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Preparing For University

Answers to the most common questions about University Studies in Quebec

Purpose of this page

This webpage provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding university-level studies in Quebec. The information on this page is relevant for new college students in their first semester as well as for students in all proceeding semesters.


Who is this for?
  • If you are not a Quebec CEGEP student (an Ontario high school student for example), some of the information on this webpage may be different for you.
  • The information on this webpage is exclusive to the Quebec education system.
  • Some universities may use different terminologies than the ones we have used.
How to naviagte this web page

Due to the successive structure in which the information on this web page was designed, it is required that you read each dropdown box sequentially (one after the other) in order to understand the words and terminology of information lower on the page.

Visual Elements

  =  Tips and/or advice


   You should consider your university studies in your first semester of college because your time at college will play a major role in your university options!


Let’s start at the beginning: What are degrees and programs?

1. What are educational levels and degrees?

In Quebec’s higher education system, upon completion of a DEC program, a CEGEP student will advance to what is called undergraduate-level studies. Undergraduate studies will lead to the attainment of a bachelor’s degree. Most undergraduate programs in Quebec take between 3 – 4 years to complete, depending on the program selected as well as the situation of the students.

Once a student has completed their undergraduate studies, they may advance to graduate-level studies, which generally leads to the attainment of a master’s degree and then a doctorate degree. However, there are other graduate-level studies that a student could undertake, such as a graduate certificate for example.


You will often see “BA” (which stands for Bachelor of Arts), “MA” (which stands for Master of Arts), or Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) beside someone’s name in an academic or professional setting. These letters are an abbreviation of the degree(s) that the individual has obtained and indicates that this person is a graduate of a university program.

University programs are grouped into what are known as “faculties.” Each faculty represents a general category of learning such as Art, Engineering, or Education. So, when an individual graduates from a university program, their degree is indicative of their level of education. For example, John Smith, BSc would indicate this individual obtained a bachelor’s degree (B) from the faculty of science (Sc).

2. What is a program?

Similar to the Health Science or Early Childhood Education programs at TAV, a program refers to the title of the subject matter that you want to learn in university. Examples are Political Science, Anthropology, Electrical Engineering, or Photography. In other words, the program is the name of the studies that you will spend the majority of your time at university learning.

   Some universities may refer to a program as an academic plan.

3. What are program types?

Programs are generally offered as different “types.” The type depends on various things. For example, the difference between a major and a minor depends on how many program-specific courses you will complete, or an honours program will require that you maintain a minimum grade throughout your studies.

The most conventional program types are*:

  • Major
  • Minor
  • Honours
  • Specialization
  • Co-op

   Terminologies may differ depending on the university you are applying to.

Program types: What is a major?

A major refers to the subject matter in which you will spend the majority of your studies learning.

For example, if you are enrolled in a Psychology program, your major is psychology and you will be generally required to complete 14 (out of 30) courses related to the study of psychology*.

When you graduate from university, your major will be indicative of your professional specialization. For example, if your major was psychology in university, you may apply to job offers that require the candidate to have a Psychology background.

   *Some programs may require that the student complete more or less than 14 courses to complete a major. Be sure to consult the program’s structure on the university’s website.

Program types: What is a minor?

A minor is a set of complementary courses, from one specific subject matter, that replaces most elective courses (see description of elective courses below).

For example, if your major is Computer Science, you may want to minor in Marketing so that, one day, you can start your own website design business. The knowledge you acquire in your marketing courses will complement the advanced knowledge you learned about computer programming and will allow you to run your business successfully.

In most universities, because of the large number of students, it can sometimes be difficult to enroll in advanced courses (300 or 400 level) that are outside of your program because either 1) you will be required to complete certain introductory-level (200-level) courses first, or 2) be enrolled in the department, or 3) be registered for a minor in the department. For this reason, if there is a subject matter that interests you, it is recommended that you register for a minor in the program in order to be given priority when it comes to building your semester schedules.

   Not all programs offer a minor option, check the program’s overview on the university’s website.

  Completing a minor is a great way to differentiate yourself from other candidates after you graduate from university and begin searching for a job. Completing a minor is indicative that you have advanced knowledge of that subject matter.

  You do not have to choose a minor at the time of your application. You can always decide to take on a minor later in your university studies.

Program types: What is an honours program?

An honours program is an enriched learning experience that often requires high grades in order to be offered admission. Honours programs are often the preferred background to be considered for admission to graduate-level studies.

  • These programs may require that the student maintain a minimum grade average to remain in the program
  • Graduates from an honours program are often more sought-after by employers in the science, math, and finance industries

  Not all programs offer the honours option, check the program’s overview on the university’s website.

Program types: What is a specialization program?

These are programs that allow students to take more courses than a typical major program would allow and fewer elective courses so that they can become specialized in that subject matter.

For example, if you are enrolled in a Communication Studies Specialization program, you will be allowed to take 20 (out of 30) courses related to the study of communication as opposed to 14 courses in a regular major.

  Some universities may use different terminology for this program type.

Program types: What is a co-op program?

A co-op program allows the student to receive university credits for workplace internships. As opposed to learning in a classroom, co-op programs give the student the opportunity to work for real organizations, within their industry, in order to learn practical skills.

  Not all programs offer the co-op option, check the program’s overview on the university’s website.

  Co-op programs are an excellent opportunity for a student to secure a job after their studies. If the employer is satisfied with your work as an intern, they may offer you a job after graduation.

Demystifying university terminology

Now that we have covered the general terms that every university student should know, let’s discuss some of the more specific terms. Although something like a “course” or a “credit” may seem obvious, it’s always helpful to clarify these terms so that they are not confused or incorrectly identified as a synonym.

4. What is a course?

A course is a series of new topics that are taught to a group of students, by an instructor, within a specific amount of classes.

For example, you may take an Introduction to Canadian Politics course in university. University courses will generally lead to the obtainment of 3 credits toward your degree.

    Note that a course is different than a class.

5. What is a credit?

In order to graduate from a university program in Quebec, you need to successfully complete a certain number of credits. Credits are a numeric value that a student obtains upon the successful completion of an academic course. For example, if you complete an Introduction to Psychology course, you will obtain 3 university credits.

If you are a graduate of a Quebec DEC program, most university programs will require that you complete 90 university credits in order to graduate. However, note that some programs may require that you complete 120 credits. It is always best to read the program’s overview on the university’s website and, if need be, contact the university’s assistance center.

6. What is an elective course?

“Electives” are courses that most undergraduate university students are required to take that are outside of their major concentration.

The purpose of elective courses is to allow students to explore subject matter outside of their major. For example, if you are in a Communication Studies program, you may decide to take an Introduction to Geography elective course because geography is something that you have always been interested in learning more about.

Undergraduate students will often complete more elective courses than program-specific courses. However, a student may decide to select a minor, which will substitute most of the elective courses. Choosing a minor is a popular choice because if you don’t have a minor, you may have to undertake introductory courses in various faculties.

7. What are General education Courses?

These are specific elective courses that are regulated by the Government of Quebec and that university undergraduate students must take and complete in order to receive their diploma*.

  Some programs may be exempt from general education courses.

  Upon receiving an offer of admission to a university, you should meet with your program’s academic advisor to discuss course selections, for help with schedule-building, and to ensure you’re taking the right courses.

8. What is a class?

People often make the mistake of believing that a class and a course are the same things, which they are not.

A class is a lesson that is given by an instructor that covers a specific topic. For example, you may have 15 classes for 1 course within a semester. Classes are usually successive in nature and build off of knowledge and concepts previously introduced.

9. What is an Intensive Course?

An intensive course has the same definition as a course, however, it is generally spread out over a longer period of time (2 semesters instead of 1) and they generally introduce the student to more material. Intensive courses will also usually lead to the obtainment of 6 credits, as opposed to 3 credits.

10. What are university semesters like?

Same as the college-level, a university semester generally consists of 15 weeks that take place either in the Fall or Winter seasons. The Fall semester usually begins in September and ends in early December while the Winter semester usually begins in January and ends in early April.

The major distinction between CEGEP studies and university studies is that a full course load for a university student is 4 or 5 courses per semester whereas, in CEGEP, it is the norm to be taking 7 or 8 courses per semester. It is not uncommon for 1st-year undergraduate students to feel overwhelmed with the workload that a university course demands in comparison to a CEGEP course.

11. How does the grading system work?

As opposed to the R-score system in college, the university grading system works a little differently. Your grades are submitted as a letter value as opposed to a numeric one. In other words, the highest grade you may receive is an A+, whereas if you fail an assignment or a course, you receive an F.

At the end of each semester, you will receive a final grade for each of the courses you took within that semester. These grades will then be calculated and will determine your GPA (grade point average).

Note that this is a simplified explanation and the grading system varies by program. For more information, you should generally be able to visit the Registrar’s section of the university’s website.

12. A Faculty and the Faculty

A term that tends to confuse many 1st-year university students is the word “faculty.” 

A faculty: Because universities are composed of a massive amount of people, the institutions require more structure in order to properly organize their programs, departments, and groups. With that said, a faculty is generally composed of many academically related programs all grouped under one title. For example, all of the art and science programs that a university offers may be called the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Within this faculty, there may be 20 – 30 programs.

The faculty: This is different from a faculty. In higher education, the faculty refers exclusively to the teaching staff at a university or college. If a staff member employed by a university or college does not teach, they are referred to only as support, resource, or administrative staff.

13. What is A Letter of Recommendation?

Some university programs may ask that you provide a letter of recommendation with your application for admission. This is a letter written by someone who knows you well and is willing to speak on your behalf with regard to your academic performance and personal behavior. 

A student will generally want to ask someone with whom they have worked extensively in a professional setting, such as a teacher at their CEGEP, their employer, or someone at their school that knows them well.

Most people that you request a letter of recommendation from will know how to properly format one, however, it is always a good idea to let them know which program you are applying to so that this person can address the admissions committee for that specific program. This allows your letter to appear more personalized and professional.

14. What is A Letter of Intent?

Some university programs may ask that you provide a letter of intent with your application for admission. This should be a succinct and personal message to the admissions committee, of the program you are applying to, in which you discuss:

  1.  Who you are and some of your interests, hobbies, etc. What makes you unique?
  2.  Your educational goals and how this program would help you achieve them.
  3.  A short conclusion summarizing your main points. 

Writing tips: 

  • Write in an academic and professional tone; this is your chance to show who you are on paper.
  • Don’t try to intentionally use “big words” to make your writing sound more formal. Stick to what you know and are comfortable with.
  • Write in an active voice as opposed to passive
  • Pay attention to the guidelines they are asking for: word count, page count, specific answers, etc.

Some helpful advice

Don’t wait until the last minute to consider which university program(s) you will apply to

In an ideal world, a CEGEP student already knows which university program(s) they will apply to within their first or second semester. This is important for two reasons:

  • You will be able to create work in your CEGEP courses that will be relevant for your portfolio and/or application to the university program(s) you are applying to.
  • Some university programs require a specific R-score, so you will want to ensure that you maintain this R-score requirement throughout your time at CEGEP.


Attend open house and information events

Most universities in Montreal host open house events and information sessions specifically for CEGEP students in October-November. This is because CEGEP students will usually begin applying to universities in the Winter semester. So, the universities are expecting CEGEP students to ask all of their questions in the Fall so that they are ready to apply in the winter. Don’t wait until January-February to ask all of your questions because the university admissions offices will be busy during these months as they are processing thousands of applications.

Your choices are a lot more flexible than you realize

If you spend a semester in a program and you decide that it’s not for you, you will have the option to switch programs, so don’t worry too much about what will happen if you don’t like it. And, on the plus side, if you do end up switching into a different program, some of the courses that you completed will be counted as elective credits, or they may even qualify as a minor depending on how many courses you did. In other words, don’t fear being “stuck” you will have plenty of options at your disposal and I’m sure some great staff too, who will be able to help you make those decisions.

Don’t worry too much about the program title

Most employers who are seeking university-educated candidates for a job will list several fields of study, in relation to that job, that they will accept. In other words, you have no idea where your university degree will take you, so don’t focus too much on your major in relation to your career objectives. Some English majors end up working in marketing, while chemistry majors may end up teaching!

On that note, if you didn’t get into your 1st choice program, don’t worry too much! You may end up wanting to do something completely different from the time you started university.

Do I have to choose a minor when I apply?

No! You do not have to choose a minor when you apply to a university, nor do you need to know what you want to minor in, yet. It is often the case that a university student will take a few elective courses in their first year and then decide that they liked the contents of one of the courses and would like to minor in that particular discipline as it will complement their major.

For example, you are a 2nd-semester student in a Computer Science program and, as an elective, you chose to try an introductory-level education course. You really enjoyed the course and decide that you want to minor in education. You may then book a meeting with your academic advisor and request that you change your file to a minor in Education.

Be strategic when selecting your 2nd and 3rd choices

Most universities allow an applicant to select a 2nd or 3rd choice, when applying for admission, in the event that the applicant does not qualify for admission to their 1st choice program. 

If you have an idea of which career you would like to do after university and this is why you have decided to apply to a specific university program, what happens if you don’t get in? Don’t panic! Universities have already prepared for this situation. When you begin planning for which programs you want to apply to, consider 2nd and 3rd choices that are either similar to your 1st choice, or may in some way complement your interests. For example, you dream of being a graphic designer. You applied to a competitive design program, but unfortunately, you received a letter of rejection. However, when you applied, you selected Marketing as your 2nd choice and you got into that program. This was a good choice because, oftentimes, marketing professionals rely on strong graphic design skills in order to perform well in their careers.

More questions?

Do you have a question that wasn’t answered on this page? Contact your academic advisor with any further questions, they will be able to assist you with any post-collegial inquiries you may have.

Updated: May 6, 2022

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