Finding Liberal Arts courses

By Wendy Terry

originally published March/April 2011

The Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities requires all full time college students to take four to six general education courses, often liberal arts courses, because these courses contribute to

“the development of citizens who are conscious of the diversity, complexity and richness of the human experience; who are able to establish meaning through this consciousness; and who, as a result are able to contribute thoughtfully, creatively and positively, to the society in which they live and work.”

(Sheridan College calendar)


            Let’s say you want to take a liberal arts course. Where do you start looking for courses?

            When you find them, how do you make a choice among so many offerings?

            Do you meet admission criteria, or are there other ways you can qualify?

            Where do you register?

            This article will help you answer these questions. You will learn how to negotiate your way into the university courses as well as the college courses. This article also highlights courses of special interest to newcomers, retired boomers and anyone wanting to update their world view in the global, multicultural labour market.



            Universities offer many liberal arts courses through their arts faculties. At the University of Toronto, this department is called the Faculty of Arts and Science; at York University it is called the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. The many courses that are offered in the evenings are indicated in the calendars.

At Ryerson, numerous evening courses are offered through the G.Raymond Chang School for Continuing Education. At the University of Toronto, the School of Continuing Studies also offers some evening courses in the liberal arts.

            However, if you take a course through the arts faculty at either U of T or York, you must apply as a “non-degree” student, and you must meet admission criteria. But don’t be intimidated by this requirement. The equivalent in work experience or related education is often accepted for admission. Even education from other countries can be used; however, you must ask the admissions people to approve your alternative qualifications. If you get the approval, you won’t have to dig up Grade 12 or Grade 13 transcripts from 45 years ago.

            If you do not have Grade 12, prior post-secondary education, or related work experience, you are eligible for the Academic Bridging program at Woodsworth College at the University of Toronto, or the Pre-University Studies in the Division of Continuing Education of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York. If you attain a certain score in one of these programs, you can earn a university credit and admission to a university program.

            On the other hand, Ryerson’s Chang School for Continuing Education and the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies have open admissions.

            Trent University, which specializes in liberal arts programming, offers courses at its Oshawa campus.

            As you scan university calendars, you may find courses of interest to you under such subject areas as: Aboriginal Studies, Anthropology, the Classics, East Asian Studies, Economics, English Literature, Art History, Latin American Studies, Philosophy, Political Science, Music Appreciation, Psychology, Religion, Slavic Literature, or Sociology. (These subject headings are used by the University of Toronto.)

           Admissions and registration for adult students at the University of Toronto begin on the second floor of Woodsworth College, just south of Bloor on St. George Street. For York University, the admissions office for the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies is in the Ross building on the main York campus at Finch and Keele.

          The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education is located just to the west of the Dundas subway station on Victoria Street. However, there is no longer a print calendar, so you cannot sit down with a cup of tea and flip through the calendar; you need to curl up with your laptop.

           Just opposite Woodsworth College on St. George Street is the School of Continuing Studies.


Community Colleges

            Although the colleges teach skills, they all have a general and liberal arts program. 

            Colleges in Toronto and the GTA: George Brown, Seneca, Centennial, Humber, Sheridan, and Durham, offer a number of liberal arts courses through their Part-time or Continuing Education programs at night or on the weekends. Most courses have open admissions. The best part is that the cost is about one-third that of a university course. And the classes are smaller than the large lecture hall formats of universities.

            Humber College’s Continuing Education calendar lists these courses under the heading Liberal Arts and Sciences: Psychology, Sociology, Economics, Geography, Philosophy, Political Science, History, and English.

            For ESL students, Humber CE has special courses under English: ESL Literature, an Introduction; Humanities: ESL Humanities, an Introduction to Arts and Science: Sociology: ESL Canadian Society and Culture.

            Humber has a number of six-course certificate programs in the liberal arts, one of which is an Intercultural Relations Certificate.

            Seneca College lists liberal arts courses in its Part-Time Studies calendar under General Education. Here there are numerous courses in English Literature. Under Cultural Studies there are courses in the Humanities, Philosophy etc.

            Centennial College lists its liberal arts courses in the Continuing Education calendar under General Education. There are several courses in psychology and sociology. One of Centennial’s most interesting courses is Global Citizenship.

            George Brown College actually lists courses under liberal arts in its Continuing Education calendar. There is a group of courses under Humanities and Social Sciences. Here you can find the course, Cultural Approaches to Health Care and Healing, for example. For those working or looking to work in health care and health care administration, this one sounds like a good investment.

            Sheridan lists liberal arts courses under Education and Liberal Studies in its Continuing Education calendar.

            Durham College offers courses in psychology, history and sociology through Distance Education, that is, online learning, which is a much wider world of opportunity for liberal arts learning.


Distance education 

           Distance education opens up your possibilities beyond offerings in Toronto and the GTA. Each college calendar has a section which lists Distance Education offerings. Discussion and debate associated with liberal arts learning takes place in an on-line community rather than in the classroom. Check out the website which enables you to access online courses from colleges across Ontario.

            Similarly, university calendars will indicate if a course is offered in class or online, but you are not limited to the universities in Toronto or Ontario. Canadian Virtual University,,  gives you access to courses across Canada. Athabasca U is one of our favourites, as Jeff Taylor the Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences there, has written a book, Union Learning, on the history of the WEA of Canada, publisher of Learning Curves.   


In the community 

            Once you get hooked on the Humanities and Social Sciences, there will never be enough time to take all the courses that interest you. Once you start looking further afield, you will find the wider world of courses in the community. The Royal Ontario Museum, the Ontario Art Gallery, the Ontario Science Centre, and the Royal Conservatory of Music all offer general interest courses. Then there is your local library, the History Channel, the Documentary Channel, TVOntario…..

            Liberal arts enrich your life!


 To gain some historical perspective on liberal arts learning in Canada, see the article on the WEA's Drummond Wren. 



















Toronto, Canada