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I was born in Edmonton, in the heart of the university area, so I know the U of A (or eh?) as they say in Canada better than the back of my hand. The information here though is basically about those who would consider doing an Arts related degree (although my dad is an engineering/geology prof and my brother did a degree in Math and Computing there a couple of years ago) as that is the track I followed. The first thing to understand about the U of A is that it was built to suit Edmonton's environment (which is cold, Edmonton is the largest northernmost city in Canada and it gets fairly cold there) so that most buildings have connecting corridors between them, either above ground or below ground so that you don't have to go outside and freeze your ears/nose/toes off. If you're doing a year at a BA or BSc. degree chances are your classes will be spread all about the campus. The next thing is that the U of A is Alberta's largest university and is far far better than the university of Calgary (pah! we spit on it!). It's the university in the capital city and thus gets more funding and is frankly in a far nicer and more tolerant place than Calgary (which has a reputation for being narrow and small minded, due to its rather rural cattle rustling past, they still wear plastic cowboy hats at Calgary airport... *shudder*). Edmonton is quite cosmpolitan and beautifully great with the two halves of the city being separated by the North Saskatchewan river thus creating a beautiful area of green space which is lovely to walk in, picnic in or ride a bike through. It's also excellent for sledding (when there is snow). The university area is also filled with bookshops, little cafes and small clubs where you can go out and entertain yourself. Look out in particular for the Highlevel Diner which serves wonderful food (Ural Burger and Tartufo Ice Cream balls... lovely!) and has a wonderful setting near the mouth of the high level bridge and th
e river valley. Away from the scenery and more in the nitty gritty. A degree at the U of A is modular and takes roughly 4 years. However, unlike modules over in the UK, you are expected to do a number of things outside your chosen subject. For instance, I did a degree in history. Had I chosen to do a normal degree (where you major and minor)I would have done nearly half my course in history, a bit in a minor, and one full year language module (or two half years), one full year science modules (or two half years), one full year fine arts module (ditto with the half years) and all sorts of other muck. Which would be fine, except your average can be brought down if you happen to have a bitchy drama teacher who is fed up with al these people taking his course and not caring. Usually you can pick out the courses that are geared to fulfilling your credits. They advertise themselves ('Take Geology 101 it's full of exciting rocks')or else you hear about them by word of mouth. You may also be asked to do another language. Occasionally this requirement can be satisfied by challenging an exam. You show up at the department with a form from the Arts faculty and say that you wish to challenge French or German 101, you then write the exam and poof if you pass you get credit for the course, usually at half the price of the course itself. Very handy if you have a good handle of a language, and they offer a large range so even those fluent in Japanese, Swedish or Czech can do it. Doing an honours degree cuts out a lot of the crap that comes with a normal degree. This usually comes at a price. You will have to keep your average up (usually at 7.5, the U of A is one of the few universities in the world that marks out of 9) and write a small thesis, but this is often nothing compared to the horrors of having to fulfill a whole load of credits in courses you have no interest in. Often you are asked by a department to do an honours degree, or you ca
n go and ask to switched over to an honours course, which is usually no trouble is you have a lecturer that likes you and a good average. Arts courses are largely marked with 2 essays, 1 midterm, a final exam and tutorial work. Tutorial work is rated higher depending on the level of the course (a third year course might for example only have 2 large essays and a lot of tutorial work where you would be graded depending on how much you were able to contribute to the discussion). In general I have to say that I found the lower level introductory courses much harder. Often they would cover far more ground and you'd be faced with final exams that could ask you questions on over 500 years of history. Very scary. You can often go to the Students Union building and pay for copies of old exams so that you can study from them and get an idea of the types of questions you will be asked. As for the Student's Union. Well it supplies a number of useful services. There is a post office, a travel agency with cheap tickets for students, a large bookshop where you can buy your textbooks, a second hand textbook shop who you can sell your textbooks to or to check for your books second hand (and cheaper!) also there's a large eating area and it's home to the university newspaper (there's also a university radio station which is always looking for volunteers). There are also several bars, the best of which is RATT (Room at the top). Be aware that the drinking age in Alberta is 18 (not 21 like some backward American states :) ). Finally the U of A has a number of Sports facilities, some of these were even used for the World Track and Field Championships, and also for Universiade '83 (which I remember from my childhood) so they're world class. There are a number of swimming pools, diving boards, an ice rink (this is Canada after all!), running tracks, everything your sporting heart could desire is now at your fingertips and practically
free because of your student fees. With these sporting facilities there are of course university teams, the Golden Bears (men's teams) and the Pandas (women's) and they play hockey, lacrosse, track and field, gymnastics, judo, water polo, swimming, diving everything!! In terms of fees, if you're lucky and are coming over for postgraduate work you can convince your department to offer you an assistant post and then have a lot of your fees paid and more money on top. Otherwise be aware that foreign students pay 2ce what Canadians pay (but this is the same in Europe for Canadians) which makes it kind of expensive. But, it is cheaper to go to university in Canada than the united states and the cost of living is far less, plus the quality of education is very high. In conclusion, the level of teaching there is very good and setting and social life is very pleasant at the U of A. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get a taste of the Great Wild North and get an education too.