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Before You Go

Advice to students in their last semester at McGill

As I boarded the train that would take me home for Christmas last December – a train from Montreal’s Gare Centrale to Oshawa, Ontario – a strange and uncomfortable feeling settled over me. Earlier that day, I had taken a stressful exam and said goodbye to one of my roommates, who was preparing to move out of our apartment. But as I took my seat next to a young nun in a white habit, who occupied herself with a worn-out copy of the Bible and some apple juice, it wasn’t an exam or an emotional goodbye that filled me with unease. It suddenly dawned on me that I was taking my last winter break. For 16 years, I had been guaranteed a two-week-long vacation beginning shortly before Christmas and ending shortly after New Year’s – a stretch of time I filled variously over the years by building snow sculptures, conducting science experiments with my Easy-Bake Oven, watching holiday movies with my family, working retail jobs, and playing Scrabble. For 16 years, my life had been organized by a predictable, reliable academic calendar. Once I graduated, I realized, I would be plunged into the uncertainty of the winter break-less, summer vacation-less, class-less, grade-less, assignment-less rest of my life.

Having now begun my last semester at McGill, I offer the following advice to students who will soon graduate – to students experiencing the same fears and frustrations I’m experiencing as they prepare to conclude one chapter of their lives and embark on the next. Some of this advice will be practical and specific to McGill students (there are a number of administrative hoops to jump through before you can cross the convocation stage!) but I hope that some of it will be helpful to anybody on the cusp of a big change.

  1. Ensure you have completed (or will soon complete) all the requirements for your program. It’s not uncommon for McGill undergraduate students to complete all the requirements for their Major, Minor, and/or Honours programs before their last semester or even their last year. Still, it’s a good idea to go over your program requirements during the Add/Drop period of your last semester to ensure you’ve checked all the necessary boxes – and while you still have time to register for any required courses you may have forgotten about. The Add/Drop period for the Winter 2024 semester ends on Tuesday, January 16.
  2. Have somebody else ensure you have completed (or will soon complete) all the requirements for your program. If the requirements for your program are particularly complex, as is often the case at McGill, it’s an even better idea to review them with an advisor. I know some McGill students who seek academic advice regularly and others who have never seen an advisor. If you fall into the latter category, as I did until about a week ago, then you may not be able to delay any longer. In fact, you may be required to complete a program audit form, get it signed by a departmental advisor, and then send it to the director of your program.
  3. Don’t forget to apply for graduation. You applied to get in, and you’ll apply to get out. McGill requires most undergraduate students and non-thesis graduate students (i.e., Master’s, certificates, diplomas) to apply for graduation. This is done through Minerva, and after you’ve applied, you’ll be able to check the status of your application using Minerva’s Graduation Approval Query. Students expecting to complete their courses in a Winter term should apply by the end of February, in a Summer term by the end of May, and in a Fall term by the end of November. You should note that the review of your graduation record will not be automated: a real person will be assigned to review your graduation record at the departmental and faculty levels once all of your final grades have been submitted. If you are taking one or more courses at another university in your final term – on exchange, on term away, or through Inter-University Transfer – you should also note that you will not be eligible to graduate at the end of that term. You must instead select the next available graduation term.
  4. Take classes you’re excited about. We can’t always get into the classes we want – I’m sure I’m not the only one in mourning over ENGL 366: The Teen Film in U.S. Cinema right now. But, to the best of your abilities, you should try to take classes you’re passionate about in your last semester. You don’t want to spend your last four months at McGill sweating over a difficult physics course or falling asleep to the sound of a professor’s drawl.
  5. Set aside time during the semester to apply for jobs and internships. You’ve been dodging the question “So, what are you going to do after you graduate?” for the past three or four years – maybe longer – and the time to decide is slipping away. If you don’t plan on pursuing a second degree after your first, you’ll probably have to dig out your old LinkedIn profile and start scrolling through Indeed. I know it can be tough enough getting through a semester without the added stress of job-hunting and internship-hunting, but if you can dedicate even a little bit of time each week to these often-painstaking tasks, you may thank yourself later.
  6. Come up with a plan to repay your student loans. Next to finding a job or internship, repaying any student loans you’ve taken out may be the most stressful item on your post-graduation to-do list. Every student loan program is different: some will require you to pay back your loans faster than others, and some will charge higher interest rates than others. If you’ve borrowed money from the Quebec government, you’ll have to repay it to the financial institution to which you gave your guarantee certificate at the start of your studies. This financial institution will notify you six months after you’ve completed your studies to inform you that it’s time to start repaying your loan. Ontario and British Columbia residents also enjoy a six-month grace period before they must start repaying their loans.
  7. Make the most of your time in Montreal. If you’re planning on leaving Montreal after you leave McGill, this may be your last opportunity to enjoy this lively city and all that it has to offer. Chances are, you made most of the tourist stops during your first year in Montreal, but if there are any cool restaurants, shops, galleries, museums, or outdoor spots still on your bucket list, now’s the time to check them out. Has it been ages since you last climbed Mont-Royal? Or picnicked in Jeanne-Mance Park? Or, dare I say, hit the floor at Café Campus? Before the semester ends, take some time to enjoy all your favourite Montreal spots in a tour of sentimentality.
  8. Make the most of your time with friends. Believe it or not, the hardest part about graduating from McGill won’t be jumping through administrative hoops. Whether you’re the one leaving or they are, you might have to say goodbye to many of the friends you’ve made in the last three or four years. Cherish the time you have left with these friends, and start thinking about how you’d like to stay in touch once you go your separate ways.
  9. Remember that you’re doing your best. If you’re like me, you might be inclined to put a lot of pressure on your last semester at McGill. More than acing your exams or landing your dream job or checking off bucket-list items, however, it’s important that you take care of yourself in what may prove to be the most challenging four months of your life. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to a loved one, talk to an advisor or mental health expert, and give yourself time to rest. Try not to fret if things don’t go exactly as planned, and remind yourself that there’s a whole world waiting for you on the other side of that stage.