Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Schools University of Toronto: Bad for undergrad?

  1. Jul 11, 2011 #1
    If I want to go to graduate school in either math or physics? I've been advised against going by my teachers, guidance councilors, and friends who have siblings that are currently UofT students. I've heard all the stories of students coming in with 99 averages into the math and physics stream and having their dreams crushed and failing out, how UofT purposely keeps the GPA's of the majority of the students low, and most courses are designed specifically to fail as many students as possible. Now I know these are rumors and most probably not true, but I never hear the same horror stories of other notoriously known universities such Waterloo, Queen's, Mcgill, and Mcmaster. Is there any hints of truth to these rumors? If I want to eventually go to graduate school, should I transfer out as soon as possible out of UofT?

    I'd like to hear specifically from UofT students who are in the math and physics streams. Thanks.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 12, 2011 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Education Advisor

    Is it possible your anecdotal evidence is biassed by relative population sizes? Ie. do you think you may hear more UofT horror stories because you know more people who've gone to UofT, or because more people simply go to UofT

    I think you're worrying too much over nothing. These are the kind of stories that are perpetuated by students who get through high school without much effort and who are then faced with more of a challenge in university, don't do anything different, and end up not doing so well. Rather than look inwardly at their own habits, they complain about external factors over which they have no control. It happens at every university.

    Try to look instead for the opportunities available at any school you're interested in.
  4. Jul 12, 2011 #3
    If the UofT is like the UofA, this doesn't matter much, because the class average is given along with your grade on your transcripts.

    So, if the class avg is a C+ and you get a B+, then grad admissions should see that you're pretty good student.
  5. Jul 13, 2011 #4
    That is what I thought, too. That, those who were complaining were the ones who did poorly and blame their shortcomings on the university, and that those who don't whine usually don't have time to dispel false statements. The problem is, I don't hear any of this from other historically rigorous universities, such as Waterloo and Mcgill.

    On the plus side, there's plenty of research opportunities at UofT offered to students throughout the year. But, wouldn't all that research be meaningless if I end up with a sub-par GPA?
  6. Jul 13, 2011 #5
    Do grad-schools really take that into consideration, especially the competitive and top grad-schools? Isn't it about raw numbers at first and having to make it past a certain cut-off before the subjective process of admissions can take place?
  7. Jul 13, 2011 #6
    I don't think you're going to end up with a significantly, or at all, higher GPA if you go to a different university. Even if they do weed out people, those aren't people that would otherwise excel at other universities.
    How is where you place among your fellow students not a raw number? There's nothing subjective about it.
  8. Jul 13, 2011 #7

    There is usually a drop dead cut-off but it's set low enough so that you aren't likely to hit it unless you have no hope of getting in anyway.
  9. Jul 13, 2011 #8
    You might end up with a higher GPA, but since people are aware that universities have different grading standards getting higher grades at a university that is known to be "easy" isn't going to help you.

    Disagree with this. I know people that got weeded out of physics at UT Austin that I thought would have done just fine had they gotten into MIT. Weed out courses is the only thing that I worry about. Also weed out courses and harsh grading are not necessarily connected. You can have a school that grades very harshly but most people end up making it through, or you could have a school that gives high grades but then the weed out level is set very high.

    Also.... For the OP.

    If you are getting 99's that means that the tests are too easy. Physics is harsh and one thing that you have to learn is to get 70's and keep fighting. One problem with getting "easy scores" is that if you don't get used to hard struggles in undergraduate, it gets worse in graduate school.
  10. Jul 13, 2011 #9
    One other thing, this might sound harsh, but if physics isn't for you, it's a lot better to find that out freshman year when you still have some time to learn something different than to go through and then find that out later when you have fewer choices.

    If your dreams are going to get crushed anyway, it's better that happen sooner than later.
  11. Jul 14, 2011 #10
    Most classes at UofT are not deigned to fail as many students as possible, however they are designed to have around a C+ - B- average (at least in first year). From what I've heard the top students in physics at UofT have GPA's around 3.8.

    Also since when are Waterloo, Queen's, McGill, and McMaster known to be notoriously difficult (especially McMaster and Queen's)? The only university I've ever heard horror stories about in Canada is UofT.

    Don't worry too much about the 'horror stories' you hear about UofT - I'm sure most of them are unfounded.
  12. Jul 14, 2011 #11
    I am going to the University of Toronto (UofT) this fall for physics and mathematics for the first year as well. I do not believe those stories you are writing about. UofT is the best school in Canada. Since it is the best you will most likely hear stories of how hard it is for the students just like I hear stories like that in the top schools in the USA such as Harvard and MIT. People in the past have receive good grades in the school and my friend who went last year had a good grade.

    Like everything in life, it is a manner of how much you want it. Good grades in university, or so I've been told, is not as easy to obtain as they are in high school. If you want good grades for physics and mathematics in UofT I would recommend you to do what I am going to do. Use this and other website forums to learn what you don't fully understand in class or in private study.
  13. Jul 14, 2011 #12
    It's funny how people instead of studying harder, complain that the class average is too low. Let me just say that outstanding people are outstanding everywhere. They do not drop from 4.0 to 3.0 as they move on to college. If that happens, you are simply not good enough. If you have faith in yourself, you should not be afraid of going to a competitive university. :)
  14. Jul 15, 2011 #13
    Though this may be true as a general rule, the problem is that students taking the advanced first year math and physics students at UofT are all, for the most part, brilliant. These are the students coming with averages in the high 90's and the class averages ranging from a D to a C-. That is quite intimidating to hear, personally. I have also heard from numerous sources that UofT professors aren't allowed to have class averages above a C+ and are bell-curved accordingly or they must submit a letter to the department . Even though I cannot confirm that officially (from reading marking policies) and I don't know if it is factual or not though I wouldn't be surprised if UofT actually had such a policy.

    If you don't make it past the GPA cut-off, will grad-school admissions really take the time as to figure out why your GPA is so low and look through your transcript and compare your grades with your classmates? I don't have any sort of idea on how graduate school admissions work, so I am probably very wrong.
  15. Jul 15, 2011 #14
    I don't think it was harsh at all, it was very helpful. My interests lie primarily in mathematics, but have sparked an interest in physics after taking a class and acing it. Now, I know high school physics is nothing compared to the university level, but I still find it one of the most interesting and enjoyable classes I have ever taken. I can only hope my university classes will be even more interesting and enjoyable.
  16. Jul 15, 2011 #15
    I sure hope so, or I might as well try to transfer to Ryerson or UOIT and patch my GPA and my hopes of getting into graduate school. As for those schools, didn't mean they were notoriously difficult (even though that may commonly be inferred), just that they are schools with equally as good programs as UofT, with the exception that the majority of the student population of those schools seem happy and content with their programs. I only ever hear UofT students whine and complain about "living" in Robarts library and still doing poorly.
  17. Jul 15, 2011 #16
    Best school in Canada? I don't know about that one, dude. I think Mcgill is more known as the "Harvard of Canada" and is more recognized than UofT. Besides, Canada has no equivalent for the "Ivy League". All of our well-known universities are state funded, much like state schools. At least with MIT and Harvard, the prestige of attending the best institutions in the world (personal opinion) would be a strong motivator, at least for myself. With UofT physics or math, your degree isn't any more prestigious than a Uwaterloo degree, Mcmaster degree, or a Mcgill degree. Maybe if it was engineering, but not physics or math.

    Definitely agree with your second paragraph. PF and other helpful forums would be a savior to helping me through. Also, which classes are you planning to take in your first year? MAT137 or MAT157? PHY131 or PHY151?
  18. Jul 15, 2011 #17
    McGill is a great university, but you have to Google the universities to discover what is the best ones in Canada. I got a magazine from school that showed me the information about Canadian schools and two top ones, UofT and University of BC, was not on there because the survey was biased. So I Googled it and mostly for Canada it was UofT and University of BC was the top university in Canada. In fact UofT for all programs, according to UofT, is in the top 15 in the entire world.

    Anyways, I am planing on taking PHY151H1, PHY152H1, ECO100Y1, RLG100Y1, LIN101Y, and not sure about the math. I think I will have to take MAT157Y1 because MAT137 may be the same time as RLG100Y1.

    P.S. I wouldn't recommend you to triple or even double post.
  19. Jul 15, 2011 #18
    Not that rankings matter... http://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2010

    Anyways, I'd have to agree with Retribution that McGill is the 'best' university in Canada. UofT may be the best for graduate school in more programs than any other university in Canada but McGill is probably the overall best university (undergraduate, graduate, experience, reputation, location, etc).
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 26, 2017
  20. Jul 15, 2011 #19
    First, I think more people get accepted to UofT than to other universities, so while you have a lot of "brilliant" students, you also have a lot of merely "good" or "average" ones. I'm not saying the distribution differs a lot from other universities, but just the sheer number could result in some being weeded out. Also, a lot of non-physics majors take first year physics courses, and I think it's fair to assume those constitute the majority of the people getting weeded out.

    As for the grading curve policies, if UofT has one, they aren't the only ones. University of Alberta has one, as well, and professors are given a frame of sorts for what the distribution of marks should be. Of course it's not perfectly rigid and there is some discretion within those boundaries, but they have to explain and justify if their distribution differs from the prescribed one. A friend of mine, who also studies physics, told me that he once received the unofficial grade in May, just like usual, but then when the official grade came out in August/September, it was a B+ instead of an A-, since the grades had to be lowered due to skewed distribution. I'm sure this isn't the only university in Canada that has such a policy. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if all of them had one. After all, you can't have efficient grading on a curve without it.

    But maybe you just don't hear people whine as much elsewhere as much.

    I know my faculty back home had a similar drop-out rate of about 50% after first year, but, anecdotally, I can't name a single person to whom I think great injustice has been done by getting weeded out.
    Well, you do send the paper that states your ranking among your peers with the rest of the documentation, don't you?
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook