FAQs for New Students

The following is a list of frequently asked questions and answers about being a new student at NPSIA and/or in Ottawa. If you are interested in asking more specific questions, please do so in the comments below, or post your comments on our Facebook page. We also encourage all students to reply to these with their own input. Although the answers below provide great information on common questions, it is recommended that you discuss anything related to academic regulations (*) with the program administrator or Tabbatha Malouin (tabbatha.malouin@carleton.ca) for the latest and most accurate information.

What courses are offered at NPSIA?

The Carleton graduate calendar provides an overview of the courses typically offered at NPSIA, although not all are available in a given term or academic year. General course descriptions can also be found here.

Make sure to read through the calendar to understand the requirements of the program before you begin registering for courses, and throughout your degree as well–especially in the first year, as certain requirements must be met before you can apply for internships, the co-op program, graduation, etc.

I am interested in a particular country or issue area. What courses can I take?

NPSIA courses tend to be geared towards specific thematic areas, rather than countries or groups. However, you can tailor your degree to focus on the geographic or issue areas you are most interested in by focusing your projects and papers on them. Most courses give you flexibility to do this, and you may check the syllabus ahead of time to get an idea of what you will be able to do during the semester.

Remember that you can take courses outside of NPSIA as well (refer to the following question), meaning you can find something in another faculty or at another institution that may focus very specifically on your interests.

Can I take courses outside of NPSIA?*

You can take up to three courses (1.5 credits) outside of NPSIA, which includes courses in other faculties at Carleton and at other institutions (such as the University of Ottawa or any post-secondary school you attend on an exchange). For any course you take outside of NPSIA, you will need to obtain special permission from NPSIA and from the faculty or school of choice before you can register online.

Note that language courses do not count towards this, as you receive no credits from them.

Where can I get a copy of the syllabus for a course I’m enrolled in?

You can email the professor teaching the course, or contact administration. If it’s a course outside of NPSIA, you can do the same by checking that faculty’s page for contact information.

Can I switch clusters once I have been accepted?*

It is recommended that you take this up with your program administrator or Tabbatha Malouin. Typically you will require special permission in order to switch from one cluster to another.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing coursework, a Masters research paper (MRP), or a thesis?

You will need to decide whether you want to complete your degree by doing only coursework, an MRP or a thesis by the beginning of your second term at NPSIA. You have your entire first semester to explore your options and find the best fit for you. It is best to speak with your program supervisor and with professors you may want to work with about this choice, but the typical answer is that unless you are heavily interested in a particular topic and wish to explore it further, coursework is the way to go.

The great majority of NPSIA MA students every year complete their degree with coursework, several write an MRP, and very few do thesis work. This, however, does not mean you should make your decision based on what most of the other students do, espeically if there is something you are particularly interested in.

A breakdown of the requirements for each of the three streams can be found here or in the Carleton graduate calendar.

What is the MA with Specialization in African Studies and what are the benefits of the specialization?*

Visit the Institute of African Studies website to learn more about the collaborative degree. Also check the graduate calendar for detailed information on the requirements, which include taking 1.0 credit in IAS-approved classes and attendance of six related events/presentations/seminars with a journal entry for each.

Students who are currently doing the specialization have listed a number of benefits, including:

  • Taking classes that are interdisciplinary in nature;
  • Adding something different to the NPSIA experience;
  • Receiving a specialization from an institute that is the first and only of its kind in Canada;
  • Acquiring a collaborative Master’s degree;
  • Learning from and interacting with excellent professors;
  • Showcasing work and interests at conferences such as CAAS;
  • Engaging with the African Studies academic, policy and diplomatic communities in Ottawa; and
  • Studying a range of complicated issues facing a dynamic continent.

What does the language requirement at NPSIA entail?*

Information on the language requirement can be found here.

Note that “accepted languages are those that correspond to the official languages of the United Nations, i.e. Arabic, English, French, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish as well as German, Portuguese, Italian and Japanese. Alternative languages may be considered for departmental approval based on relevancy to the student’s area of study.” If you speak a language that is not in this list, but is relevant to what you are studying or doing research in, it may still count towards your requirement.

Language classes are free if you are already paying full-time tuition fees, and they do not count towards the credits for your degree.

How and where can I improve my French language or other language skills?


If you are paying full-time tuition at Carleton, language classes are free. You may need to do a short placement test (different from the NPSIA language requirement test) to determine your level of skill in a language if you have some prior knowledge of it but no post-secondary-level training. Note that French courses, as well as the French self-assessment placement test, are offered through the Department of French, whereas other languages can be found at the School of Linguistics and Language Studies.

Other institutions

You may also take language courses at the University of Ottawa or Algonquin College. There are numerous organizations, including Alliance Française, offering tutoring and classes in various languages around the city.

Group meet-ups

There are also meetings, such as International Tongues or Club Social Francophone et Francophile, where you can practice your language with others.


Online apps include Verbling and Duolingo.

Where can I find information about dates and deadlines?


What is a co-op, how easy is it to get one, and what does the process entail?

A co-op is a full-time, paid work term, facilitated through Carleton’s Co-op and Career Services rather than through the school. NPSIA students cannot begin a co-op term until they’ve completed 3.0 full credits (each course is 0.5 credits)–including their required economics course, four quarter courses, and 1.5 credits in electives. This means that the earliest a student can typically start a work term is the summer after first year.It is recommended that students look through the website and contact the co-op office to gain a better understanding of the process.

The co-op office will provide several information sessions, which you will receive emails about, during the first and second semester of your first year. The application deadline for summer co-op terms is sometime in January. Note that students pay a one-time, non-refundable fee in order to register in the program, and an additional fee for each co-op term they find a placement for. For government positions, you will need to complete a security clearance if you do not already have one for the required level. At the end of each co-op term, you are also required to write a short report about your experience, as well as go through a performance evaluation with your supervisor.

Job availability varies from year to year, although it is typically easier to find a placement for fall terms than summer terms. In summer 2013, more than 75% of students who applied for co-op found a placement.

It is always a good idea to visit the Career Services office for help with resumes and cover letters, as well as to sign up for any workshops or events that can help you with skills in interviews, networking, etc.

If you choose not to do a co-op or cannot find a placement, other options include summer student programs offered by some organizations in Ottawa and the Federal Student Work Exchange Program (FSWEP).

Can I finish my degree on a co-op term?*

Typically, it is required that you have not completed the other requirements of your degree before beginning a co-op term, and you may be denied entry into the co-op program if you do not have additional credits left. However, you can ask for special permission from NPSIA and the Co-op Office.

What is it like to live in residence at Carleton?

The following is a description from an MA student who lived in residence in the first year.

Living in residence can be a great experience for students looking for certain features in their living arrangements. The short commute to the River Building, gym and library is wonderful, and public transit is only a short walk away. If you are moving from another province and do not want to purchase a lot of furniture it makes it a lot easier as the rooms come with a bed, mattress, desk, bookshelf and kitchen table. There is the option of a meal plan but you can also cook for yourself (although there is no oven, just a stovetop). It can also be easier to find a group to socialize with. Last year there were a number of NPSIA students living in residence and it was wonderful to live so close to them. Graduate students live on the top two floors of Leeds building and it is very quet most of the time so studying in your room is possible without disturbance.

However, you will have a roommate (separate bedrooms) so unless you know someone moving into the same building and request to be in a suite together, you will not have control over who you live with. Being in residence there is also the possibility that other students will set of the fire alarm too often and at inconvenient times. Residence is also quite expensive compared to most off-campus housing options. For more information, visit the Leeds Building page on the Carleton Housing website.

Where should I move in Ottawa if I will be living outside of residence?

Typical neighbourhoods for students without vehicles to live in include Old Ottawa South, Little Italy, Chinatown, Centretown, ByWard Market, the Glebe and Billings Bridge. The off-campus housing website always has great listings filtered by neighborhood, type of residence and features included.

Make sure to check the availability and frequency of bus transportation from Carleton to where you are looking to live, as some areas are serviced by more routes and at more times. The O-Train runs to Carleton as well, so check if you would be on the route, although it may be down for construction at certain times.

Rent in central Ottawa is comparable to that in other large Canadian cities outside of Québec, although cheaper than Toronto and Vancouver. Rent gets cheaper the further from the center of the city you go and is significantly lower in Gatineau, on the other side of the river from Ottawa in Québec. Note, however, that the Upass covered in your fall and winter tuition cannot be used on STO (Gatineau’s transportation service), only on OC Transpo.

Also keep in mind that biking in Ottawa and Gatineau is popular, but is not usually possible during the winter months.

How can I get involved in activities outside of class?

There are a number of student organizations you can join at Carleton or the University of Ottawa.

At NPSIA, there are opportunities for you to participate in the Students’ Association (which we highly encourage, duh), join the Soirée committee, or play on a sports team. You can put together a Model NATO team, manage or write for the Paterson Review (or other papers, which you will get emails about), or follow the lead of last year’s SA and organize your very own conference.

Throughout the first and second semester, you will receive many emails from the school about events going on at Carleton and around the city, which are hosted by a variety of organizations (some emails will also include offers to volunteer at these events). In this way, you can become familiar with a wide variety of issues being discussed and explored in your areas of interest, and find ways to get involved.

Other ideas include research for professors, internships outside of the NPSIA program, language clubs, trivia teams, dance classes, festivals (music/film food/beer), and Ottawa sports leagues.


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