U of Toronto vs McGill
March 30, 2007 10:36 AM   Subscribe

GradSchoolFilter: Help me choose between U of Toronto and McGill.

I got excellent news in the mail today. I have been accepted into the History MA graduate program for both the University of Toronto and McGill. So, now comes the crunch decision time.

I was wondering if anyone had any experiences in either school's history programs or had impressions of the schools as a whole?

I'd like to get an impression of the school's "feel" if you will, its campus culture and the like.

(bonus background info: I am interested in Canadian diplomatic history, I am an American, have faculty contacts, and money isn't a factor. Oh, and I plan on pursuing a PhD after completing the MA).
posted by boubelium to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Both schools and cities are great in general. I strongly recommend you visit both campuses, and try to meet with your prospective advisors to try to get a feel for the department. While you're there, explore the campus and city. You may find you prefer one over the other. It's hard to recommend one over the other as this is very much something only you can decide.
posted by PercussivePaul at 11:23 AM on March 30, 2007

I think you really need to travel to both cities and see which one you like more. They are both old established schools. Toronto is awesome, but then so is Montreal. Hopefully someone who has done grad school at one or the other can chime in.
posted by chunking express at 11:49 AM on March 30, 2007

Yes - visit both. And be sure to speak to a bunch of current grad students for inside information about the program and the faculty members you would be likely to work with. The director of graduate admissions should provide you with contact info for grad students if you ask. Typically, grad students can be much more candid in person than in writing; this alone is reason to visit.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:59 AM on March 30, 2007

The cities are very different. I agree, go and visit the actual departments if you can, but if all else fails I would tie-break by choosing the bigger adventure - I imagine Montreal is the more different from what you are used to.
posted by Idcoytco at 12:24 PM on March 30, 2007

I can't help you with grad school info, but I've done undergrad work at both universities. I am from Toronto, and *loved* McGill. Montreal is a great city, friendly people, better transit system than Toronto. Although you said money isn't a factor, I'm still going to mention that it's less expensive to live in Montreal than TO. And if you're adverse to cold -- Montreal is colder. In my opinion, the McGill campus is far more attractive than UofTs.

UofT was...okay. I was living with my parents at the time, which made a difference (I did not feel nearly much a part of the UofT campus life). U of T is huge -- it's my impression that you have to work harder to meet people. Of course, this might not be an issue in grad school, where you'll be in a much smaller program. While my school experience wasn't as good in Toronto, Toronto is *also* a great city. I'm here at the moment, and wouldn't live anywhere else.

Of course, as the other posters mentioned, you'll really have to visit yourself to decide.
posted by Badmichelle at 1:23 PM on March 30, 2007

I suggest looking over the cv's of professors at both McGill's Institute for the Study of Canada as well as U of T's Canadian Studies Department. Look for publications/interests which are similar to those you would be interested in pursuing.

Generally, the greater number of profs publishing on your topic means a greater amount of support, choice of advisor, etc.

Of course, as a McGill grad who now works for my alma mater... I have to say go to McGill! :)
posted by elkerette at 1:25 PM on March 30, 2007

I can't speak to the history department, but there are a few broad points about Toronto worth mentioning. I have no idea how these stack up to McGill.

Some pros:

The TA union is excellent and well staffed, and so we are very well paid, get some reasonable extra benefits, and, most importantly, have parameters around how much time we have to work. The guaranteed funding package is increasing slightly over the next few years.

Toronto has a really good reputation for getting its students external funding, and offers considerable support to grad students for funding, writing, and publishing. There is a "first year" grad program with events and seminars to help with academic and social adjustments, and it's fairly useful.

The library system has a *huge* collection (it ranks second or third in North America, depending on how you slice the criteria).

There are a lot of interdepartmental affiliations, leading to lots smaller conferences and lecture series with a broad social science / humanities appeal, and big-name academics visit frequently.

The students are high calibre and the expectations are high: you will get a challenge from your course work and from your peers.

Some cons:

The actual breakdown of sources for the guaranteed funding is esoteric and different by department; it can take some time to figure out and you may occasionally have to fight for some portion of it (due to miscommunication, generally).

The loan system at the library is extremely irritating (no term loan for grads, no recalls, only two renews).

It is big enough to get lost in the crowd, even at the grad level (the last figure I saw was 12000ish grad students)

Depending on how your department deals with the satellite campuses, you may have to TA in Scarborough (Scarberia) or Mississauga (Missingsauga), and commuting can be time consuming.

NOTE!!! Inquire at both school (preferably among students) about whether the programs generally accept more PhD students from outside or within their MA program. I know that in my department at Toronto, there is no preference given to people who have done the master's program at U of T, and this year very few U of T master's students were accepted to the PhD program, proportionately. This varies widely between departments (for instance, I understand that the Sociology department is the opposite), and certain funding changes at the provincial level in Ontario mean that admitting policies may be changing.
posted by carmen at 2:14 PM on March 30, 2007

There's a lot of good advice here. Definitely visit both schools, because it's a personal choice. I had an amazing time doing my master's at U of T (though not in history) and I'm also from the States. Feel free to ask me any questions about the experience - email's in profile.
posted by bassjump at 2:37 PM on March 30, 2007

Look at the program websites and the course calendar. Figure out what courses you would take that are in your main specialist area. Find out which faculty members teach them and whether they supervise grad students in that area. Go surf these profs websites, publications, google etc to see if you can scope out what kind of people they are. Email or meet with them. These are the folks who could really inspire and engage you and/or make your life very challenging.

These schools vary greatly from department to department. Find out about the grad student culture for your department. I did PhD McGill. I loved Montreal and my dept had a decent grad culture that was good too. I had friends that lived in TO. Both are great cities. Scope out the economics too. Not only for funding (for MA or potentially for PhD too), but for living. Where would you live and for how much? In Montreal, most grad students avoided the (undergrad) McGill ghetto in favour of the Plateau area near Mount Royal. Great neighbourhood around St. Laurent and St. Denis.

Congrats on 2 great options!
posted by kch at 8:16 PM on March 30, 2007

I was living with my parents at the time, which made a difference (I did not feel nearly much a part of the UofT campus life). U of T is huge

Ya, I don't think it makes that much difference.. Toronto just doesn't have the university atmosphere that Montreal manages to generate.

U of T is big and bureaucratic, but that didn't stop me from having a great experience (in Applied Science, not exactly History :P).
posted by Chuckles at 7:58 PM on March 31, 2007

Response by poster: I really want to thank you all for some great answers. You have all given me some more things to ponder before making my decision. I've got something like 10 more days before making a decision, but from what I hear I will enjoy either school.
posted by boubelium at 8:37 PM on April 1, 2007

Ya, I don't think it makes that much difference.. Toronto just doesn't have the university atmosphere that Montreal manages to generate.

I don't think that's accurate at all. Living with your parents makes all the difference. It is ridiculously easy to be a social undergraduate at U of T: either you're in Arts & Sciences and socialize with your college, or you're in a ProFac and you socialize with your faculty and program. Either way, you meet tons of people easily, especially if you're living on or around campus.

I can't speak for McGill personally, but friends of friends who went there reported the opposite: the lack of collegiate system makes for a large and impersonal campus.

Of course, this is all largely irrelevant, as the asker is at the graduate level, in which case the best advice is to echo what everyone else said and make serious visits to both schools.
posted by DrJohnEvans at 5:55 PM on April 12, 2007

I can't speak personally to the graduate program at UofT, though I will say that Robarts Library at Toronto is so massive that the rest of the province is jealous (especially since the money was from the government and UofT doesn't share well, but that's not the students problem/fault). You also have York University as a second resource in Toronto; the history department at York is very strong in Canadian history. UofT does more diplomatic/political history and York more social/economic history, but I know that the departments have close ties and graduate students at both often take classes at the other university. The history graduate students I met seemed to have fairly tight knit communities at both UofT and York, and to know each other and the faculty very well. (They were very chummy with faculty, much more so than where I am now.)

The undergraduate and graduate communities at UofT are very separate - the undergraduate community is huge and often anonymous (especially for the majority who are commuter students), but the graduates all seemed to know each other. I think that I could tell you the "feel" of the university for an undergrad, but it wouldn't be relevant; you really want to ask someone who has been to UofT as a graduate student in history or a related discipline.

(I was a history undergrad at York in Toronto, and my husband was a history undergrad at UofT - we are now both PhD students in History elsewhere.)

Both Toronto and Montreal are great cities - large enough to be cosmopolitan, small enough to be not overwhelmingly crowded. Costs are similar, as is the transit situation (Toronto transit has increased in price in the last few years, but is still excellent, especially downtown).

However, if you wanted to work on your French, Montreal is by far and away the better place to do that. Toronto is a very multicultual city, but it has almost no places where French is spoken - Montreal is a fully bilingual city. I'm in a Phd in History now, but I really regret not doing more language work before I got underway with my research, even though it's not essential in my field (British history). But for Canadian history, French is obviously so important, and there is nothing like immersion to improve or solidify your language skills, if you feel you need to. (If you wanted to practive Italian or Chinese, Toronto would be great, but if you feel like you need/want to improve your French you would be frustrated in Toronto.)

Other than that, there are the obvious considerations of who you would be working with - my own decision on where to go to graduate school was based almost entirely on the advisor I would be working with (and he continues to be the best part of my graduate program). I realise a master's degree is not as long a commitment as a PhD, but I still think that the faculty you work with and your supervisor are just about the biggest influences on your experience in any research degree, and their support or lack thereof can make or break your thesis.

Congratulations on your acceptances, and good luck!
posted by jb at 4:20 PM on April 29, 2007

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