The Grade 12 class is entering a most exciting phase of their graduation year. The class as a whole has sent off 900 applications to universities in Canada, the USA, the UK, and other places in the world. Now they’re waiting in breathless anticipation for acceptances and those are now starting to come in.
Many of our students will be in the enviable position of being able to choose between several offers. How to choose? Decisions, Decisions! In the University Counselling Centre we tell our students that the university must fit the student, not the other way around. Much of our post-secondary counselling, beginning in grade 10, is focused on helping students define what would be best for them. Are they more comfortable in a rural setting than in a busy city? Or do they want the charms and noise of the “big smoke”? Do they want small or large, liberal arts or specialty? Strong athletic programmes? Big libraries? We ask them to consider how important student services are to them and how important it is to have a comfortable and up-to-date residence life. All of these elements will influence decision-making as will proximity to home, presence of relatives or friends close to the universities being considered, and various reputational measures.
We caution our students to take great care interpreting rankings and polls. Many reputational surveys are based on the graduate programs at universities and thus their results are seriously separated from the type of information an undergraduate needs. In some cases, it may not be true that the university with the ‘best’ rankings based on its graduate programs is also the ‘best’ university for undergrad programs. We’re fortunate that the world of education offers literally hundreds of excellent choices for students leaving high school.
The best university will be one which tests and stretches a student to delve deeply into learning and to try new things. It will supply the required care, services, resources, and excitement. It will be able to boast a friendly and welcoming social community and inspirational teachers, and the logistics of attendance will not hamper the student’s enjoyment of its qualities. Most importantly, the student will feel ‘right’ on the right campus. And with that in mind, nothing can replace an actual on-the-ground visit to a prospective campus in the decision-making process. Countless times SMUS counsellors have heard students say that just being there on the campus of one of their prospects was what sealed the deal.
[The best laid plans… Even though students take great care in choosing the one university they will attend, sometimes students discover in their first year that their university is a poor fit. However, it is possible to transfer from one university to another after first year, and sometimes even after second year. And the experience of changing universities is, of course, an education in itself, so if one takes a constructive view of such an experience, it’s all good.]