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4 Things You Must Keep in Mind When Applying to University Undergrad

Applying to university used to be an easy, straightforward process: send in your high school transcript and application forms, then waiting to find out if your good grades got you accepted.

Now, however, getting into university is much more competitive than it used to be, as the number of applicants has increased many times. As a result, applying to university is much more complex and involved process, not only in the actual documents you must submit but also in planning your applications, as applying to backup schools is now the norm.

Applying now is more similar to a graduate school process, where you have to answer questions and provide statements about your reasons for wanting to study at X school in Y program.

To ensure your application is its best and your school choices correct, here are some important things to keep in mind as you start researching universities, analyzing programs and filling out application packages.

Start checking out universities before the end of high school

Don’t wait until the last minute to examine universities you want to apply to. In fact, don’t even leave this until your final year in high school (when you’ll be very busy with schoolwork, extracurriculars and more).

In Grade 11 start visiting universities you may be interested in attending. Go on a campus tour (universities LOVE giving tours, check them out for U of T, York University and McMaster).

Some questions you should ask yourself when evaluating universities include: Do you like small town? City atmosphere? Or want to stay close to home and family?

All of these factors are critical in where you are going to spend four of the most formative years of your life. All universities welcome high school students. So go in, ask questions about programs you are interested in and get a feel for the campus. Oftentimes in the fall, universities host campus day events with guided tours and school counsellors on hand to answer questions.

Make a plan that includes your after-undergrad goals

It’s important to understand what your ultimate goals are when selecting and applying for an undergraduate program.

Do you intend to do graduate work after? Is medical or law school on your horizon? Or do you want to get a job and enter the workforce?

Pick universities carefully — don’t forget some are easier to get good marks at than others, and those marks are the difference between getting into your first-choice school for a professional program or having to go with plan B.

For example, if medical school is your goal, going to a top tier university for undergrad might be challenging to get the high grades you need. Think of a smaller school where you can be have a closer relationship with your professors and where their goal is not to reduce the first year class student count by 30%. Take it from me, certain professional degrees are way more challenging than others (think engineering).

Consider a school with a well-known co-op program

If you do intend to start working after graduation, and especially if you are pursuing a commerce degree, then make sure your prospective school(s) have a reputable and well-known co-op program.

Landing a good co-op position is your foot in the door for your possible first job out of school. A lot of companies treat co-ops as an extended job evaluation — those who do well get invited back for a full-time job. This is extra true for those who want to study business and are thinking of a career at a large corporation or financial firm. Recruits from these kind of companies will come to universities to find good co-op students and set them up for positions.

The catch is that these kind of high-caliber co-op programs are less likely to be found at smaller or rural universities. So make sure that when you are evaluating your schools and programs to check the status of their co-op program — starting with that they actually have one.

A well-written application can really make you stand out (above and beyond your grades)

Don’t underestimate the importance of the written responses the university applications ask for.

The truth is that these days, with high school students incredibly laser-focused on getting into university, a lot of undergraduate applicants — your competition — have very strong grades.

But oftentimes students can rely too much on their good grades, and neglect the written component of their application, which as mentioned above is becoming increasingly more prominent in how schools evaluate you.

Which means a strongly written component can put you ahead of the rest. So take the time to plan out your written statement: evaluate your strengths, why you want to study your target program and the goals you want to achieve through school. And, this is important, seek help from friends and family to proofread it, and make sure you have gone through a few drafts of revisions. Print it out and read it on paper to catch any typos or mistakes you may miss on a digital screen.

The written section is important, and not something you should be working on the night before the application deadline, so give yourself a few weeks to get it right and polish it up. You’d be surprised how big a difference it can make.

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