Academic Advice for Future Canada Exchange Students

By James Walley, Canada, McGill University.

After completing my first semester at McGill, I believe my academic experience over here is sufficient enough to write this blog and provide some honest advice for you future exchangers on what to expect academically and how to successfully cope with the change. As I know the academic system in many Canadian universities is similar, this blog doesn’t just apply to those of you going to McGill. Yes, I may be a Scrooge posting such a dry (but important!) blog on Christmas Eve but I hope this provides some useful festive reading.

Choosing Modules

Do this as soon as registration opens! I was not aware of how quickly the popular courses would fill up and as a result I logged in half an hour after registration opened to find most of the geography courses I had wanted to take were full up. If they are full, you may have the option of joining the wait list that will put you in line in case people drop out of the courses. However, even the wait lists were full for some of the courses I had wanted to study. This made me think outside of the box and look into other subjects and eventually I settled with two geography courses, one history and one anthropology. I have no regrets at all with my choices and I am thankful to have been forced to study outside of my ‘comfort zone’ and would recommend anyone to do the same!

Use the first week to try out as many classes as you can, as these first lectures will give you a good idea of what to expect from the course. Do not fall into the trap of thinking the lectures in the first week are not worth going to as for myself and many others we quickly learnt after this week which courses to take, helping to clear our heads and prepare ourselves for the real studying to start in week 2.


Just to brighten up this post and prove there is life outside of McGill, here’s a photo I took in Havana during my recent trip to Cuba. 

Differences from Manchester

McGill is intense. There’s no denying that. The workload is heavier than that of Manchester and you’re regularly bombarded with assignments, ‘quizzes’, mid-term exams and then final exams to top it all off. This is a lot different to Manchester, where courses are often more exam heavy with less assignments during term time. That being said, I have found the exams over here to be easier as they often only contain content from half of the course if there is both a mid-term and a final exam for that course.

Do not let the workload put you off. It’s the small price you have to pay to study at such a great university and live in this amazing city.

Coping with the new academic system

It does take a while to get used to but I can say with absolute honesty that this semester has made me not only a better student but a better person. Regular assignments mean you must keep on top of your work and the common approach back home of taking the back seat and cramming when it comes to January exams will not suffice over here. Instead, it’s important to make it your habit to keep on top of your work. For me this involved spending my afternoons in my lectures after my mornings of classes. This may not be what you want to read but because of this I feel I have become a much more efficient student and a more productive person in general, as well as helping me become more interested and involved with my courses. By getting everything done in the afternoon, you’ll also have your evenings and weekends free so it won’t sacrifice the most important aspect of your exchange… socialising and travelling.

One last tip – try to make friends with some people on your course! Everyone at McGill is super friendly and will be happy to help. I took a remote sensing class this semester that I found very difficult but was helped through it by fellow class mates, helping me to pass the course in flying colours despite being convinced I was going to fail back in September.


This was taken during a camping trip to Mont Tremblant National Park. An example of one of many weekends NOT spent in the library.

If you have any questions feel free to email me on or (checked less regularly).

Merry Christmas!

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