Design Your Education
Use your years at U of T to set yourself apart from the crowd. Make your degree unique by taking your lessons outside the classroom with research, travel and alternative coursework. U of T has many opportunities for upper-year students to take an active role in their learning styles.
Start by looking at your degree so far and note which courses were the most engaging for you. Was it the content, professor or teaching techniques that drew you in? Identify what you are passionate about and focus on how you can use that passion to drive some independent learning in your last two years.
Community-Engaged Learning is an excellent way to get involved in your community while earning academic credit. U of T and partner organizations design courses based on the needs of the organization and the academic goals of the course. The Centre for Community Partnerships lists all current Community-Engaged Learning opportunities. Check out the list to see how you could fit a service learning course into your subject POSt and timetable.
Experiential Learning gets out of the classroom doing hands-on work in your field. Only select departments offer experiential learning or internship courses. You may travel for an intensive week of field work, or do an internship part time over the course of a semester. Check your department website to find out if there are any experiential learning courses in your major or minor.
Undergraduate Research can give you a deeper knowledge of your field and help set you up for successful graduate school applications. Undergraduate research can be essential for degrees in research-focused disciplines and demonstrates initiative in students from any discipline. Arts & Science lists all Life Science research opportunities. There is also the Undergraduate Research Fund that gives money to undergraduate researchers twice each year. Other research opportunities can be found directly through your faculty or department.
International experiences can open you up to new cultures and new learning styles. The Centre for International Experience hosts exchange programs all over the globe. You can participate in a course, internship or research opportunity. U of T offers a unique Joint Minor program with different universities around the world. Travelling is a great way to understand to meet like-minded people and understand new ways to approach the topics you’re studying. Going to another country can help set you apart from other job applicants, and might even give you an idea of where you would like to work one day.
Fourth-Year Thesis Project
Fourth-Year Thesis projects show your ability to self-direct and communicate your ideas. Each department offers 400-level courses that are thesis projects. You will need to be in good academic standing and have a supervisor who is willing to support your thesis. This is why it’s especially important to get to know your professors in second and third year.
Independent Study courses happen in each faculty at the 400-series level. They require special permission from the department head or college principal. Trinity, Victoria, New, Innis and University Colleges all offer their own independent study courses. The Kinesiology and Architecture Faculties also offer independent study courses. Arts & Science students can find independent study courses in your major or minor courses through the Course Calendar.
Look out for new opportunities on your U of T webmail and Blackboard. Many faculties let students know about new alternative courses through these communication channels, as well as on department websites. If you have a great connection with one of your professors, visit them during office hours to chat about why you’re passionate about the course content. They may be able to guide your desire to learn more, or know of upcoming opportunities in the department. Most independent courses require a supervisor or departmental approval. Start by talking to your professor about your interests and they may know how to connect you with different people in the department who are doing similar research. It is always a good idea to make an effort to chat with professors that inspire you to learn more.
Deadlines and prep
It’s never too early to look for opportunities to customize your degree. Depending which format you’re interested in it can take 2-6 months to sign up for an outside the classroom course. Application deadlines for International Experiences are about six months in advance of your trip. For Community-Engaged Learning, you simply choose the course on ROSI/ACORN during your course selection. Most upper-year independent study or research courses require approval in the term preceding the course. Check your course calendar for specific requirements.
Research and independent study courses require special approval from the department or professor. Often you will need to find your own supervisor so it’s especially important to get to know your professors in first and second year. If you have trouble finding a supervisor, contact the department or explore faculty research interests and then approach faculty members whose research interests you.
Once you start the application, you will probably have to write about why you want to take the course, and what it will benefit you in the larger picture of your degree. To make a convincing statement think about some of these options:
Do you want to do graduate research in the same or similar department? If so, why, and what kind of research? Many graduate departments prefer to fund people who have already done some research in their career
What courses have you taken in the past that you did well in and want to know more about? Self-guided courses require you to be very passionate!
What practical or work-related experience do you have in the field of this course? How will that experience enhance your coursework, and visa versa? Demonstrate that you understand how to apply your research
Other opportunities may require interviews, portfolios or another selection process. Don’t be shy to talk to your supervisor or professors in the department about what the review process will be.
Check the Career Centre for upcoming events and workshops on writing personal statements and giving a great interview.
How to succeed in your course
Whatever type of alternative learning you chose, these courses can set you apart from a sea of graduates. Your self-guided learning demonstrates your ability to identify your passions and take initiative. To get the most out of your experience, draw up some goals for yourself during the term. Some ideas:
Make a connection with a coworker. Chat in the lunchroom about why you’re there, and what you’re passionate about. You can also ask people in other departments if you can take them for a coffee to pick their brain about the different roles within the organization
Understand your evaluation methods. The university requires you to complete certain academic criteria in order to get the credit. Ensure you ask questions and understand the assessments that will be part of your course
Keep a journal of what you do and learn each day. This will help you remember your experience so you can write your academic response and talk about the experience in detail in future interviews or elsewhere
Be mindful of your time. You may chose to engage in a course you’re very passionate about, and feel motivated to put in a lot of extra time into the exciting project. This is great, but acknowledge that you have many commitments as a student. Check in with your supervisor if you are feeling overwhelmed. They can help you develop coping skills and potentially tweak the curriculum you created
Enjoy your time learning outside the classroom, and keep exploring your education options. There are many opportunities to continue learning at U of T and beyond. If you need help representing your experience on a resume, make an appointment at the Career Centre.