University Pre-Requisites: The Devil is in the Details

SMUS Senior School student in class

It was the week leading up to Spring Break, and they were knocking on my door in the University Counselling office with increasing regularity. They were in a panic. Or they weren’t in a panic because they were blissfully ignorant of the fact that maybe they should have been in a panic, but for some reason they were knocking on my office door. Offers to university programs were steadily trickling in for their peers. They were checking – with varying degrees of diligence – their applicant portals at the various universities where they had applied. They were self-reporting their marks in some cases; in other cases they were sending documents to prove English proficiency; still others were asking to drop a course (yes, even at that late of a date) and wondering if it would affect their application status. And all of these conversations had one element in common: pre-requisites!

University programs, not surprisingly, all have pre-requisites: courses that students are expected to have completed in order to qualify to apply to a specific program. English 12 is a pre-requisite for all university programs, but after that, it’s a complex array of requirements both of Grade 11 and Grade 12 course credits. What makes it more difficult is the lack of consistency from one institution to the next.

Some business schools want Pre-Calculus 12, others don’t; one in particular (University of Toronto) expects Calculus 12 completed to gain admission to the Rotman School of Commerce. Science programs across the board expect two sciences completed to the Grade 12 level (some expect three!); some expect Physics 11 to be one of those courses, while others will allow Chemistry and Biology. These are just a couple of examples coming across my desk at this panicky time of year. Why the panic? Well, because students have applied for a program without the correct pre-requisites. These crucial little details had been overlooked.

Skipping this important step – missing the details of pre-requisites for the programs you’re applying to – can put you in a very tricky position. Some universities will allow you to make late changes to your application to perhaps apply to a different faculty that you do have the pre-requisites for. In a few cases, you may have spent your money on an application that is rendered invalid due to the pre-requisite oversight (i.e. it may be too late to change by the time you figure it out).

This information is particularly important right now for Grade 11 students, as they research university programs of interest and narrow their list of choices of where they’ll apply. It cannot be stressed enough: pay attention to the specific pre-requisites for the programs you hope to apply to. Now is the time you can make necessary changes to your course load for your Grade 12 year in the fall if there’s a program you’re really interested in, but you haven’t yet lined up the correct pre-requisites for it.

The permutations and combinations of pre-requisites can be dizzying and it’s certainly challenging to keep track of them. This is the hard work of the application process: doing your homework, reading the fine print of each program you’re considering, and making sure that you have the right credits for the right program. The sooner you do this, the better your chances of choosing courses now, while you’re still in high school, to get you where you want to go.

As always, if you have any questions, drop in and see your university counsellor.