Practically they may not be necessary, but why deny yourself the opportunity?

A year ago today, I was one of thousands of students eagerly awaiting graduation from high school, busy researching universities to attend for the following year. I was quite the pretentious and overly confident student back then, completely engrossed by the respective reputations of Canadian schools when it came time to make a decision. I only cared about prestige and the ways in which post-secondary institutions are perceived here in Canada and abroad. My parents wanted me to attend a reputable school, and so — as far as rankings go — it would have to be one of McGill University, University of British Columbia, or U of T. With that in mind, I made sure that come January I focused on preparing the best applications for those specific schools. 

Throughout my high school experience, I was never a huge fan of math and science courses. To be frank, I despised everything that involved numbers and logical thinking. As a student who wanted to study English and history, numbers — excluding historical dates — and science haunted my dreams. So, you can imagine my reaction when I learned that U of T maintains a breadth requirement policy, compelling students to wade out from their comfortable disciplines into murky foreign waters. Frankly, I was horrified. I remember asking an older friend and U of T graduate why such requirements existed. She replied with a shrug. For a while, I was annoyed by the academic policy, but soon came to terms with it. I was just going to have to suck it up and deal with it. 

Now that I am a first-year student taking a science course to meet a requirement, I can say it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Sure, I would much rather study Shakespearean plays or European civilization, but learning about the sun and the stars is turning out to be tolerable, if not equally as fascinating. 

The reasoning behind U of T’s breadth requirements is not difficult to follow. It is a simple way for the university to make sure that its students can contribute to society in more ways than just their area of study. If I’m being honest, it makes sense — having a broader knowledge base in many subjects improves a person’s thinking, and ultimately, problem-solving skills. It kills me to admit this, but the arts are connected to the sciences, and everything in between. The world needs polymaths, and how can you argue with expanding your horizons?

Carol Park is a first-year student at Victoria College studying English and history.

   Breadth requirements: One way to ensure U of T students make the most of their experience

Breadth requirements may feel arduous and unnecessary at times, but there are several significant benefits to taking courses outside of your subject POSts. These courses can open you up to new opportunities, enrich your experience in your chosen disciplines, and make you a more well-rounded student in general — but only if you pick the right courses.

Students will often forget to include breadth requirements in their course selection decisions, despite the fact that they are necessary for graduation. If you take classes that you have no interest in, opt to take them as credit/no credit, and just show up to write the exams, then yes, you are wasting your time. However, selecting courses that interest you in some way, getting involved, and making an effort to learn something new is not wasting your time at all. 

The University of Toronto St. George Faculty of Arts & Science calendar defends the breadth requirement on the grounds that it is important for students to “have chosen courses across a broad range of subject areas,” while the university’s Scarborough campus website states that “[the breadth requirement] enables students to develop insight, experience, and new ways of thinking in areas distinct from their main fields of study.” In theory, the concept is sound, but in order to achieve these goals, students have to be actively engaged in their extra courses. 

I major in economics and public policy, but I took women and gender studies, forestry, and environmental science courses to fulfill my requirements. Although it may seem like these courses are wildly outside of my focus, they really aren’t, everything had an economic and political component to it, and I gained important experience in thinking about problems that interest me from an interdisciplinary perspective.

Many of my friends simply made their breadth classes credit/no credit. This is because the structure allows for two full-credit equivalent courses to be taken on a credit/no credit basis, which conveniently parallels the number of required breadth courses. Although there’s nothing wrong with this, I noticed that I was able to achieve higher grades in my breadth requirement classes than in my regular classes, boosting my GPA overall. The change of pace provided by these courses is refreshing when you can all too easily be numbed by the drudgery of standard academic fare.

Are breadth requirements necessary? Perhaps not in the grand scheme of preparatory education in a given discipline. However, in the sense that branching out can only be a positive experience — and assuming you dedicate yourself — they are absolutely integral to the development of well-rounded students and citizens. If you don’t think the grade will help, or that it might hurt you overall, by all means take the course as credit-only. However, try not to slack; the opportunity to explore new interests is too important to pass up.

Christina Atkinson is a third-year student at University College studying economics and political science.