Selecting your courses could be stressful and uncertain, and the description on the calendar may not offer enough information. It is advisable to ask other students who have taken the course in the past (led by the same professor) to gain more insight on the level of difficulty and course structure. However, any opinions on courses should be taken with a grain of salt, as everyone has different learning styles and preferences.
Here we suggest the 5 basic things to consider when picking your courses and provide some general advice on selecting courses in upper years.
Completing Prerequisites, Requirements, and the Program.
After selecting your Subject Post, you should check the requirements for its completion (both the IDS and the complementary one). You should know how many credits and of what you need to complete your degree, and how much overlap (if any) is allowed between programs. Take a look at the upper level courses that you are interested in taking and see what requirements you will need in lower years. Degree Explorer is very useful in keeping track of completed and pending credit requirements. You should also plan in advance and make sure that they offer the classes you need in the coming year. A helpful hint is that requirements can sometimes be skipped with the permission of the instructor of the course you want to take. However, keep in mind that you might not have the basic knowledge, theories, and concepts for the upper year courses making it more challenging to do well. Also, if you ever decide to go back and take the prerequisites you skipped, you will not receive a credit for it.
Knowing the Professors
Finding a great professor you connect well with is vital. This has to do with professors’ lecture style, clarity, assignments, grading structure, or even their area of specialty. Taking classes with the same professor means that you will know what to expect in subsequent courses and what the expectations of the professor are. You will also have an idea of how challenging the course will be. However, the drawback to going with the same professor could be that they tend to focus on their own expertise and fields, so that information could overlap between classes.
Interest in the Topic
If you are interested in the topic, it is more likely that you will pay more attention in lectures, do the readings and the assignments with more care, and therefore do better in the class. It’s always best to go for courses that excite you and maintain your interest. However, it’s hard to always follow this because there are prerequisites that must be completed, which could be less than exciting.
Balancing your Schedule
This refers both to your course schedule and your commitments outside of school. First, make sure you check the timetable for the courses you have selected. Sometimes courses get cancelled or switched to a different day and time, which can conflict with other courses you’ve chosen or just be at an inconvenient time. It is also a good idea to design your schedule based on how you work best. Do you prefer big gaps between classes so that you can stay at school and study? Do you prefer morning, afternoon, or evening classes? Do you rather have 2-3 classes in a day in order to have longer weekends? Remember that having more than one class a day may result in an overlap of deadlines, such as midterms and essays, which could be stressful.
You should also be realistic about your limitations and commitments outside of school, such as work, volunteering, and social life. If you feel overwhelmed, one option is to take 3-4 courses a semester and make up for it in the summer. This can allow you more time to focus on your courses and get better grades. Another option is to take a full course load and then work in the summer time.
If you are taking a specialist in IDS and a major or two minors, there isn’t much room for you to take electives. Sometimes it is good to dip your toes into other things, but be careful, because the stream can be very different and it could affect your GPA if you receive a low mark. However, some people choose a strategy in their first year to try and take as many introductory courses in as many disciplines of interest to them, in order to see what they want to continue with in the future. The drawback to this strategy is that introductory courses can be dry and not necessarily reflective of the interesting things to come in upper years.
Many people also decide to take ‘bird’ courses as electives in order to raise their GPA. But, there isn’t really such a thing as a ‘bird’ course. Courses are what you make of them and their difficulty largely depends on your own skill set. Of course, there are some easier ones in terms of assignments and material, but considering that you are paying so much money to go to school, choosing not to learn (or learn less) may not be the best investment of your time and money.
Selecting 3rd and 4th year courses
A great strategy is to choose as many courses that have field experience or can give you practical skills fundamental to development. This is especially important if you don’t have any relevant development experience on your resume and/or don’t have the time or cannot find a job or volunteer in the field.
Some examples of courses to consider:
IDSA02: Experiencing Development in Africa
- A great course to build connections with local NGOs in Toronto.
- A lot of guest speakers and some fieldtrips provide a more practical look into NGOs’ work.
IDSC06: Directed Research on Canadian Institutions and International Development
- Places you with a development organization to work once a week.
- There are no classes. The only assignment component is an annotated bibliography and a final essay on a topic of your choice.
- Grade is made up of 50% evaluation from your organization and 50% based on the writing component.
IDSC04 & IDSC07: Project Management I & II
- Material is very relatable to work in development, especially learning to write research proposals, which are fundamental for getting funding.
- Many IDSers say it is easily the most useful courses they have taken.
IDSD02: Supervised Research in International Development (thesis & conference)
- For those not enrolled in the Specialist Co-op Program, and therefore have a choice in writing a thesis, this is a great opportunity to write an undergrad thesis with the added benefit of presenting it at a conference.
- These opportunities are great if you are interested in publishing your work, a future in academic careers, or building a resume for grad school.
Other courses to consider are those marked as “Topics”, “Supervised Reading”, and “Directed Reading” to receive credits in more specialized topics you are interested in and form a better relationship with your professors. This is a great way to build your own curriculum if you are interested in topics not really covered in other courses (i.e. country focus, gender, indigenous, and LGTB issues). This strategy could lighten your course load, depending on the supervisor you choose and what you want out of the course. Sometimes the requirement could be as little as a research proposal and a final paper, and other times it could be a lot more demanding. It also presents a great opportunity to write a good paper for publishing, considering the extra time, effort and individual feedback you will receive. Lastly, it is a great way to get to know your professors better. This is important since they could assist you with a great reference or a job connection in the future. References could be for grad school, jobs, or even volunteering.