ALL ABOUT THE ACADEMICS

Jared Dodds |

For most, the beginning of spring is a time of joy. Winter is ending, snow is going away, all the things we wait for as summer approaches. But for grade 12 students, this only means one thing: acceptances for universities are meant to be coming in.

So instead of the joy of spring, your every waking minute is filled with anxiety, as you feverishly refresh your email or rush to the mailbox after school, hoping you will get to open a big envelope with your acceptance package.

The world will tell you this anxiety is normal, and you shouldn’t think about it or let it get to you. Unfortunately, that is simply not the case for today’s youth, at least according to Ainsley Cronin, a current grade 12 student from Mississauga.

“You feel bad,” Cronin says. “Cause I got into my first program before all my friends so they were all stressed out. When I got into Guelph, I was sitting in class, and my friend overheard, and that was her top choice, but she didn’t get in. So you feel bad.”

So, let’s do our best to stay away from clichés. Besides, for current students, the applications are in and there’s nothing you can do, besides wait. The goal instead will be to provide advice to all those who are preparing themselves for what is likely the biggest moment of their life.

In the acceptance game, it must be noted that you could have the greatest resume in the world, and none of it will matter if you don’t have the marks to back it up.

Justin Young, a high school teacher at Mentor College, a private school in Mississauga, says his students are more than aware how important their marks are. “It seems like kids today are more worried about their marks then what I remember 13 years ago,” Young says.

They’re right to think carefully about their marks. According to Ivana Wolsegger, an Admission’s Office Supervisor who has almost 40 years of experience, the core of the application process has and always will be a computer comparing your transcript to whatever standard the school has decided on.

“It’s about the academics,” Wolsegger says. “It’s so automated for the high school students, schools automatically send us their grades, we get a whole edit of all the grades, and then they decide what the benchmark is and run it. It’s so automated and it always has been.”

But remember, the application is just a stepping stone to your larger university or college experience, and she thinks having a student who is more than just a strong transcript is important once you’re on campus.

“For me personally I like to see a well-rounded student,” Wolsegger says. “I look at the whole picture, grade 9 to 12, and love to see someone socially and academically rounded.”

So, let’s set marks aside for now, and get some tips and tricks to making the application process as smooth and successful as possible.

Make Your Application Stand Out

Lots of people in Canada attend a post-secondary institution. According to Statistics Canada in 2016, 56% of working aged people have some form of post-secondary education, whether that be a bachelor’s degree or diploma. This means that every year, admissions officers around the country are getting thousands of applications, and the majority are going to hit the mark threshold they need to get into the program. Moreover, Cronin says some schools ask you to write a written piece about you, explaining what else makes you a strong candidate besides marks.

“There’s extra stuff for most of the schools, but it’s not mandatory,” she says. “You had to list your awards and extracurriculars and write a mini essay about one of them.”

Wolsegger says while extracurriculars might not be what gets you into school, they will make your life easier once you get there. That’s why Young always encourages his students to get involved outside the classroom.

“One of the things I see at my school is kids are always trying to expand their resumes by doing lots of different extracurriculars, whether it be music, sports or outreach groups,” he says. “In the last three or four years a lot of students are choosing to write the supplementary [essay]. And now [schools] can look holistically at the whole student.”

This advice is nothing new, and it has been read and ignored by countless students in countless articles before. But think of this; no one has ever mocked an application for having too many extracurriculars. There has never once been an admissions officer who thought “man this kid played three sports AND worked at Tim Horton’s?!? We’ll take them off the list, onto the next one.”

Moreover, there are kids somewhere who did listen to this advice and have a head start. So, join a club. Please.

Talk To Experts

You will encounter countless experts; from the moment you first start thinking about your application until you are walking into your new dorm room. Whether it be guidance counsellors at your high school, alumni sent to sweep you off your feet, or admissions specialists like Wolsegger speaking to you at a college fair. You. Should. Listen.

Here’s the reasoning: they know a lot of the things you don’t. And that’s not your fault, you’re new to this, just starting to get your feet wet. These are professionals who have been doing this forever, some longer than you’ve even been alive. And all they want to do is give you the best advice to help you succeed.

When Wolsegger was asked what made her keep coming back to this job for almost 40 years, she didn’t hesitate to say it was the kids she got to help along the way.

“It’s the students.  It really is,” she says. “I love working with the students and helping them find their path. I love figuring out their issues and problems and solving it for them. Having that fulfillment and helping just makes my day.”

She says speaking to an admissions expert or going to a university/college fair gives you the best understanding of what each of these schools can offer you, and whether it’s a community you want to be a part of long term. Even once applications are in, take a tour of the campuses you’re thinking about, ask questions about the programs you’ve applied for, and make sure you’ve got all the information possible to make the best decision for you.

Speak to the people who have the answers to the thousands of questions bouncing around your head.

Know What You Want

The most important part of this advice is the word You. Both Young and Wolsegger stressed how people will never succeed if they are doing something they don’t want to do.  Often this is driven by someone else’s picture of what your life should look like (looking at your parents who’ve always wanted an engineer in the family).

There’s also the fact that these courses cost money to apply to, and it’s not cheap. Wolsegger once had a prospective student come into her office who had applied for 15 programs, which came to a total of $750. Ouch. So when you’re sitting down to apply for your programs, Wolsegger always tells students to apply to what they really want.

Some students, like Cronin, have been thinking about what they want much longer than most . When she had a learning assessment done in grade 8, the people doing the assessment told Cronin and her family she wouldn’t get into university. To her that meant she had to start working then and there to prove them wrong.

So, if you’re someone who’s been thinking since grade 8, or you figured it all out somewhere along the way, the best advice is to narrow it down to three or four courses, making sure that these are the things you want to study. But, if you’re not sure…

Cut Yourself Some Slack

This may sound like a cliché, but it’s important advice. There are many kids out there who are nervous about leaving home for the first time, or don’t know what they want to do with the rest of their lives. All these feelings are understandable; this is often the first big decision or step you’ll be making, and it’s natural to come with some jitters.

The main thing to remember is to stay calm and give yourself a break.

Nervous your top choice is three provinces over? Plan with your family when you can skype and visit each other.

Not sure what you want to do? You can always take a gap year to decide or do what Young and Wolsegger suggest and take a general studies course. That way you get to take a sampling of courses and decide what you like best.

The point is you don’t need to have all the answers right now, and there are options around to support you and help you be the best you can be.

So take a breath. Cut yourself some slack. And, for god’s sake, join a club.

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