McGill Student Guide

The McGill Student Guide is for anyone currently enrolled in a McGill University affiliated program. Whether you’re looking for a degree, certificate, diploma or just hoping still in high school to get admitted one day, this guide will have everything you need to know about applying, getting accepted and succeeding during your time at the university.

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McGill University is one of Canada’s best-known institutions of higher learning and one of the leading universities in the world. With students coming to McGill from over 150 countries, our student body is the most internationally diverse of any research-intensive university in the country. 


McGill is a public university, founded in 1821.

A Tradition of Success

McGill is recognized around the world for the excellence of its teaching and research programs. Ernest Rutherford’s Nobel Prize-winning research on the nature of radioactivity was conducted at McGill, part of a long tradition of innovation on our campuses that includes the invention of the artificial blood cell and Plexiglas. Today our professors are building the new field of epigenetics, developing alternative energy sources from crop plants and driving human achievement in every field imaginable.

The Best and Brightest

In addition to a stellar faculty, McGill is known for attracting the brightest students from across Canada, the United States, and around the world. McGill students have the highest average entering grades in Canada, and our commitment to fostering the very best has helped our students win more national and international awards on average than their peers at any other Canadian university. The prestigious Rhodes Scholarship has gone to a nation-leading 145 McGill students.

Getting ready for university should be an exciting and worry-free time in your life, so to help ease your preparations we’ve compiled a checklist of the most important things to do before arriving at McGill.

  1. Make sure to accept McGill’s admission offer through Minerva (McGill’s online registration system) and pay your deposit (note that the charge may vary based on your program, consult the Student Accounts website).
  2. McGill Scholarships and Student Aid (SSAO) provides a tool which allows you to calculate the cost of your first year of study and plan your budget. McGill offers a need-based Entrance Bursary Program for first-time undergraduate students from modest-income families. The application deadline is 30 days from the date of formal acceptance to the University.  Students may apply via the Financial Aid Menu on Minerva.  Eligibility information is available here.
  3. If you have been offered a space in residence, please fill out the appropriate surveys on Minerva. If you haven’t yet reserved a spot in Residence please contact the Student Housing and Hospitality Services at 514-398-6368 or by email.
  4. Submit your legal documents to McGill’s Enrolment Services as soon as possible – preferably well in advance of the fee payment deadline, so that your tuition fees are billed at the correct rate right from the start.
    What documentation to provide depends on your legal status in Canada, and the level and length of your studies with us. You will find details at the following pages on the Legal Documents website:
    • Quebec residents
    • Canadians from outside Quebec (out-of-province)
    • International residentsInstructions on how and where to send.
  5. Activate your McGill email account so you don’t miss important messages. It is McGill University’s official means of communication.
  6. Download the official McGill app on the App Store or Google Play.
  7. Connect with Campus Life & Engagement on social media on Facebook (CL&E Page and Entering Class Group), and Instagram.
  8. Verify your registration and fee information, provide your emergency contact
  9. information, and update your Montreal mailing address on Minerva.
  10. Make sure to register for at least one course by the mid-August registration deadline.
  11. Save the date for Orientation Week and make sure to attend the University-wide Orientation, Discover McGill!
  12. Check out McGill 101, an online orientation and info hub for all new undergraduate students. Available through myCourses in late May.

  13. Obtain your McGill student ID card. On the downtown campus, this can be done at Service Point (3415 McTavish Street). On the Macdonald campus, your ID card can be obtained in the Student Affairs Office (Laird Hall 106).
  14. Finalize your schedule by the end of the Add/Drop Period.
  15. Buy your books and course packs after you have received the book list from your professors. Note: Course packs are non-refundable and are ideally purchased after the Add/Drop Period.
  16. Complete the mandatory Academic Integrity Tutorial, which will be available on myCourses shortly after the Add/Drop deadline.
  17. Complete It Takes All of Us, McGill’s mandatory sexual violence education program, on myCourses.

Courses and Programs

Planning, building and modifying your course schedule

Planning and building a schedule for your first semester can seem like a daunting task. McGill offers thousands of courses, and it’s understandable that you might need a little help wading through them all. Use this site to learn more about planning your course load, registering for courses, and adding and dropping them after the semester has started.

If you can’t figure out what to do, even after reading through all of the information that you can find, you can always contact an academic advisor in your program, School or Faculty.  

If you don’t know who to contact, the Ask an Advisor resource can help point you in the right direction.  

When you have questions, seek out the answers you need. Your academic career is too important to gamble with.

35 Things That Will Make You Wish You Went To McGill University

McGill students and grads know there are plenty of things about the university that are less than, shall we say, ideal. And being that we are right in the middle of exam season right now, all of that awful is probably at the forefront of your mind.

That said, speaking as a McGill alumni myself, I know the struggle is real, but how about we look at some of the positive for a minute,

For, despite the intense course load, the abundance of SJW-hipsters, and the lack of good food options around McGill, the university does have plenty of great features, too. The beautiful campus, the devoted staff, and the fact that the illustrious institution has helped shape Canada as a nation, are just a few of the reasons to be proud of McGill.

So rather then get all critical on the almost century-old school, let’s celebrate some of the amazing things you would (and should) be proud to know about McGill University.

#1 McGill Is The Best University In Canada For Medical-Doctoral Graduates

A title given to the university by Maclean’s University Rankings 2016, and McGill has held that top-spot for 11 straight years.

#2 We’re Among The Best Universities In The World

For the last twelve years, McGill has been ranked as one of the top 25 universities in the world in the QS University Rankings, receiving the 24th spot in 2015.

#3 You Need To Have Really Good Grades To Get In

Out of every university in Canada, McGill has the highest average admission grade. The median grade average for students outside Quebec is about 92%, a 30.0 CEGEP R-score for students in Quebec, and an SAT score of about 2090 for American students.

#4 One Of Canada’s Best Law Schools

Even though Maclean’s has seemingly ended their annual list of top law schools, a yearly roundup which began in 2007, it’s good to know McGill always placed within the top three. In 2013, McGill actually placed first for Civil Law.

#5 Without McGill, Other Universities & Colleges May Not Exist

Thanks to some of McGill’s talented alumni, many notable post-secondary educational institutions were founded throughout North America. Examples include the University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Dawson College.

#6 Youngest Members Of Parliament Ever

Five McGill students rose to the rank of Members of Parliament after the May 2011 election in Canada, the youngest ever to do so in the nation’s history.

#7 Incredibly Important McGill Discoveries

A school deeply cemented in research and innovation, McGill students, alumni, researchers, and professors have made incredible discoveries throughout the school’s history. Some such innovations include the discovery that atoms are divisible, the creation of the first artificial blood cell, the invention of Plexiglas, and many more.

#8 McGill Grads Get Jobs

An incredibly comforting piece of information was released in a 2013 survey, in which employers ranked a McGill degree as the 37th most prestigious and desirable in the entire world.

#9 Almost A Quarter Of McGill Students Are International

Specifically 24% of McGill’s student body hail from more than 140 countries around the world. In fact, McGill is recognized as the most internationally diverse medical-doctoral university in the country. Another rather interesting factoid is how nearly half of the student population have a mother tongue that isn’t English.

#10 The Most Rhodes Scholars

Of the many graduates that have come out of McGill over the years, 139 have been/are Rhodes Scholars, the most held by a university in Canada. McGill also boasts three prime minsters, nine Oscar winners, three Pulitzer Prize winners, and three astronauts.

#11 And The Most Nobel Prize Winners Too

Among McGill’s scores of alumni are twelve Nobel Prize winners, a number no other Canadian university can boast. The work of these amazing alumni include the theory of electron transfer, the technology used in digital camera, and the ways in which the human body ensures its genetic code is passed on.

#12 McGill Is One Of Montreal’s Top Employers

As named by Canada’s Top 100 in their annual ranking.

#13 The First Fraternity For Gay Men In Canada Was Founded At McGill

Well, technically it’s a fraternity for gay, bisexual, and progressive men, otherwise known as Delta Lambda Phi which established its first official chapter at McGill in 2012. And I personally may have had a small little something to do with that.

#14 McGill Is Actually In The Association of American Universities

A member since 1926, McGill is one of only two members of the Association of American Universities to function outside of the United States.

#15 Over 300 Subjects Can Be Studied At McGill

Putting the “liberal” in a liberal arts degree.

#16 The University Bears Strong Ties To The Canadian Grenadier Guards

Having militaristic ties may not be the biggest point of pride for some, but this particular fact is quite integral to McGill’s history. James McGill was actually part of the Canadian Grenadier Guards regiment, serving as Lieutenant-Colonel. The stone in front of the Arts building notes his title, and that’s why the Grenadier Guards begin the yearly Remembrance Day ceremony from the steps.

#17 McGill’s Faculty Of Law Is The Oldest In Canada

Founded in 1848, no other Canadian university had a Faculty of Law at the time, making it the oldest in all of Canada.

#18 Women Entered McGill Classrooms In 1884

With the first degree given to a female student in 1888. This was largely thanks to the efforts of Donald Smith/Lord Strathcona, who actually funded lectures specifically for women.

#19 McGill’s Campus Is One Of The Most Beautiful In The World

At least according to a ranking by Travel + Leisure, which McGill got the #4 spot out of 17 universities.

#20 McGill Has Canada’s Only Teaching & Research Facility In The Tropics

It is known as the Bellairs Research Institute, situated in Saint James, Barbados.

#21 It Also Launched The First Canadian Degree Program in Japan

Created by the Faculty of Management in 1998, the MBA program is offered in Nishi-Shinjuku, Tokyo.

#22 McGill’s Coat Of Arms Was Recognized And Officiated By Actual English Lords (And Canada)

Originally the patent of arms was granted in 1922 by the Garter King at Arms, then Lord Lyon King of Arms registered the coat of arms in Edinburgh in 1956. The Public Register of Arms, Flags and Badges of Canada then registered the university’s crest in 1996.

#23 McGill Boasts The Largest Medical History Library In Canada

The Osler Library of the History of Medicine is also recognized as one of the most comprehensive in the world.

#24 The Redpath Musuem Is The Oldest Of Its Kind In The World

To be a bit more specific, McGill’s Redpath Musuem is the oldest built to actually be a museum (rather than converted to one afterwards) in Canadian history.

#25 North America’s First (Recorded) Game Of Rugby Was Put On By McGill Students

They played against British army officers and it led to McGill creating the first university rugby club on the continent.

#26 As Well As The First Game Of Football

On May 14, 1874, Harvard took on McGill for what is known to be the first game of organized North American football. Many credit this moment to be when the sport began to spread in popularity throughout the Ivy League group of universities.

#27 Lets Also Not Forget About The First-Ever Indoor Hockey Game

Held at the Victoria Skating Rink on March, 1875, this undoubtedly led to the creation of the McGill University Hockey Club in 1877, the first organized hockey club ever. These students then wrote the very first hockey rule book, cementing the tradition of Canada’s most popular sport.

#28 Or How Basketball Was Invented By A McGill Alumni

This credit goes to James Naismith, McGill’s first director of athletics, who created the sport of basketball in the winter of 1891 at Springfield YMCA.

#29 Without McGill, There May Not Be A Just For Laugh’s Festival

Andy Nulman, co-founder of the Just For Laugh’s International Comedy Festival, graduated from McGill in 1983 and was integral in establishing the much-adored event. Fun fact: the infamous Rowan Atkinson character “Mr. Bean” was first presented at JFL, so by extension, without McGill there may not be a Bean!

#30 Many McGillians Are Also Olympians

In total, the 112 Olympians who have (thus far) studied at McGill have competed in each Olympic Games from 1908 ’til now.

#31 McGill Has Produced Three Prime Ministers

Sr John Abbot, Sir Wilfrid Laurier (Canada’s first Francophone prime minster), and (of course) the much-adored Justin Trudeau.

#32 Canada’s First Female University Professor Was Appointed At McGill

Carrie Decker, a prominent geneticist, was offered the role in 1912 and went on to create the very first university course on genetics and evolution.

#33 Modern Heart Surgery Is All Thanks To A McGill Alumna

Without Maude Abbot, modern medicine wouldn’t be where it is today, at least when it comes to the human heart. Thanks to her research on cardiac issues and heart disease, Abbot was able to create the Atlas of Congenital Cardiac Disease in 1936, regarded as the informational basis for modern heart operations.

#34 A McGill Grad Wrote “Oh, Canada”

Well, the English version anyway, as the French version of Canada’s national anthem was already quite popular once Robert Stanley Weir got to work on a translation. While many would try to make an English-version of the song, only Weir’s version, released in 1908, would win public favour and go on to become the song we all know by heart.

#35 And Another Drafted The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Previous Professor of Law at McGill University can be thanked for writing the groundbreaking Universal Declaration of Human Rights, regarded as the “most cited legal document ever drafted by a Canadian.”

McGill University or University of Toronto?

Deciding to study in Canada is kind of a no-brainer, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to pick a university. If you’ve got this far, it probably means you’ve whittled it down to two of the country’s best-performing universities: the University of Toronto and McGill University. These are the two top universities in Canada, ranked joint 29th and joint 35th in the world respectively, according to the QS World University Rankings® 2020.

Of course, there’s much more to the Canadian higher education system than just these two. 26 universities in Canada are ranked among the world’s best in the QS World University Rankings, including 12 in the top 300.

However, it’s McGill and Toronto that consistently stand out as the top two. With both performing at a highly impressive level, your choice is likely to be a more personal one.

To help any lucky prospective students facing this choice, here’s a look at how these two top universities in Canada measure up on key indicators, followed by a more detailed comparison.

 University of TorontoMcGill University
QS World University Rankings® 2020Ranked joint 29th worldwide in 2020Ranked 17th in the world by academics and 27th by employersStronger scores than McGill on faculty-student ratio and international faculty diversityRanked joint 35th worldwide in 2020Ranked 36th in the world by academics and 33rd by employersStronger scores than Toronto for research citations and international student diversity
Subject strengths*19th in the world for arts & humanities11th for life sciences & medicineJoint 17th for natural sciencesJoint 22nd for engineering & technology21st for social sciences & management27th in the world for arts & humanities28th for life sciences & medicine Joint 31st for natural sciences45th for engineering & technology37th for social sciences & management
 LocationToronto, Canada’s largest cityAdditional campuses in Scarborough and MississaugaMontréal, Canada’s second-largest city in French-speaking province Quebec (but teaching is in English)
Student community90,077 students (2018-19)19,356 at graduate level (21.4 percent)17,452 international students (23.2 percent)40,036 students (autumn 2018)10,144 at graduate level (25.3 percent)Roughly 12,531 international students (31.3 percent)
Annual tuition feesDomestic:Undergraduate programs: from CA$6,780 ($8,603.92 including ancillary fees)Graduate: CA$10,080 to $46,270.International fees: $35,890 to $58,680.Undergraduate programs: from CA$2,544 for students from Quebec, $7,940 for other Canadian studentsInternational undergraduate tuition fees start at $18,440.10 and go up to $48,747.90.Fees are the same for masters degrees, and PhDs for international students cost $15,637.20.

QS World University Rankings® 2020

At rankings level, the differences between the two top universities in Canadaare tiny – both are clearly among the world’s leading institutions and score well across all of the indicators used to compile the rankings. Both fare particularly well when it comes to international reputation, ranked well within the global top 50 by surveyed academics.

Toronto has the most diversity among its faculty members, as well as a better faculty-student ratio (designed to give a rough idea of how much contact time students can expect), while McGill leads on research citations per faculty member (which aims to assess research impact), and has slightly more international diversity among its students.

Subject strengths

In the QS World University Rankings by Subject, Toronto is ahead in each of the five broad subject areas. Interestingly, these rankings also suggest the two top Canadian universities have similar sets of subject strengths: both score highly for arts and humanities as well as life sciences and medicine. The main point of divergence is in engineering and technology, for which Toronto ranks joint 222nd in the world, while McGill trails behind at 45th.

McGill and Toronto in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2019
 University of TorontoMcGill University
Accounting & finance25th51-100
Agriculture & forestry51-100=45th
Anatomy & physiology8th10th
Art & design51-100
Biological sciences12th=29th
Business & management40th51-100
Classics & ancient history=13th
Computer science & information systems11th51-100
Communication & media studies46th
Development studies14th34th
Earth & marine sciences22nd26th
Education & training7th25th
Engineering (chemical)27th41st
Engineering (civil)35th51-100
Engineering (electrical)18th51-100
Engineering (mechanical)=32nd27th
Engineering (mineral & mining)22nd3rd
English language & literature12th=29th
Environmental studies=37th=26th
Library & Information Management3rd12th
Materials science48th=39th
Modern languages=21st50th
Performing arts=47th34th
Physics & astronomy21st40th
Social policy & administration=18th
Sports-related subjects5th28th
Theology, divinity & religious studies16th38th


Choosing between these two top universities in Canada also means making a choice between their respective cities – Montréal and Toronto. Both are in the south-east of Canada (Toronto’s a little further south) and both are large cities – in fact, they’re largest two in the country.

While Toronto is accepted as Canada’s commercial and financial capital, both cities can make claims to being the country’s leading cultural hub – and both have strong cases to make. As well as vibrant music, film and nightlife scenes, both also boast extremely high levels of international diversity. In fact, Toronto is among the world’s most multicultural cities. According to a 2011 report by the Toronto Foundation, just over half of the city’s residents were born outside of Canada.

Though Toronto may be slightly more diverse overall, Montréal has a more internationally diverse student community (see below). In the QS Best Student Cities ranking, Montréal is currently ranked fourth in the world, higher than Toronto. It’s also the best in the world according to the ‘student view’ indicator, which is based on a survey which asked students to rate their experience of a city in categories such as affordability, friendliness and tolerance and inclusion. Toronto also performed well in this indicator, coming 14th, but nowhere near as impressively as Montréal.

Montréal also achieves higher ratings than Toronto for affordability and employer activity in the ranking. The latter is based on a survey of graduate employers, domestic and international, to see which cities they prefer to recruit from. Both cities are in the top 10 for desirability, though Toronto is ahead on this indicator, ranked first compared to Montréal’s 10th.

One of the main differences between the two cities is language. Toronto is English-speaking, while Montréal, where McGill is located, is in the French-speaking province of Quebec. However, most teaching at McGill is conducted in English, and proof of English proficiency is an application requirement.

It should also be noted that while the University of Toronto’s main campus is right in the heart of the city, it also has two additional campuses, one in Scarborough (a district in the east of the city) and another in Mississauga (a neighboring city to the west).

Student community 

As of the autumn 2018 enrolment, McGill had 40,036 students, of which around 12,531 (31.3 percent) were international, and about 10,144 (25.3 percent) were studying at graduate level. Of these, 19 percent of students speak French as their mother tongue.

The University of Toronto is significantly larger, with a total of 90,077 students enrolled in the 2018-19 academic year. Of these, 19,356 (21.4 percent) were studying at graduate level, and 17,452 (23.2 percent) were international. That’s a lot of students by any measure – Toronto has one of the largest student communities among institutions featured in the QS World University Rankings.

As well as being split across three campuses (see above), the University of Toronto also makes its huge community more manageable by using a college system, similar to that at Oxbridge (Oxford and Cambridge) in the UK. Applicants to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences choose one of seven colleges, each of which provides a smaller student community within the overall university.

So, if your decision about where to study in Canada can’t be made based on the course that best matches your own academic interests and career plans, lifestyle factors could certainly help tip the balance. Maybe you want to practice your French, or perhaps you like the idea of being part of a smaller college community as well as a member of a very large student body. Or, maybe, you’re just more attracted to either red (McGill’s color) or blue (Toronto’s)…

Fees & funding 

Given their stellar reputations, McGill and Toronto may be forgiven for charging relatively high fees.

At the University of Toronto, tuition fees for undergraduate domestic students start at CA$6,780 ($8,603.92 including ancillary fees), depending on the program. For international students, prices are inevitably higher, ranging from around $35,890 to $58,680, again depending on the program chosen.

For graduate-level studies, prices span a broad range, from CA$10,080 to as much as $46,270 depending on the program. The university does state, however, that it is committed to providing financial support for those pursuing research-based graduate programs. Partial funding is also available. Toronto also recently announced that from autumn 2018 most international students will pay the same fees as domestic students for PhD programs (excluding certain programs).

At McGill University, entrance policies are slightly different, with residents of Quebec province receiving discounted fees. Prices also depend on the program. For programs within arts and sciences, residents of Quebec are charged CA$2,544 annually, non-Quebec Canadians pay CA$7,940, and international students pay CA$18,110.40 (2019/2020 figures). At graduate level, all students can enroll on a full-time master’s program for the same price as their undergraduate fees, while international students pay CA$15,637.20 for PhDs.

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