Exploring Non-Degree Education Options...

Exploring Non-Degree Education Options in Canada

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By Olivia-Condlln Wilby

Although many students choose to pursue a degree after high school, there are lots of options for learning at the postsecondary level – including courses, certificates, and diplomas, as well as the trades. Just like a degree program, these alternative pathways allow students to explore areas of interest and receive credentials that boost their employability. However, these programs are usually shorter, and they tend to have a more practical (rather than academic) focus. They are best suited for students who want to explore a particular topic or gain a specific set of skills without committing to an entire degree program. In fact, even for those who have already earned a degree, these non-degree options can serve to build additional skills and technical knowledge for the workforce.

Auditing Courses

One way to pursue non-degree education is to audit courses at a college or university. To audit a course means to attend and participate in it as if you are enrolled, without actually receiving any credit for completing the course. You will likely have access to course materials and assignments, but you may not be required to submit any of the coursework (although, these requirements and expectations vary from course to course). At the end of the semester, you will have gained new knowledge and skills related to the course topic, but you won’t see it show up on a final transcript, and it won’t count towards the completion of a degree.


Microcredentials are typically short, skills-based programs that aim to prepare students to enter a specific career or industry. For example, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) offers microcredential programs in areas like “Full-Stack Web Development” and “Technical Communication” for students and professionals seeking to build specific competencies in information technology. At the University of Toronto, students can take courses in accounting, business, engineering, finance, leadership, and a variety of other subjects. These are standalone courses that do not lead to a degree or diploma, but nevertheless help students develop new skills and boost their resumes.

Practical Benefits

Non-degree coursework allows students to explore a subject without risking any damage to their academic standing or GPA. Many microcredential programs are pass-fail, meaning that students don’t need to stress about a ton of evaluations or letter grades. By the same token, students can audit courses without receiving a grade (or even having to complete any assignments, in some cases). Maybe you’re interested in a topic, like Biochemistry or Economics, but don’t feel confident enough to add the course to your degree. Consider auditing the course or registering for a microcredential in that subject area, instead.

Non-degree coursework can also help students make more informed decisions about their degrees. You can explore different majors, minors, and specializations without penalty, and make connections with professors and classmates outside of your academic faculty. Maybe you’ll realize that there’s another major you find more interesting, or a minor that you want to add to your degree. Non-degree options like course audits and microcredentials allow you to experiment with different fields of study without making any significant changes to your degree trajectory.

Non-degree coursework can also help you decide whether a degree program is right for you in the first place. So many students rush into a university or college program because they feel like pursuing a degree is their only option, or because all their friends are going, or because they’re worried about getting a job without a degree. But for some people, a degree just isn’t the right choice. Research indicates that roughly 23 per cent of college students drop out after the first year, along with 15 per cent of university students in Canada. Among those who drop out of school, roughly 77 per cent do so towards the end of their second year of study – after already spending time, money, and energy working towards a degree. If you’re not sure whether college or university is right for you, it’s a good idea to audit a few courses at the post-secondary level before you make any big personal or financial commitments. And if you decide that a degree isn’t right for you, a microcredential could be a better fit.

Pursuing Non-Degree Education

Every institution is different in terms of the requirements for entering non-degree coursework programs. Whether you’re currently enrolled at a post-secondary institution or you’re just starting to consider your options, take some time to explore the non-degree coursework available to you and whether any of the choices pique your interest. A few institutions that offer non-degree coursework are as follows:

This is not an exhaustive list. If non-degree coursework is something that interests you, feel free to do a little research into the colleges and universities near you. You might be surprised at how many non-degree options are available to you.

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