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From the 2001 academic calendar for Trent University:

Emphasis programs exist in order to accommodate students enrolled in an Honours or General program who wish to focus on an area with their program. To be eligible, students must successfully complete the requirements of both the Emphasis program and the Honours or General program in which they are enrolled. The transcripts of students who have done so will contain the notation "with an Emphasis in [the appropriate emphasis]."

At Trent, at least, they are used for two purposes:

  1. To grant something like a specialised degree that the university does not have the staff (or demand) to fully offer (eg: a degree in French with an emphasis in Quebec Studies).
  2. To grant interdisciplinary minors (eg: a degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Applied Ethics).

All students I know agree that they are a Good Thing

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