a-z terminology guide

It’s not much of a hot take to say that university can be a little confusing sometimes. However, the best way to beat the confusion that is ~college life~ is to combat it with a handy guide to all the terms that make up school life. Here’s some of the essential terms you should be aware of during your McGill experience! 

Add/Drop Period

At the beginning of each school term (summer term not included) there is a 2-week period that lets students be flexible in adding and dropping courses without having to pay all the charges. This provides reassurance for students to check and see if a class is for them or not. Once this 2-week period is done, the schedule becomes permanent, so do not forget to refer to your major and minor requirements when making choices and buy course materials (textbooks, books, etc.). Check the Add/Drop deadline here


The purpose of conference sections is to clarify reading material or assignments, work on problem sets given in class, and give undergraduates an opportunity for discussion, which may not be possible in larger courses. Professors will provide guidelines and topics for these conference sections. You can register for conferences on Minerva.

Course load

A course load is the number of courses you take each semester. The normal course load for a full-time student at McGill is 4-5 courses per term. Remember you need 12 credits minimum per term to maintain full-time status, otherwise your funding (scholarships, government grants/loans, McGill aid, etc...) and immigration status (for international students) could be negatively impacted!


A fancy way McGill describes the classes you will be taking as a student.


The way McGill quantifies the weight of courses. Each course you take is assessed on the basis of a certain number of credits. Most half-year courses are worth 3 credits, and full-year courses are worth 6 credits. To obtain a degree, you must successfully complete a minimum number of credits which depends on your program.


An opportunity for McGill students to study in a foreign country or location. You would be completing courses that are similar to the types of classes you are specializing in at McGill.

Faculty / Department

Students at McGill are part of a faculty, such as Arts or Engineering. Each faculty at McGill is headed by a Dean. Faculties are divided into departments and schools. Departments are devoted to a particular area of study, such as the Department of Philosophy or the Department of Chemistry. Professional Schools are part of a faculty, but offer more intense, specialized programs usually leading to a professional career.

Flex dollars vs One-card dollars

As a student in residence, your oneCard can be used for laundry as well as all other taxable food and drink items in the residential dining halls and retail locations. The Mandatory Meal Plan includes tax-free Home Base dollars and tax-free Flex Dollars. That's why if you order Double Pizza delivery, for example, the funds will come out of your oneCard, as this is a taxable food item.


A period before the start of an academic year filled with events to orient and welcome new students. This massive welcome is the ideal way to kick off your time at McGill!

Land acknowledgment

A statement that showcases the traditional history of the territory of the Indigenous people(s) who called the land home before the arrival of settlers, and, in many cases, still do call it home.

McGill's Land Acknowledgement:

“I respectfully acknowledge that I am a settler who works and studies on the unceded territory of the Kanien’kehà:ka, one of the founding nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy in Tio’tia:ke” (Montreal).

McGill Email

You are given a McGill Email Address and mailbox automatically when you confirm your acceptance to McGill. Notification about your McGill Email Address is sent to the non-McGill email address you entered on your application form. Make sure to check your McGill email account often, as it is McGill’s formal means of communication with you. This means that all of McGill’s professors/staff will often only use this account.

McGill username

You are given two usernames: a McGill username and a short username. Your McGill Username is based on your first and last name (e.g., The first.last portion may sometimes include an initial, middle name, or a number where necessary to ensure uniqueness. Your short username is usually composed of the first letter of your first name, and the first 5 letters of your last name, often followed by a number. The McGill Username and McGill Password are used to access most IT services at McGill.


Minerva is the web-based administrative interface you used to apply to McGill. It can also be used to update your contact information, check your grades, order transcripts, declare your program, view your fee information, apply for financial aid, and register for your courses. Once lectures begin, you might want to print a copy of your personal weekly class schedule for handy reference.


myCourses is McGill’s online learning management system. This platform brings instructors and students together in a virtual classroom and creates a highly interactive learning environment. This is where professors will post announcements and class notes. It is also where you can access a course discussion board and your grades.


Open Air Pub (or OAP) is an event run annually by the Engineering Undergraduate Society. It is an open-air pub, music festival, and barbeque. The event takes place for two weeks at the beginning of the Fall semester and for two days in April.

Office Hours

Office hours are drop-in hours for students to see their professors or TAs that are outside of lecture times. Going to office hours, can give students valuable time to better understand the class content and the professor’s expectations, which can you a big impact on your academic success. Office hours can also be an opportunity to get to know your instructor or teaching assistant better, especially in online courses and in larger courses.

One Card

An electronic system that works as a McGill credit card for students. Purchases made under this account are taxable at any food location on campus, vending machines, and other participating services on and off campus.


The SSMU stands for the Students’ Society of McGill University! This is your student union. Every undergraduate at McGill is a member of the SSMU. It is a student-run group to speak out for fellow students and advocate for the utmost interests of students. On the local university levels, this means being a student representation to the McGill administration.

Study Break / Reading Week

Similar to how most colleges have a “Spring Break,” here at McGill University, we have Study Break / Reading Week in the Winter term where classes are cancelled for an entire week. Find the exact dates here:

S/U Option

This option, known more formally as the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory option, is a special way of taking a class at McGill outside your areas of specialization without ANY fear of decreasing your overall GPA. Elective courses with final grades of “S” or “U” are not included in GPA calculations, so make sure to check in with an advisor before choosing the S/U option for one of your electives, which also has to be decided within the Add/Drop period. More info here:


Your syllabus (plural: syllabi) is the written course outline you get from your professor during the first week of lectures. You should expect to see a description of the course topics, a list of required and recommended readings and other materials, a description of the means of evaluation to be used in the course, and the instructor’s office hours, office location, and telephone number for office appointments. You should be aware that no syllabi can be changed following the first day of class without unanimous approval from the entire class, unless reasonable accommodations are made to those students who disagree with the changes.


A Teaching Assistant is (usually) a graduate student appointed to assist a Course Supervisor with the instruction and evaluation of students in a course.


Another way of saying “semester.” Here at McGill, we have Fall (September-December) and Winter (January-April) “terms,” which are four months long, and three summer terms (May, June, July), which are each one to three months long.

U0, U1, U2, U3, U4

This letter and number code refers to your current status at McGill in academic terms. McGill doesn’t use the more well-known college terms such as “freshman,” “sophomore,” “junior,” and “senior.” This is because Quebec students complete their “first year” at CEGEP, allowing them to jump straight into U1. A reason behind this code is that McGill undergraduate students also don’t necessarily study for four years to earn their degree. It all depends on the student and the program! You can always check your academic code with an advisor while at McGill. Not sure if you are U0 or U1?: