No holiday for high school students

For many students, applying to get into a university is like applying for a job

The holiday break could prove a busy and stressful time for high school seniors in Ontario facing a Jan. 13 deadline to apply to university and a demand for high grades to enter competitive programs.

While the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre began receiving applications in November, many students will spend the holidays submitting forms before the deadline to ensure they’re guaranteed full consideration, said OUAC director George Granger.

Tyler Carson is among those students competing for a coveted spot next year.

The 17-year-old Toronto student says he did a lot of research over the past two years into which university he should go to next fall. The Sir Wilfrid Laurier Collegiate Institute senior visited four university campuses in the Toronto area and checked out schools and programs online.

Carson applied to the University of Toronto, York University, Wilfrid Laurier University and McGill University to study sexual diversity and human rights. He later hopes to attend law school. Carson, who is student council vice-president, founder of the school’s first gay-straight alliance, and has a 94 per cent average, says he’s not worried about being accepted into a top university.

“I’m pretty confident I’ll get into all the generalized programs. I’m applying to Vic One which is a specialized program at U of T that only accepts around 25 kids from my stream, so that will be competitive,” he said.

For many students, applying to get into a university is like applying for a job.

The guidance counsellor at Carson’s school, Renee Rawlins, advises students to get their applications in early and do research. That includes speaking to recruitment officers, going to campuses, and looking into university programs and requirements, such as prerequisite high school courses and marks needed.

Business and engineering programs are more competitive than Bachelor of Arts programs, and require students to have marks in the mid 80s to 90s to get in, she said. “A student with a 55 per cent average in their six courses — they’re not looking to be very competitive anywhere,” said Rawlins. “If you have 90, we can say, well, you’ll be very competitive anywhere.”

A mid-70s mark is the minimum needed for a competitive program, she said. “Depending on the school, mid 70 at York could get you into the Faculty of Arts and maybe this year it won’t get you into the Faculty of Arts at U of T,” said Rawlins.

Queen’s associate registrar Stuart Pinchin agrees marks matter, noting it is A students who get into Queen’s. At Carleton University in Ottawa, the grades required range between 75 and 89 per cent. Students need at least 70 per cent to get into Dalhousie and 75 per cent to get into McMaster.

Depending on the university or program, some schools have later deadlines and it varies across the country. Hamilton’s McMaster University has set a Jan. 28 deadline, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont., is Feb. 1., and Dalhousie University in Halifax is March 15 for scholarship consideration.

Student Elor Igor, who goes to school with Carson, has applied to York and U of T to study humanities courses before going to law school, and one day hopes to fight for justice for African American women.

The 17-year-old, who has a part-time job and co-ordinates her school’s Black History month assembly, said she thinks her 75 per cent grade average will be enough. “I’m praying that my average does increase so I’m looking for a mid-80 average but that’s where it starts, 75, I should be able to get into the program that I want to,” said Igor.

With grades in the mid to high 90s, Laura Baker, 17, so far has only applied to Harvard but plans to apply to Princeton, Yale, Brown, Waterloo, Queen’s and McGill. The International Baccalaureate student is interested in medicine or medical research but hasn’t decided on a career, so will take a general science program. She admits she will likely go to a Canadian university.

Baker, Igor and Carson say the bad economy hasn’t affected their post-high school plans. But it is swaying others, said Rawlins, who said some students are matching higher education to jobs they can get later. “I’m finding more and more students are interested in those programs where they can get both a degree and a diploma, so joint programs that the universities and the colleges have,” said Rawlins.

The deadline for high school students to apply to Ontario colleges is Feb. 1. Queen’s professor Alan King recently studied what happened to 750,000 students after high school in 2006-07 and found 34 per cent of students went to university, 20 per cent to college, and six per cent were into apprenticeships.

Those who went to university tended to do so right after high school. But of those who were college-bound, more than 60 per cent worked a year or two first, he said. He blamed the delay on students not knowing what they’re going to do. But they quickly find out that without an education, they won’t make a lot of money, so they decide to go to college, King added.

The 2006 Census found full-time workers who earned their bachelor’s degrees from Canadian universities earned 62 per cent more a year than workers who hadn’t completed university.

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada said this fall, 870,000 full-time students were enrolled in Canadian universities, up 38,000 compared to fall 2008. The economic downturn was a key factor driving a 4.1 per cent growth in undergraduate programs and a 7.2 per cent increase in graduate programs, it said.

The Canadian Press