The Breadth Requirement: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

I have this theory that the Faculty of Arts & Science, like the plethora of technological advancements that continue to seep into our everyday lives, is almost always trying to make things less complicated but almost always ends up achieving the exact opposite.

First and foremost, there is the calendar. It is now 584 pages long, in comparison to the one last year,  which was only 568 pages. Of course, it’s not the quantity that counts, but quality. Thankfully, in terms of Distribution Requirements, this year Arts & Science decided to eliminate its lists of Humanity Courses for Science and Social Science Students, as well as Science Courses for Humanities and Social Science Students (Page 27 of the Calendar).

At first glance, this is great news. The fact that there were two separate distribution requirements for Humanities and Social Science yet one list that combines course suggestions for both areas of study always drove me completely nuts (for some reason humanities courses are always more abundant than social science courses!). Whenever it came to course selection, I used to just sit in front of my desk and flip through the pages of my calendar for hours, hoping to stumble upon a course slightly less random than FCS298H1: French Culture and Asia.

Things were switched up a bit for the new calendar. Instead of two lists that have at best stimulated my creative problem-solving abilities, now there’s a Distribution Requirement designation that follows each and every course description in the calendar (more details can be found on Page 26 of the 2010-11 calendar). So now, for any course of interest that is outside your discipline of study, you no longer need to rely on Six Degrees of Separation to find some guy or some girl who has taken the course (you deserve a pat on the back if you ever get to this stage) but who nevertheless may not be able to answer your question regarding whether or not it actually counts as a social science or a humanities credit. But now, the designation says it all:

DR=HUM–> It’s a humanities course!

DR=SOC SCI –> It’s a social science course!

DR=SCI –> It’s a science course!

But Lucy, you ask, my brain is not yet overwhelmed by this information. Does this mean that my rigorous education at U of T has finally made me smarter?!

Ah, but you see, there is more. It turns out, just as the school’s finally smoothing out the knots regarding degree requirements, it’s not even going to be used for students beginning their studies in September 2010 or after. What replaces it is something called Breadth Requirement, which classifies courses offered by Arts and Science into 5 categories according to subject content:

BR=1: Creative and Cultural Representations

BR=2: Thought, Belief, and Behaviour

BR=3: Society and Its Institutions

BR=4: Living Things and Their Environment

BR=5: The Physical and Mathematical Universes

Basically, students must take at least four full-course equivalents (FCEs) that have so far been assigned a BR designation – currently, only 100-level and 200-level courses hold such designations. Some do not have BR designations and show up as BR=none. The rest still show up as BR=TBA (BR designations for these will be available on the Faculty website this summer). These four FCEs can be fulfilled in one of two ways:

1. Take at least 1 FCE from each of 4 (out of the 5) categories mentioned above.

2. Take at least 1 FCE from each of 3 (out of the 5) categories mentioned above; for the remaining 2 categories, take at least 0.5 FCE from each.

Courses taken to fulfill the Breadth Requirement must have an assigned BR designation (i.e. it can’t be BR=TBA). The student must hold academic standing in this course. This course does not need to be used to satisfy a program requirement, and it can be taken as CR/NCR.

It all sound so grand (I mean, it must be when words like “cultural representation” is thrown around the circle). But how would we know what kind of a course would fit each of these categories? For something like CLA203 Science in Antiquity, for example, how would students actually intuit the fact that it falls under the BR category of “Thought, Belief and Behaviour”?

If I’ve had so much trouble to even think up a course that could be a social science course, how much trouble might students encounter when left to pick courses out of the whole 584 pages of possibilities that would fit into not one of three but five (much more ambiguous) categories?

Finally, it’s not like course selection at the St. George campus has always been a breeze. How would anyone actually go about picking courses that, on top of fulfilling a BR designation, also fulfill the following:

1. It must fit an undergrad’s complicated schedule.

2. It must have a reasonable enrollment indicator so that by the time Priority round lifts, there will still be spaces left for enrollment. It also can’t be an “R” or “RP” course.

3. The student must be eligible to take the course based on exclusion, pre-requisites and co-requisites.

4. It must not be too difficult for students specializing in a significantly different program of study (e.g. a student specializing in immunology taking courses in English literature).


I guess ultimately, adaptation is necessary for anyone who has the need to keep up with an evolving system. Maybe this is just like natural selection: along the process of change, somehow students will just figure it all out. I mean, they have to, right? After all, we all want a happy ending.


29 comments on “The Breadth Requirement: something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue

  1. Holy crap! Am I glad that I’m getting out before this brilliant “breath requirement” kicks in or what! It was as if ARTSCI decided that students aren’t jumping through enough hoops to get the courses they need/want to graduate with their sanity.

  2. Thankfully I am graduating this year. My humanities distribution requirements count as ‘science’ for non-science, and my social science one was a joke. At least those are normal categories. Poor future undergrads.

  3. “Normal categories”.

    Exactly my point.

    But looking at the bright side of things, now undergrads won’t be able to complain about not getting a fulfilling university education–because they can say things like: “Loosely based on my undergraduate education focused on creative and cultural representations of our current society in a primordial fashion, I am disinclined to acquiesce to your request”.


  4. I don’t actually think the new breadth requirement is that bad. It might encourage students – especially first years – to seek out courses from fields that they wouldn’t normally explore, and help them break the mindset that they are “only good at one field”. Who knows – someone set on specializing in criminology in might just discover that computer science isn’t as bad as her friend/brother/parents told her it was. (Note: I chose these fields randomly. I have nothing against criminology majors and I don’t hang out in Bahen with a “will make friends with computer scientists” sign.)

  5. @Timmy: Yes I think you’re right. It is without a doubt that A&S means well–this whole thing is aimed at helping students receive a well-rounded education. We’ll see how it pans out I guess. One can only imagine what kind of pandemonium these changes will lead up to when course selection rolls around…

  6. I took a bit of time looking through the breadth requirement and all that mumbo jumbo and it’s not all that bad! In fact, I could just as easily satisfy the new breadth requirement with all the courses I have. Let’s rephrase the categories so they’re more intuitive:

    Br 1 & Br 2 = Most humanities courses
    Br 3 = Most social science courses
    Br 4 & Br 5 = Biological and physical science courses respectively

    So as you can see, it’s pretty much the exact same as it was before, except with fancier names.

  7. Holy Bureaucratic Batman! The UofT might as well start offering courses in red-tape-ology.

    The layers of complexity these silly rules add to the existing mess are unfathomable.

  8. As if I am not going through enough.
    I transfered from New Zealand and will start this september at uoft…
    Just recieved my first crdt transfer assessment yesterday only to find a ‘BR=4’ jumping out at me.

    Thank you lucy your explanation was actually very helpfull in a time of distress.

  9. Hi Joe and Dalia,

    Thank you for commenting. Regarding the complexity…what I always tell myself is that “if I can make it through this, I can make it through anything”. LOL.

    Best of luck,

  10. Hmmm….so if we enrolled in UTSC before summer 2010 we DO NOT need to fulfill the Breadth Requirements? This is all so confusing…what about “Overlapping Requirements”? I’m loosing my mind!!!

  11. Hey Karla,

    I’m not too familiar with the UTSC system but you can definitely call up the Registrar’s Office and ask:

    I called them once and they were very patient and helpful, and I got my question answered right away.

    For people enrolling into their degree studies BEFORE SEPTEMBER 2010, we use the Distribution Requirement. For students enrolling after September 2010, they follow the Breadth Requirement instead.

    I’m not familiar with the term “overlapping requirements”. I think this pertains more to fulfilling the PROGRAM requirements (which are needed for you to ultimately get your DEGREE–ie. you need to major in 2 programs/specialize in 1/major in 1 and minor in 2 to get your Honors B.Sc. degree), as opposed to DEGREE requirements, which you only need to have taken at SOME point in your entire undergrad career in order to get that Honours B.Sc. If this is the case, then it’s sometimes program specific. Generally speaking, if you’re doing a double major, then from courses that count towards your degree –e.g. not “extra”, not a 7th 100-level credit–you must have at least 12 different courses that count towards your two program requirements.

  12. Hi there and hello for posting this! It really cleared up some of my questions. I will be starting at U of T in September 2010, but I’m confused about the breadth requirement. Right now I’m signed up for a half breadth 4 and half breadth 5 course – do those two count for fulfilling one full course?

    Also, when a course states that it’s “mainly intended as a science distribution course for humanities students”, does that mean it’s easier for people like me who don’t intend to study science? Thank you in advance!

  13. Hi Alicia!

    I think you’re confused about something fairly minor, but just to be sure, I’ll try to address any potential questions that might arise from this whole business, starting from the very basics lol. I’m sure you already are quite familiar with the following, but just to reiterate: when you take a full-year course, it will be 1. 0 credit, or “1 FCE” (in other words, one that ends with Y, which ends in end of April). By the same token, if you take a half year course, it will be 0.5 credit, and these courses end with H, not Y, and you’re through with it after only one semester (so either the Fall one, from September to end of December, or the Winter one, from January to end of April).

    Without taking into consideration breadth requirements, yes, 0.5 credit + 0.5 credit does make “one full course”, like you said. But in terms of breadth requirement, things are a bit different, because each of the courses you mentioned counts towards a separate breadth requirement. If it helps, think of the 5 breadth requirements as 5 empty cups, and think of taking each course (and the credit you’ll receive at the end of it) as water to fill up these 5 cups. So right now, you basically have half a cup filled for Breadth Req #4, and half a cup filled for Breadth Req #5.

    The school requires that, for you to ultimately get your degree, you will need to, at some point in your undergrad, do a total of the following:

    Option 1:
    Take at least 1 FCE from each of 4 (out of the 5) breadth requirement categories

    Option 2:
    Take at least 1 FCE from each of 3 (out of the 5) categories; for the remaining 2 categories, take at least 0.5 FCE from each.

    So right now, you can technically do the 2nd option, and take 1FCE from Breadth Req #1-3. Or, for the remaining years you have at UofT, you can also take another half year course to count towards #4, and another half year course to count towards #5, and then if, for example, you don’t ever want to take a course that falls under breadth requirement #3, then you don’t need to–just take 1 FCE each for breadth #1 and #2, and you’re done!

    (sometimes, if you decide to change directions half way through–for example I’m taking mostly social science courses now and I was in molecular biology before–then the breadth requirements often end up working out by itself, so that you no longer need to consciously fulfill those individual requirements anymore for course selection. Initially, at the beginning of undergrad, a lot of students want to “get it over with”, but they don’t realize that sometimes a lot of the upper year courses don’t have strict prerequisite requirements, and although they might not be required for your program, they’re usually quite good and eye-opening. So don’t worry if you don’t have all the breadth requirements fulfilled by the end of 1st year or even 2nd year–take your time, this whole thing is supposed to encourage you to explore all the different courses offered by the school, to broaden the “breadth” of your education)

    Sorry I totally digressed lol.

    The second question: yes those are easier, and so they’re generally not going to have enough depth for students who would want to take upper level courses in the same discipline. I guess you can say they’re not hardcore enough 🙂 Try taking a 1st year seminar course! (199Y) I think some of them can be used to fulfill these breadth requirements and stuff, and they’re ONLY available to 1st years, and to be honest, those small 20-ppl classes will be a breath of fresh air in comparison to your other 200-ppl lectures (or worse…BIO150 had like 2000 students in Con Hall at the beginning of September).

    Hope that helped! Good luck with 1st year! =D


  14. Oh god, Lucy, you completely saved my life. I’ve been stressing over all this for weeks. Thanks for clearing itup! I understand the breadth thing, though it’s hard to find courses that both interest you and fit the requirement. I took half courses in both astronomy and physics, something I’ve never though of before, so I’m hoping I’ll do well! (I’m going for poli sci and history, but we’ll see how it goes!)

    And as for seminars, I’ll be taking one at Vic, so here’s to not being trampled in a great big auditorium! I’m also on vacation so I’ll be enrolling in courses while in the mountains. Yay.

    Anyway, thanks very much once again for helping me with this! I appreciate it! 🙂

  15. Hi,
    I am going to U of T in the upcoming September and the whole breadth requirement thing is confusing me. How do I know which courses fall into which breadth requirement? If I take an English course does it automatically fall into the humanities section or is does it work differently?
    Thanks a lot for this blog, by the way. It cleared some of my misconception about U of T course enrolment.

  16. @Alicia: you’re welcome!


    If you look on the online version of the Calendar for the 2010-2011 school year, you should be able to find the BR descriptions for each course listed under the course descriptions.
    The Calendar can be found here:

    For example, English:

    Literature for our Time [72L]

    An exploration of how recent literature in English responds to our world. Includes poetry, prose, and drama by major writers of the twentieth century (such as Eliot, Woolf, Beckett, Plath, Morrison, Munro, Coetzee, Rushdie) and emerging writers of the current century.
    DR=HUM; BR=1


    Here, DR=Degree Requirement, which applies to ppl admitted in years before yours. BR = Breadth Requirement. BR=1 means it can be used to fulfill the BR requirement for BR1, Creative and Cultural Representations

    Hope that helped!


  17. This has been really helpful; thanks a lot! I have a question though – how is one meant to take the more sciencey breadth requirement courses if one doesn’t have the necessary high school prerequisites (calculus, biology, etc)?

  18. Hi Sebastian,

    Lucy here. There are some science courses offered by Arts and Science that do not require the necessary prereqs from high school. If you flip through the Calendar for courses offered by departments like Mathematics and Physics, you’ll see that many 100-level and some 200-level courses with “smaller numbers” for course codes, are specifically designed for breadth requirement purposes.

    Like this one:

    The Magic of Physics [24L, 12T]

    In 1915 Einstein presented a quartet of papers that revolutionized our understanding of gravity. He commented: “Hardly anyone who has truly understood this theory will be able to resist being captivated by its magic.” The General Theory of Relativity is not the only theory of physics that is magical, and Einstein was not physics’ only magician. We uncover the wonders of the classical and the quantum world courtesy of Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Heisenberg and others. Topics include planetary motion, chaos, the nature of light, time travel, black holes, matter waves, Schrödinger’s cat, and quarks. No mathematics is required, and any necessary elementary classical physics is reviewed.
    Exclusion: PHY131H1/PHY132H1/PHY151H1/PHY152H1 /110Y1/138Y/140Y taken previously or concurrently
    DR=SCI (PHY100H1 is primarily intended as a Science Distribution Requirement course for students in the Humanities and Social Science); BR=5

    They don’t go as much into depth as some of the more “hardcore” courses in i.e. physics, because they’re not intended to be used as prerequisite courses for upper year courses in the same subject area. Usually the course description will tell you what kind of a course it is, because the school also doesn’t want students who intend to further pursue this area to take a breadth req course by mistake 🙂

  19. Hi,

    I glad I found this discussion as I too find the BR very confusing. BR is good for all rounder, I feel but unsuitable for me. Enrolling in Fall 2011. For a start can someone confirm whether there is a summary sheet of all the courses listed under each of the 5 BR Categories besides the way they are outlined in the Calendar 2010-1 is so tedious and confusing.

    I aim to major in Maths, Stats or Act Science. Unfortunately I’m weak in non-science courses as well as biology and computer science. I’m concern about fulfilling the BR, although I haven’t read through all the courses yet because of above.

    Do the 4 BR credits form part of our final GPA and make up part of the, say 20 credits required to attain a BA or BSc?

    I also have other qts like subject POSt and 1st year seminars but unsure is this the forum to discuss them as well. Many Thanks!!

  20. Hi Sam,

    There used to be a section in previous years’ Calendars that lists Science courses for Humanity & Social Science students, and vice versa (, scroll way down). This might help you choose some easier non-science courses, for instance. Even though the name has been changed from “Distribution Requirements” to “Breadth Requirements”, the nature and goal of this requirement has stayed pretty much the same–it seems that now it’s just more specific. The list narrows down some courses for you to pick from, and I guess from there you can get a better idea of where you can find such courses.

    The BR courses CAN count as one of your 20 credits needed to obtain your degree, IF you don’t pick the CR/NCR option for them. Basically, they’re just like any other courses you would take in undergrad, so yes they also affect your GPA. If you’re not familiar with the CR/NCR option, it’s basically that in undergrad, you get a max of 1.0 credits to take courses in which you only get a pass/fail in–i.e. actual grades don’t go on your transcript. A pass is 60%. You still get to fulfill the breadth requirement with this option, but if you’re worried about your performance in those courses, it wouldn’t affect your GPA.

    Are you in first year? Going into first year? If you google “UpbeaT, UofT, (topic of your question)”, I’m sure the answer’s bound to pop up somewhere, because I know I’ve written about a lot of it before, especially things like Subject PoSTs. It takes a while to get your head around the UofT system, and its nooks and crannies. But once you do you’ll no doubt use it to your advantage 😉 Don’t worry too much about the BR. It’s true that many students actually take courses in their last year to fulfill these req’s because grad schools won’t see their marks at the time of their application. That being said, it might also be worthwhile to leave them for when you’re an upper year, because then you might come to appreciate other areas of study differently, like most of us end up doing (i.e. Mary, who’s also an ex-blogger here, switched from History to Botany in her final year, and I switched from Molecular Biology to Health Studies). So chances are, you might end up fulfilling these BR without even trying too hard!

    Good luck! You can always read up the details in the Calendar, or ask your Registrar’s office if you have any more questions. I’m also here to help 🙂

  21. Thks for the info Lucy. Much appreciated. Do you know which other top Canadian Univs do not have BR or similar requirements and one can specialise in the core program from the second year of undergraduate studies, if not the first. Thks

  22. Hi Sam,

    I think it depends on the specific program you want to get into. For things like commerce, architecture and maybe CompSci and Act Sci, which are inherently more “specialized” by nature, the requirements for first year and second year may vary greatly in comparison to say, more general programs in Arts & Science, like math, stats and econ. I’m not too familiar with programs from other schools, but it seems like my friends who are in Actuarial Science at University of Waterloo also have to take certain non-Act Sci courses in order to graduate (i.e. he’s now in his last year and is taking introductory German and music). It might be less specific than what UofT requires though. But either way, I recommend that you put the quality of your actual program as a priority and don’t worry too much about these side requirements for degree attainment. If you start to worry about this, then naturally there are millions of other things to worry about, plus these requirements do change (we don’t know when). Life’s too short for that, my friend!

  23. Thks Lucy for your encouragement. Starting Year1 this Fall. However Im concern because Im a special needs person with a passion and gift for maths and geared towards the science courses except biology as far as Breadth Req is concern. Others I’m completely weak at because of my predisposition due to my special needs disability. I read that the various Maths programs require elective Philosophy courses to be taken which would also fulfil BR 2 or 3. Although this would kill 2 birds with one stone for some but to me its like a death sentence. Does UofT has a club /society of students with similar disability I can contact and learn how they cope. I’m also considering whether I should go to smaller univs (unfortunately less well known as UofT ) which are less competitive and have more manageable breadth and approachable profs.

  24. Hi Sam,

    You’re welcome! I’m sorry to hear about your disability, and I must apologize that I’m not too much help in this department. I do know of Accessibility Services:

    And they have a whole bunch of programs you might find worthy of exploring. I’m not sure if the same goes on in the downtown campus (I’ve been here for all of undergrad and I’ve not heard of it being advertised broadly), but I do know for a fact that the Scarborough campus offers free note-taking service, and the need for note-takers is heavily promoted in lectures and by profs especially. Again, I’m not sure how relevant this service might be to you, so your best bet might be to contact Accessibility Services and speak to them. I’m not trying to persuade you to come to UofT by any means, but I think in your decision-making, it’s worthwhile to consider the fact that UofT has 3 campuses, and as a UofT student, you can take courses on all 3 campuses. I’ve personally taken a number of courses at UofT Scarborough, and I’ve found the atmosphere there more “homey” and close-knit (with, thank God, only 1 Registrar’s office), although it is a trade-off, since there are also unpleasant stuff I need to deal with there. I think talking to current students who share similar difficulties as you might be the best way to go, and I wish you the best of luck in your endeavour!

  25. The entire course selection process is poorly conceived. Needlessly and hopelessly confused. Harvard-of-the-North? Not likely.

  26. The breadth and depth requirement has just been a huge headache in my opinion. Basically, I have to take courses I know I’m not very good at in order to achieve a degree. The only influence these courses have had in my life is they’ve provided me with endless stress and caused my gpa to drop.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *