. The other 20 hours ought to be devoted to studying, reviewing, making and revising notes, researching and writing.

However, many students have other commitments like salaried work, volunteer work, family responsibilities or extra-curricular activities. Everyone has to make a decision about how to allocate their time. The important point is to be realistic about what you can accomplish well and to strike a reasonable balance amongst all your obligations.


If you have a medical problem – of any sort - or a learning disability, then this fact has to be taken into account. Medical problems can be temporary or chronic. Whatever the case there is the possibility of reasonable accommodation at the university as long as you identify yourself in a timely manner. We don’t recommend that students with medical problems or learning disabilities tough things out on their own even if they were able to do so in high school.

The university has an office of Accessibility Services which is dedicated to assisting students who have medical problems or learning disabilities. On the St. George campus there are roughly 1500 students registered with the service. It has an excellent reputation but it is extremely busy so it is important that students register early in order to receive the full benefit of the service. June is an excellent time to register for assistance in the fall semester.

Remember, even with accommodation available, it may still be prudent to enroll in a reduced course load. Accessibility advisors can offer guidance on this question.

There is no time limit for completing your degree

Remember that there is nothing necessary about taking 5.0 courses. It is conventional but it is not required and many students take fewer or – more precisely – many students end up with fewer by the end of the year. If you know early on that you simply don’t have the time to devote to 5.0 courses, then why not begin with a reduced load? 

It is always possible to drop a course along the way but a course dropped at the half way point represents time and energy which could have been devoted to other courses. If you are going to take a reduced course load, then you are better off to come to that conclusion sooner rather than later.

It is not a race to get out of the university. Sometimes an extra semester or an extra year when considered in the context of the next 30-35 years of work is not all that much. I understand the cost associated with taking more than four years to finish so I don’t suggest this lightly but I have met too many students who take on more than they can handle successfully. This is one of the most common causes of poor academic progress.

2. FAQs 

Several people have asked: What is my student number?

It is the same as the applicant number which appears on the offer of admission. The ten digit numbers begin with 10.

Bulletin No 5 will look at three interesting opportunities available only to first year students – The College One courses including the SMC Cornerstone course, First Year Seminars and First Year Learning Communities.  

Damon Chevrier