On Campus

How I made my university shortlist

A grade 12 student’s five criteria for choosing a school

Queen's University (Jessica Darmanin)

Every year since I was six years old, I’ve attended St. Francis Xavier University’s convocation ceremony in my hometown of Antigonish, N.S. I didn’t know the graduates and I wasn’t forced to go by my sentimental parents, who both work at the school. I went because I wanted to see the looks of triumph, happiness and success on the students’ faces as they crossed the stage.

I know my love of learning is not common among teenagers, but I am extra excited about university. For years I’ve read Maclean’s education issues and Guide to Canadian Universities, analyzing what schools best suit my personality and goals. Through five criteria, I’ve managed to create a shortlist. Here’s how I narrowed my search:

1. Program possibilities

I have a passion for curriculum design and education policy. Once I realized this passion, I decided to find a program where I could explore it to some degree. After long hours of soul-searching, I narrowed my major down to ethics, economics or educational psychology. This was by far the most difficult part of the process and it was only once this was done that institutions could be analyzed. I started searching for the best universities for those programs. The University of Toronto has a specialized first-year program in ethics, making it my current top choice. McGill University allows for a minor specifically in educational psychology, so I kept that on my shortlist too.

2. Tradition factor

I want to feel like I belong to something special, whether it’s represented through the gown dinners of Trinity College at the University of Toronto or the rambunctious Homecoming Weekend at Queen’s University. At least one member of each generation in my father’s family going back four generations has attended Queen’s, making it a strong contender on my shortlist.

3. Size of the city

I’m a city girl at heart and I long to have cultural opportunities available to me that aren’t available in my current rural setting (pop. 8,200). All three of the above institutions fit that bill, as they’re located in cities with populations of more than 100,000 people.

4. Relative costs

With rising tuition rates and living costs, government loans not being available to all, and two siblings who will likely go to university, my family and I are hoping for some scholarships and bursaries. Since being awarded a full scholarship is unlikely, we have investigated the cost of living in each of the three cities I’m interested in. Kingston, Ont. will likely be the least expensive city to live in, making Queen’s more desirable. Because I am not a resident of Quebec, I would need to pay out-of-province tuition rates at McGill, making that less desirable than either of the Ontario schools.

5. Best fit for my personality

An institution may look great on paper or in photographs, but it is difficult to interpret whether it will be the right fit for me. I have never seen the full campuses of any of my three favorites, so I’ve tried my best to learn about what really takes place by reading student blogs and articles published by Maclean’s and other websites. I’ve decided that schools well-known for their social scenes, such as Acadia University, are not as appealing. The fact that the University of Toronto is less known for its bar scene is a positive from my perspective.

So there you have it. The University of Toronto, McGill and Queen’s are the schools I think will work best for me. Of course, that may change with time and I don’t have to apply until next year.

Alyson Duff is entering grade 12 at Dr. John Hugh Gillis Regional High School in Antigonish, N.S.

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