The Long and Winding Road

to “Happily After High School”

with apologies to The Beatles….




This, of course, is the road you have been trudging along since about grade 4 or 5 as parents, grandparents, relatives, teachers, guidance counselors, and assorted others have been warning you that if you didn’t get an A on that gr. 4 Science Fair project, and straight A’s all through gr. 5-8,  mostly academic level high school courses with marks over 80%, and proof of worthwhile activities for your resume, your life would not be successful/ you would not get into the university of your choice nor into grad school/ you would not be happy/ you would have no friends….and on and on. 


Kids have been hearing this for years and it too often leads to anxiety and fear of failure—and sometimes, sadly, to plagiarism, cheating on exams. Too much parental pushing/supplying tutors/editing essays has many students dropping courses which are interesting but difficult, or taking courses which don’t really interest them or for which they have no real skills because it is fashionable or, theoretically, will make them rich….. J


If this is you, or some of your friends, you can stop worrying: the only good thing about the very high unemployment rate for those 18-25 in Ontario today (about 18% not counting those who have just given up looking or those doing menial part time jobs) is that there is no longer a big rush to get into and out of university ASAP to get that no longer existing great job. So it gives you time to take a few steps sideways or backward on your journey and REALLY think about what you might like to do for the next stage of your life.


You’ll also  get lots of chances to change your mind across the next 50 years, as very few people now do only one kind of job or work in only one field in their career.  Some of the jobs which will be there when you graduate will cease to exist over the next decades and others which are still in the sci fi zone will become a regular part of our world—so flexibility, the ability to learn new things quickly,  and varied experiences will serve you well.


This article has been designed as a ‘seasonal road map’ for your travel through the last year of high school into the wide, wonderful and sometimes weird world of post secondary education in Canada.  Much of the information is about accessing info from the university system, as it is far more complex, detailed and simultaneously both wider and more limited in scope—with each school having a similar structure but varied programs which may have the same name but quite different content, based largely on when and by whom the university was established in the first place.   


In contrast, the college system is newer, more consistently structured, and smaller. The apprenticeship programs are quite similar across the country and more limited in number and scope—although about 120,000 young people in Ontario are at some point in the apprenticeship process in any given year.  Kind of like comparing being in a rush hour trip on an accident-ridden highway to taking a leisurely stroll through a quiet parkland…


Consider this:  about 1/3 of current university graduates do not find jobs in their field within the 2-4 years after graduation, or must take unpaid internships or volunteer instead of working. If they have work, it is often the same kinds of part time work they had in high school, and/or unrelated to their degree. Even those with graduate degrees are too often unemployed, as all the parents whose grown up kids have come back home to live can testify.  And the average university graduate has c. $30,000 worth of student loans to repay—and in some cases as much as $60,000—without considering what grad school, law or medical school might cost on top of that: and jobs in those areas are not just sitting around waiting for warm bodies either.


A much higher percentage of college graduates, who take programs usually 1-3 years in length, usually at about half the cost per year of university, are employed when they graduate—and more college jobs come with intern or co-op placements so more grads are actually prepared for employment in the areas for which they have education and skills.   Almost no one who completes technical training, either at a college or as part of an apprenticeship, is unemployed. These frequently pay more than do many jobs in the white collar world.  If you know an electrician or heavy equipment operator ask them what they make an hour…..vs. your sister’s friend with a commerce degree selling clothes part time…..


Another idea to consider when you finish grade 12 is taking a year off—and after the trauma of the last year of high school, with the built in pressure about where you will go next, this can be a wise choice.  In England virtually all high school grads –even those from expensive private schools--do gap years. Like them, Canadian students who do this can travel and learn a language while helping build something in a rural area , volunteer at places where the jobs sound interesting to find out if that’s something they might like to do,  or get a job to lessen the financial pressure when they go to school.


A gap year might be especially helpful for those in arts-related areas: they might create new projects, expanding  skills or cultivating new skills on their own or in a studio/workshop class. They could volunteer at an art gallery, theatre, film festival, community arts program, after school club in an elementary school; make a video for a school or community organization; design a website or do graphic design for a volunteer organization; or even write a polished version of that “not quite ready to produce yet” stage or film script.


There are lots of other possibilities: grads might get a part time job and take a class in something relaxing at night school, or brush up their French or Spanish or take Mandarin.  If the last year of high school was a struggle, it might be a good idea to use a gap year to read lots—because those who can read quickly, comprehend and retain most of it, and write about it coherently on assignments and exams have a huge advantage in university or college. Grads can borrow books from the public library which are required in first year courses in subjects which intrigue them and see if they understand/enjoy what they’re reading…before they choose to major in that area. Parents would probably help them get  better at doing things they need to know how to do to live successfully as an adult and away from home—grocery shopping, budgeting, cooking, cleaning, and laundry J


So… may be a long and winding road to get to a future where you can build a life which nourishes and challenges you—and as it is YOUR life, you ARE the person who needs to be happy about where you are on the road, and which branch you will take at the next crossroads!  Use your time to think, research, explore, discuss, …and only then, to decide!







You are pretty sure that you want to apply to university and/or college or an apprenticeship program right after high school.

If so, in the summer after you finish grade 11 there are some things you really need to do, depending on which route you are considering.





Look at your grade 10 and 11 report cards carefully, and honestly assess where you are currently at, academically: what subject areas do you do well in fairly easily and which ones require a lot of effort and/or academic skills you don’t have?  Which courses do you find interesting enough to attend very regularly and really put time and effort into assignments?  Which ones can you honestly see yourself doing better at in gr. 12?          

What areas have you thought about as potentially something you might like to continue studying/doing?  what skills have you got now—solid reading speed and comprehension? a wide vocabulary? fast note taking/outlining? quick internet research? great power points? solid test taking?  math skills? -- if so what kind—those required for life or areas like statistics, calculus?  Make a chart with columns for this info J

Then face reality: any subject in which you have not regularly attained marks no lower than 80% is NOT going to yield marks much higher than that at the gr. 12 level just because you promise yourself/your parents you will ‘work harder’. 70’s in gr. 10 and 11 math do not morph into 85’s in functions, data management or calculus in gr. 12 just because someone thinks you should do a business degree…..





Make a list of the arts areas / programs you find potentially interesting at either/both of the university and college level: you can do this most quickly by using the four PSAC databases (see intro to PSAC for how these are set up.) Check out related programs offered in tech/apprenticeship areas (see below for website). Next do a preliminary search through these schools’ websites to find out more about them: you can connect directly to each website through the PSAC databases. As you go, make a Preliminary Potential Programs chart (PPP) with columns for general types of programs and info under each re: what is offered where; these sources will also be helpful:   ( aka eInfo, which is also accessible through the OUAC site and has info on all Ontario universities: it has an index by program type—operates in both French and English)  (info on all Ontario college programs)  (for universities outside Ontario) (for info about the 150 trade apprenticeships in Ontario in key areas: construction, industrial.manuafacturing, motive power, service)


Don’t worry yet about what it takes to get into them, or how much they will cost, or where they are geographically—the PPP is just the starting point! Think of it as making a bucket list of tourist attractions you’d like to see eventually --as opposed to making reservations to go somewhere now! This shouldn’t be more than 15-20 programs, total.


(see Seismic Shifts in the Learning Landscape for additional info on this topic)      





Sit down with your parents and your  PPP and REALLY talk about post secondary life:   you may want to go far away from home (or they may want you to…J) but it may not be affordable re travel back and forth a few times each year. With rapidly escalating air fares, and in an era of climate change, it may not be possible to get home for winter holidays from distant places in Canada. Most schools outside Canada are way beyond most people’s budgets and have visa restrictions and travel costs built in—and they can be very picky at the undergrad degree level. If you want to study abroad a one semester/year or summer program offered by the university you are attending is much more feasible, and many universities have such programs.        

Your parents may want you to go where an older sibling or other relatives are so it will be cheaper re accommodations and someone will keep an eye on you. Unless this is a mutually acceptable idea, maybe not such a good plan. They may want you to go where one of them went….this is about as smart as going to the same school your current boyfriend/girlfriend is planning on going to just because they are going…eg not very unless the program is the best one for you!

Come to a decision about the financial range per year you as a family can afford.  This will take time and may be painful for everyone. Many times families don’t realize that the money they currently spend on teens at home-- clothes, cell phone, internet and computer, food outside the house, personal items/toiletries, gifts, social costs, transit, whether public or the use/gas/insurance for a car—will still need to be spent. Added to this, you have university tuition (c. $5000-8000 a year), assorted fees and course materials (especially in the arts c. $1000-1500 a year), books (c $1000-1500 depending on subject area) residence costs (c. $5500-8500 depending on type and school and meal plan) and travel to and from home to school.

Colleges are generally cheaper but it depends on more variables:  length of program, what kinds of materials/tools (cameras for example) you need, if there are residences, and where the college with the program you want is located.  Quite a few technical programs are offered at colleges, private training schools, and union affiliated programs—and some of these have extensive subsidies or funding available.

Most Ontario families find that, including the personal costs itemized above, it costs c. $18,000-22,000 a year for university and c. $8,000- $12,000 for college IF students live at home OR can find shared cheap off campus housing which makes public transit unnecessary (very hard in cities like Toronto, Ottawa, London, Montreal), and closer to $22,000-28,000 for university.  However, if they live a distance away from home and stay in residence with a meal plan (often only available for first year students and sometimes not at all for college students) or have to pay high rents, expensive campus-area parking, or public transit outside the city boundaries, the cost even for college students rises to  $12,000-18,000 for a year.


 Most universities and colleges seriously discourage first year students from having part time jobs—and some arts programs are insistent on this. Some smaller campuses just don’t have any available—which is part of the reason about 40% of university students now take 5-6 years to get a BA/BS—they can only do it by working part time and going to school part time.  It is generally not feasible to do college programs part time, as most are packaged and delivered to the same group of students at the same time with one start/end date for each group. They are very likely to really enforce prohibitions on part time jobs because hands-on arts related courses with practicums, applied out of class activities, co-op or internships are not do-able otherwise.

If you are going to university, you might want to explore the many co-op programs where kids are helped to find placements by their university and are paid by their employers for a 4 month session; generally that money can cover  travel/housing expenses during co-op terms and part of the next term’s costs. And if you are going to college, you might find it easier to do a gap year first, get a job and budget carefully, and save before going to a college near you or near a relative who will house you….and come out mostly debt free. Some of the apprenticeship educational programs offered by various government organizations and unions pay room and board and tuition for courses combining theory and practical training and taking 8-16 weeks followed by well paid work placements to start building hours toward journeyman status.

Discuss all these issues and come up with a plan on whose parameters you can all agree:  overall cost of program, distance from home, other related costs—and things which are not going to happen: eg you are not going to the University of Australia as an international student and travel to and from each year for $120,000 a year…..or to Juilliard or the Actors Studio in New York or anywhere else where green cards, international student fees, extra instruction fees and an inability to work there for money are key factors.  And you are probably not going to get $20,000 a year in scholarships from anyone, anywhere unless you are a science whiz with a 99% average which was the top one in your board this year….so this is where you all need to give up these fantasies !





Besides a joint understanding on the maximum cost per year for your post secondary education, making an actual plan in writing about who pays for what, when and with what is essential to avoid hassles and having to drop out later for $$$ reasons.  A key factor to consider as you make this plan is if your parents have an RESP for you and what the rules are about withdrawals, the max each year, the dates the money is available, and the process for utilizing it.  If you have older siblings now in college or university or younger ones going there in the next couple of years this plan should take what they are likely to need, or do need, and when, into consideration. If grandparents or other relatives have set up an account or a trust fund to help you, what are the rules about how much you can take out, and when, re: taxation?  If you have a graduating average in your top 6 gr. 12 marks of over 85% you will generally get a university entrance scholarship but this is kind of like a loss leader at the grocery store: it is generally only for one year, and if you don’t attain a passing average in semester one you might not get it, as they often credit it toward the second semester’s tuition: so perhaps best not to count on it and be pleasantly surprised at the end….

If you have been working part time during the school year and summers, have you put away money for post secondary costs?  Many kids haven’t been able to find jobs in recent summers—and lots of families have been so pinched in the economic downturn that kids have had to work to contribute to the family budget, or pay most of their personal costs, and there is little or nothing left for post secondary costs.  This is where OSAP comes in: this provides both grants which do not have to be repaid and, if more support is required, also low cost loans which do not need to be repaid until you leave school and have at least some income. In order to qualify for OSAP you must be a Canadian citizen and have been a resident of Ontario for at least 12 months prior to applying (this is why some students coming to Ontario to go to school come for a gap year, get a job and establish residence before going to university.) You can also go out of province on OSAP and to some approved programs outside Canada. The minimum grant amount is c. $250/month to a maximum of $3,000 a year. 

Go to where a fairly simple chart will provide general guidelines about how much you would qualify for as a grant and as a loan: this will take into account the distance you will have to travel to school, any disabilities you may have, family types, size,  and income.

By accessing OSAP you are automatically considered for the 30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant, which in 2012-13 paid a max of $1730 for university students and $790 for college students.  The specific website info about this program is: www.ontarioca/education-and-training/30_off_ontario_tuition . Although students can apply for OSAP or for the tuition grant up to 60 days before the end of the study period each year, it is wiser to do so before the start of the school year, once you know what university or college you will be attending and what the institutional costs of that will be—that way you usually receive OSAP in time to help pay for your first semester tuition and fee costs: universities know you are getting OSAP and will wait past due dates if needed. 

You and your parents need to go to these websites and study them carefully while making your financial plan:  you do NOT want to be the person with $60,000 worth of debt coming out of school into what may well still be a lagging economy in terms of jobs for the young, especially in the arts, where it often takes 5-10 years to establish a career with an income you can live on anyway.  If your parents belong to a union, a credit union, or to a strong professional association, there may well be low cost loans or bursaries or scholarships for children of members; some churches and foundations offer scholarships based on membership in specific professional, ethnic, religious or cultural groups.  Research all of these which may be helpful to you, specifically, before you finalize your financial plan: and make sure you have built in enough flexibility to take changing circumstances into account…..


        (see  ****Star Websites  for scholarship, awards,  professional and career sites info)





Please note that most of the info in this section applies to university programs as college programs are far more varied in length but also more prescribed re pre-requisites and courses you have to take each term.


First-- this process requires you to create a folder both on your computer AND in a well organized duotang and go back to your original PPP chart and look at the possibilities you selected before very carefully re costs—not just tuition but books, materials, student fees, the range of residence /meal plan costs if you are going to need to live on campus--and eliminate all those schools which are not within the scope of your family’s financial plan.  If you are planning to go to an Ontario university the easiest way to do this is to go into the OUAC site ( ) and into the eInfo section where clicking on a specific university will lead you to the CUDO (Common University Data Ontario) section which has statistics on just about everything for that university—beginning with the university’s estimate of basic costs, generally for a year or two earlier and NOT including personal costs.  The university’s website will provide info on the upcoming year’s tuition/ fees/residence costs; these go up 2-5% a year in Ontario, but are often less expensive in other provinces.

        If you are planning on renting off campus in any major city in Canada it is also a really good idea to go to Kijiji and get some idea of what rents are like somewhere within walking or commuting range of campus, what the parking costs are on campus if you will have a car, or what the cost of transit passes is for post secondary students.  Ideally at the end of this process you will have a list of a MAX of 10 post secondary institutions which seem financially feasible: this is your Serious Short Schools (SSS) list !


Second, you need to go to the Future Students section of each school’s website for the admission criteria for the specific program(s) you are interested in there:  what do they require beyond ENG 4U? Bookmark this page in the bookmarks folder you need to create for each school, as it is often hard to find what you saw again without wasting energy/time/temper!  If courses are ‘suggested’ take that to mean that your chances will be much lower if you apply without that course.  If there are requirements within or beyond the 6 courses you have to present for entrance—very frequently true for arts related programs—print out the page with those requirements and when each has to be done and file in your duotang.  This might include portfolios, either electronically or real, interviews, auditions—both of these are usually possible by Skype/dvd if you live a long way away from that school—as well as workshops. Some academic areas will require online testing, although this is more common for students with functions or calculus marks universities want to make sure are ‘real’, or for anyone who is not a citizen of Canada or who has been in ESL classes in the last two years of high school. This is where you may have to eliminate programs you like, but for which you do not have the high school prerequisites, unless it is possible for you to take such a course in your final year at your school, or somewhere in your board at night school, or on-line.


Third,  go to the actual program (they are usually listed alphabetically within each Faculty—eg. Fine Arts, Humanities, Music) and look in the course catalogue on line to see what courses are required for first year majors: this will often include a composition course, a choice of social sciences (usually psychology, sociology, anthropology), a choice of natural sciences (often ‘soft’ sciences not requiring gr. 12 science courses—environmental studies, history of science, astronomy), and then the required initial courses for your major area.  Either print out or bookmark EVERYTHING and save a lot of frustration later J

        It’s a good idea to look at the specific course descriptions about now…and to see what your required courses and options  would be in second year.  Many performance programs have re-audition processes at the end of first year, or the requirement of a certain mark in one or more required courses, or a teacher recommendation, in order to proceed into second year as a major. Good idea to find out NOW what you can do if you do not get selected as one of the kids to go on as performance majors in second year…..


Fourth, this is also the time to pay attention to the degree requirements for the BA or BFA or BAH; unlike high school, a course does not equal a credit—and unfortunately there is not a sane unified system. Some universities like ‘units’ – others ‘credits’ – others ‘courses’ or ‘hours’ --but what a credit does NOT mean is one course as you knew it in high school.  So you have to read the fine print—how many  units/courses are required for a major?  Generally it is about 40-45% of the total courses needed to graduate,  with a minor providing another 20-25%; some schools allow double minors, or interdisciplinary programs, which are harder to decipher until you get there and go to Student Services in mental anguish…. 

        But what you do need to understand is that in any university your theatre performance or art history or music composition major will NOT fill all your degree requirements: these are liberal arts programs, and you will take courses you may not want to, may not like, and may not be particularly well prepared for from high school. However, they will serve the real purpose of any university education: to make you knowledgeable about the past, competent in the present and able to survive the changes of the future—because BA degrees are NOT designed to prep you for one specific job/career but to make you a well educated citizen and human being. So if you want to take almost only courses in your major area of interest which are preparation for one specific career, go to college, a technical program/apprenticeship,  or into one of the arts conservatory programs !


                (see Decoding the Road Signs  for more on this topic J )


Last, but definitely not least:  you need to go to OUAC again, on to eInfo, and find the connection to the list of universities and their entrance data at CUDO and look up the schools still on your SSS list:  this is hard to find as you have to go to each school you are still considering separately and wade through lots of numbers (because they really don’t want you or your parents to know most of this—only guidance people habitually use it!)  This will tell you how many kids and of what gender applied to a Faculty/College/School within the university, generally two years prior; how many of them were accepted and how many actually registered for that program,   what % of students within each mark range were accepted, as well as the overall entry average.  Note that this will probably NOT be data, for example, on a Music Composition major program, but for all programs in the School of Music—or sometimes all programs in the Faculty of Arts. Sometimes arts programs will take students with lower marks in non-arts areas, although this may prove costly to you later in terms of the other courses you have to take in order to graduate:  e.g. a music performance major program may not care that your ENG 4U mark was only 75%  if you are really talented; but that may indicate that your writing skills are too weak to handle work in other courses outside your major which ARE required to graduate.


And this is where you will finally eliminate from your SSS list the programs which are not a good ‘fit’ for you academically….. those which will require you to take far too many courses in which you are not even remotely interested, or which you know from the high school intro courses to them are not within your skill set, or for which you will not have required and suggested pre-requisites or an overall average high enough to get in.   For example, you may think a theatre major and combo history and psych double minor would be a good background for a possible career in education…and it would…but if you didn’t take data management and a senior chemistry and/or bio course in gr. 12, it is best to forget psych as current first year psych  courses usually have lots of stats and neuroscience content….this SSS will probably only be 4-6 university programs by now, but remember to look at related college programs to which you could also apply, to conservatory programs, and to universities out of province which are still affordable with added travel costs J 


        ( see Under the Radar: Special  Programs You May Not Know About! for programs, some one-of-a-          kind, across the country which you may not have discovered from other sources so far…..)      




So, if you have been working away at this in your summer spare time, you will now have your serious short schools list of those which you can afford, for which you realistically will have the marks and the prerequisites, and where the possible minors are do-able for you!


However, if you slacked off all summer—or just read this now—you have some catching up to do as fast as possible when school starts!





As soon as you get your gr. 12 timetable, double check to see if there is any course on it which you now realize you should replace with something you need in order to apply to  any of the schools or programs on your SSS list, and make an appointment with guidance ASAP.

While you are there get a copy of your Ontario Student Transcript as well as your current Credit Counseling Summary and go over them very carefully to make sure you have all the courses you need to graduate. Check your volunteer hours, and the results of your literacy test. If anything is amiss,  ask guidance to help NOW; waiting until later may cause a delay in your graduation AND post secondary plans!  Then check your CCS and transcript against your SSS list, school by school,  to make sure that you also have the pre-requisites you need for your most likely major and possible minors: the ones you don’t have and can’t take this year may mean that schools, or specific majors at them, have to be taken off your SSS list.    

Make a promise to yourself to not get behind in this last year as you are celebrating ‘lasts’ with your friends. This is very easy to do for kids in arts and sports programs where there are time consuming and compelling activities far more interesting than writing essays! Your English 4U course work needs to be a major priority as it is the ONLY course every university in and out of the province requires for entry—and the one most predictive of ability to do well in university level work.  

Personally, I think any university which accepts any kid with an English 4U under 75 is either desperate or careless, because stats on dropouts/failures in first year show that a mark this low is predictive of failing marks in any university course requiring reading, writing, thinking and test taking –e.g. most of them.  If yours is low—especially if you took it while still in grade 11 or in a short summer school program—you might want to see if you can re-take it; your transcript will show both marks for only one credit, but if it bumps your ENG 4U above 80 a university can see you are improving and serious about doing well in your university work.

Next, go talk to your fave arts teacher, hopefully someone who has taught you a couple of times, worked with you on extra curricular stuff, and knows you pretty well.  Ask her/him to talk to you honestly about your talent and skills in comparison to other students she/he has had previously who have gone into the programs you are considering.  Ask if he/she has any suggestions for adding/improving key skills and addressing weak areas.  Ask an English teacher who had you at least once for suggestions.  Take all these suggestions seriously!

If there is a university fair in your area, or speakers from different schools come to your high school, make a list of specific questions you have based on your SSS list rather than just wander around and wait for someone to give you useful info. Often the people at these are not as well informed about programs in the arts as they are those in business, math, science and engineering—all of which have far more potential students, so it makes sense to them!

There may be recent grads from your school who are at a post secondary school you are considering, but one person’s opinion—whether this person is your teacher, your cousin, or your neighbour’s kid—is insufficient for making wise choices.  Keep in mind that most college and university websites are advertisements for their own programs – but flashy videos and bright colours are not a substitute for substance;  many of them are like labyrinths in which even an experienced consumer of post secondary info sources can be lost for hours….. 






Let all of the information you have been getting through summer and fall percolate in your brain as you go through your first term –but as soon as you have your mid term semester 1 marks you need to  whittle down your SSS list by accessing as much credible, objective information as you can, so that you are ready as soon as possible after the starting date to register on OUAC and/or OCAS.



* Prioritizing your Choices:


An excellent way to get more objective information you need about the schools you are considering is to check out the most recent edition of Maclean’s University Rankings issue which comes out each year in late fall—although the only college info you will find is ads meant to make readers remember there ARE lots of excellent colleges across the country too J 

Your parents and teachers will tend to find key info in Maclean’s which provides comparisons between things like money spent per student, class size, teaching awards, numbers of teachers with PhDs, size of libraries, tuition and fees costs, and overall quality rankings by academic and business people.  These are interesting, but there are two key charts which are more important for you to look at:  the Average Entering Grade chart and the Entry Grade Distribution chart—but remember that these are averages, not medians, so comparing  very large universities with grad schools to very small liberal arts schools may provide seriously distorted figures—also, many arts programs do take students with lower marks outside the arts than do business, engineering or science programs, so a  92% listed as the average entry mark may be deceptive.   

The Student Retention Listing is also important for you, as are the Average Class Size and Proportion Who Graduate. The numbers of international students and out of province students help to give you a sense of how cosmopolitan a university is.  Other key categories you should definitely look at are near the end – under Students Grade their Schools—in charts like ‘How happy are you with your university education’ which polls students at most of the country’s universities in first year and in their final year—or the even more revealing ‘Would you go back to school at your university?’  

Perhaps the most respected of the data reported –as it does not come from the institution itself-- is the annual study of undergraduates done by the Canadian University Survey Consortium in which more than 15,000 students each year are asked to evaluate their school on a spectrum beginning with ‘agree strongly’ and ending with ‘disagree strongly’ with the comments “Generally, I am satisfied with the quality of teaching I have received” and “I am satisfied with my decision to attend this university.”  There tends to be a high level of consensus—schools in the top 20% and bottom 20% on each of these rankings tend to be the same.  Sometimes the top schools are the same as the business and academically rated top schools….but not as often as one might suppose!

Based on this info, you should be ready to prioritize the programs / schools on your SSS list in preparation for registering for OUAC in late November/ early December:  you have to have mid term marks for your current grade 12 subjects in order to register: these are provided by your guidance office directly to OUAC.



* Visiting your prospective schools:


The single most important part of prioritizing your top choices for OUAC/OCAS  is visiting the schools you are most interested in from your SSS list: some kids do this in the summer after grade 11 if they already have ideas about where they plan to apply; many kids take a long weekend and go with their parents on a Friday in the fall to a college or university so they can visit a class, see a residence and the student services department and have a campus tour led by a student. Colleges are usually more flexible about this, especially if you are from out of town.  If you have a good friend at a university you might want to apply to, getting invited down for a long weekend so that you can visit some classes, perhaps meet some kids in the programs you are interested in (not just to stay overnight in res and experience social life….  J ) is very helpful. 

All the universities run campus tours across the March Break when their classes are still in session—some large schools take busloads of kids to these, some kids go with a few friends, and some with their parents. Summer tours after you have chosen are also possible, and may include course selection—but it is FAR better to visit a campus before you decide to go there!  I have attended five universities in three countries and grew up on campuses so I feel very comfortable on most of them…. but I would not have allowed my own kids, and I certainly tried to discourage my students, from selecting a school they had not visited unless that is impossible re distance or cost. Kind of like falling in love based on a photoshopped dating website photo ….



* Making your electronic choices early:


Make sure that you enter your OUAC or OCAS info well before the deadline as the websites tend to get bogged down ( and occasionally crash) then….before Christmas is better than after for OUAC, and early January better than February for OCAS.  Don’t be afraid to list as many of each kind of school as you can from your SSS list…even if you have to pay a bit more to do so.  It’s not a good idea to limit yourself to one university at which you list 3-4 separate programs—because they will only offer you a space in one, and if you don’t have the average to get into that one,  you won’t have anywhere to go!

You can always go back in and remove schools, add schools, and re-rank schools—quite literally right up until the day before the final day in late May /early June, although that is not generally advisable. Letting universities and colleges know your priorities early is smarter, as that way they have you on their radar and quite possibly on lists of potential students to make offers to at some point,  based on any previous June gr. 12 marks, or summer school, night school or semester 1 final marks. Early offers of admission are unlikely to be made unless your marks are quite high and they see their school ranked well by you—as well as other factors, like already having four completed 4U or 4M courses, usually including ENG 4U.  

If you are applying for universities out of province which do not use OUAC – which is most of them—make sure you check their application due dates right after your mid term report comes out so that you can gather the necessary documents well before the last minute. Some of these, especially special /unique/very popular programs, will require reference letters and/or letters of intent from you with more information than Ontario universities usually require for most programs. It is good to take the time to do these well and proofread any essays—or have someone with solid grammar, spelling and usage skills do this for you.  Nothing takes you down a peg faster than poor English skills in letter to a university admissions department!

Using the various scholarship websites, apply to any for which you are qualified—on time and with all supporting documents—because sometimes the early bird does get the best worm J







And all of a sudden it’s spring….and acceptances are popping up all around you…but what if they are not coming in to your e mail, phone, or real live mailbox??





When your best friend gets a first acceptance, or your worst enemy gets into the program you would die for --and you don’t!  There are too many factors involved—like how many applicants for that program did that school get with what kind of semester one averages, and does that student have a high completed ENG 4U mark while you are taking it semester 2?  Some schools operate from OUAC alphabetically, some on a first come basis, and some smaller schools can get their offers out earlier because they are considering a few hundred kids not several thousand—but most don’t really start processing until after the entry deadline-- unless kids already have four or more gr. 12 completed courses including English 4U from previous year, summer school or semester 1.

What IS important is NOT to rush to accept the first offer you get because ALL offers are conditional.  Read the letter you get CAREFULLY before you start jumping in the air and texting the world and putting it on FB—what does it say about maintaining your current average? About completing all required courses by the end of June?  About having the volunteer hours and literacy test complete?  Even school’s scholarship offers are conditional, as entry scholarships get higher as your entry average does—so if you slack off in term 4 you may find your scholarship lower or even gone.  Kids never believe this but I have taught quite a few who lost scholarships due to a final average 3% lower, or flunked the calculus final and found themselves out of the school which had conditionally accepted them!  But if your mid term marks in semester 2 are higher than your semester 1 marks you may well find universities adding you to their lists, which of course they continue to do until the very end of the school year when they see final marks, even after kids have had to make their choices. 

This is why there are often spaces in schools and programs during the summer and right up to the end of August. Do the math:  if every student applies to an average of 3-4 programs in university, or 2-3 in college, and some kids apply in both systems plus to schools outside Ontario (which mostly require individual applications,) then every school will make initial offers to 2-4 times as many kids as they have spaces for (depending of course on that university’s previous acceptance rates from first offers.) So there will be MANY left over spaces at each school (rather less at the ‘best’ schools, more at the ‘weak’ schools—a very subjective ranking J ) because the 3-6 schools a kid does NOT accept now have spaces! Indeed, only a couple of days after students have made their choices, many schools send out a second wave of acceptances to the next faves on their lists --hoping they will default from their first choice if there is a reward: a single dorm room, a larger entry scholarship, a guarantee of  choice of room mate. Remember college and university grant funding is based in part on the % of kids who enter, pass, and graduate, so solid new students are a valuable commodity J

Residence requests are also an area which can complicate your life—if you do not even get on the waiting list for the one you wanted most and didn’t provide a second or third choice, or if you are inflexible re residence type, or if you insist on a roommate who is already your friend from high school (this often causes more problems than it would seem to solve), you may find yourself accepting a school and then finding out you did not get into residence.  Or if you forget to send them the first payment on time you may be demoted to a waiting list.  It is not uncommon to be accepted to the university and not get a spot in your first choice of residence, especially at the schools which do not have sufficient (or guaranteed first year) residence space. Be prepared to look for off campus options soon rather than wait until the last week of summer…..or you may find yourself in an infamous and overly expensive ‘student slum!’

Waiting lists for limited size arts programs often have spaces at the end of the summer if even a handful of students discover they can’t go to school this year because they can’t afford it and are not able to carry a part time job while in school; some university arts programs will allow students to defer entry for a semester or more likely a year for economic, family or health reasons. Generally this is not true for college arts programs, as there are fewer of them and the best performance programs– the ones who audition 300 kids and take 30—have selected a unified grouping of kids with diverse skills/backgrounds to work with intensively for 2-3 years, and have long  prioritized post-audition waiting lists intended to keep that group balanced.

And, for those applying to arts programs requiring auditions, interviews, portfolios or workshops, do NOT confuse two quite separate realities:  you may be offered a place following an early spring audition based on your talent….but the university itself may NOT offer you a spot via OUAC by the end of the year if your key marks are too low.  This is NOT true of college arts programs as they are much smaller and the auditions and marks are considered at the same time before an offer of acceptance is made….but failing a course required for entry to that school or to your major WILL  automatically cost your spot in either college or university!



* When you should panic


If you were offered a place after an audition, or your average of 6 best U/M courses is over 85%, or a friend with significantly lower key marks gets an offer for the same program at the same school -- and you don’t get an offer of admission by May 1….THEN it is time to :

a) go on OUAC and double check what schools/programs you have currently ranked and in what order. If all is not correctly shown, fix it right away; if it seems fine then:

B) contact the Admissions Department of that university and try to find out what is wrong. Are you missing a transcript?  Did your school not send the literacy test/volunteer info? Did your day school or a summer school, abroad program or night school  not get the final mark in on time so you don’t have 6 courses listed?  Did your school not get mid term marks in by the deadline? Did you switch schools at the start of semester 2 and not switch the school number on OUAC and make sure your new school’s guidance department followed up?  Did you list more than one program at the same university on OUAC? (because most universities will only make you an offer for one of them in their letter and expect you to change your ranking on OUAC to reflect this.) Did you switch two programs in the ranking and not have it “take” on the computer?  Start with an online question, and if you don’t get an answer within about 36 hours, start calling them—but you may find the phone line waits very tedious and, if you live relatively near the campus, it is often worth spending a day in person in the Student Services/Admissions area to talk to a real live person…..and throw yourself on their mercy!  You can often get answers to questions you didn’t know you had as well…if this doesn’t work, then:

C) go talk to your guidance counselor and see if she can find the problem—they have lots of experience dealing with OUAC and have access to a different online screen view than you see and can sometimes spot what is wrong and fix it easily—or they know whom to contact to do so.

If this doesn’t work, then wait a few days and repeat A. It’s like resetting your computer after some disaster….sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t now,  but will later! If it doesn’t work a second time, go back to your guidance office ASAP and stay there –and bring in your parents if necessary—until they find out what has gone wrong !!!!!!!!!







Once you have formally accepted an offer, but sometimes not until a university has got a solid first list in early June, you will get a large package of very detailed instructions from your new school on what to do next and when.  Ignore it at your peril!  Read it through with your parents re due dates for payments of  various types and payment plans. If you are going to apply to OSAP you need to do it as soon as you have been accepted and have a clear idea about what this will cost.  Do the research it suggests; make sure to do whatever you have to get an access code for the course selection website and start browsing.

Spend a lot of time on line checking out which required courses are available when, and which options you can choose will fit into that schedule: it is useful to print out the lists of section times and dates for future reference.  Have several different potential timetables figured out but always begin with the required courses.  Accept the fact that first year students usually have early morning classes, late afternoon and sometimes evening classes, and are more likely to have Friday classes than older kids….and that you will probably NOT get a timetable you like much first year-- unless you are genuinely fond of classes at 7:30 AM or PM…..

This is when knowing someone who is already at that school is a HUGE advantage—they are probably home already and know the way the website works --and when/why it doesn’t-- and are the best possible people to help you through this tangled web of dead ends.  If you have a teacher or counselor who is willing and has time, they are usually adept at some if not all university websites: most have some they won’t go near for any reason and others they can negotiate without a nervous breakdown J  

Most important, tattoo the date and time on your forehead --or write it in large letters on your mirror --of the narrow window of opportunity during which people with your last initial have been scheduled to select courses and register:  this may well be in the middle of the night.  This is usually an alpha order, by year and/or by faculties, or sometimes by number of credits one already has.  It is never enough time, which is why you need a set of timetables for different combos of courses already written out and sections/numbers printed out so that not getting the first course you wanted is not going to waste the whole 30 minutes you get….. If it doesn’t get done the first time you have to try to slither into an empty spot but that may require sitting at your computer for 36 hours trying to get into the program every 10 minutes.  Seriously.  Do NOT wait until the end of the summer, after your vacation etc etc or you will find there are no spaces in any option you might conceivably be allowed to take or want to take…..


And remember, as you get further down the long and winding road and closer to creating your life after high school…. universities and colleges expect YOU, the young adult who wants to come to that school, to make decisions and communicate with them yourself and are far LESS likely to be willing to talk to, or return calls from, your parents.  So do NOT ask your parents to deal with your university registration problems for you….or to select your courses for you…or, later, to complain to teachers re marks or dons re problems with your roommates.  These will not help you to become a self reliant adult, nor will the university be impressed!


                Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –-

                I took the one less traveled by,

                And that has made all the difference.

                                                - from The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost, 1916



Good luck….and don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled somewhere on your journey….

                                                                                                                                                                          Sue Daniel, 2013