What is it Like to Attend McGill University?

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach—they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Caroline earned her bachelor’s degree in international development and Russian at McGill University. She lives in Washington, D.C., and specializes in Russian tutoring, history tutoring, French tutoring, and several other subjects. See what she had to say about her experience at McGill University:

Describe the campus setting and transportation options at McGill University.

Caroline: McGill University is in the very center of Montreal's downtown, so it's as urban as you can get. I never felt like I was unsafe living in the city; as long as you take normal city-living precautions, like walking home with a friend when it's late, you'll be fine. Montreal has a great public transportation system. The STM is the metro and bus system, and Bixi is a bike-sharing system. All of these have student rates! I don't know anyone who owned a car.

How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Caroline: McGill University is a huge school, so professors, TAs, and the like will only really respond if you reach out to them first. They all have two hours of office hours a week, but you have to take the initiative to ask for help and make connections. McGill in general is not big on "hand-holding" the way universities in the U.S. are; you have to take some initiative to get places. This paid off for me when I left!

How would you describe the dorm life—rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Caroline: McGill University only provides housing in first year. After that, everyone finds an apartment around the city. The first-year housing program, or residence, is very diverse. There's traditional dorm-style housing, small apartments, or hotel-style living you can choose from, all with their pros and cons. They are scattered around the city, but most are close to McGill's main campus. Dining options also vary from residence to residence; some are better than others, but usually you'll be able to find a wide variety of options for all diets. There are also several first-year-exclusive events that the First Year Council throws.

Which majors/programs are best represented and supported at McGill University? 

Caroline: McGill requires you to apply to a specific faculty, and every faculty is different and known for different things. I was in Faculty of Arts, but McGill University is also renowned for its science and medicine programs, as they produce world-class research. The Faculty of Management and Law are both highly regarded as well. In Arts, I studied Russian and International Development as a double major. There are lots and lots of research opportunities, as well as very cool lectures, visiting professors, and some very interesting classes to take. However, the same caveat applies: McGill University is huge, so you'll have to go looking for these opportunities. Nothing is simply handed to you. Support is there if you need it, but you'll have to ask.

How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life?

Caroline: Greek life is a minuscule portion of campus life. Many people meet great friends their first year of residence, and I did too. My circle of friends only grew when I left residence as I met other friends through clubs, councils, classes, and other activities. Montreal is a great city with a ton to do, so there was always something going on and friends to go with!

How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services?

Caroline: The Career Center is good for things like prepping your resume, preparing for interviews, and learning how to effectively search for a job. Major companies recruit on campus because McGill University is a huge name, but they are largely for positions in Canada.

How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges?

Caroline: McGill University has about 11 libraries and almost every program has its own lounge space or office. Things get very crowded around midterms and finals, but usually if you come early enough you can find a spot. They're scattered all around campus. And because it's Montreal, many students prefer to study in local coffee shops or restaurants rather than on campus.

Describe the surrounding town.

Caroline: McGill University is in the very heart of downtown Montreal, so when you go to campus, you are headed downtown! Montreal is a fantastic city. There are so many cool restaurants, festivals, and events occurring that it's hard to be bored!

How big or small is the student body at McGill University? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Caroline: McGill University is around 27,000 undergrads and another 10,000 grad students. The intro classes in any major are enormous. I took classes that were 625 students, and I know some people in 700-person classes. However, depending on the program, the class size radically narrows. My final year, I had classes with 15 or 25 people, and I wrote two theses, so those were essentially one-on-one hangouts with my professors. Of course, any large class also breaks into smaller conference sections of 30 people or less to discuss the material. I am a self-starter, so I was OK with the class sizes, although at times I wished I could have had more small classes.

Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Caroline: McGill University’s political science program has a class called Peacebuilding, which runs a week-long civil war simulation game with its 100 students. I played the Russian Ambassador to the UN, and I will never forget the late-night UN meetings in the Students' Society building as we frantically tried to reach an agreement about what would happen to the fake country of Brynania—and the janitors tried to kick us out. Tensions definitely ran high the whole week as everyone struggled to achieve their objectives and bring peace back to the region, but when it was over, most of the class celebrated together at the on-campus bar. Definitely one of my more memorable classes at McGill!

Check out Caroline’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.