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How to apply to Canadian universities with success

It’s about that time of year when grade eleven, or “junior” year students, really start planning ahead for their final year of study. When they start narrowing down on courses, key interests and, most of all, to start thinking ahead to what lies next. And for many, what lies next – if all goes well – is more education.

Even at the best of times, applying to universities can feel like a daunting task. But for those students deciding to apply to schools overseas, it can be an absolutely overwhelming experience! So, in the hopes of offering a bit more insight into what Canadian schools are looking for in their international applicants, the following are a few pieces of advice provided by industry professionals – starting with an answer to the very basic, yet all-important question: What is the biggest thing a student can do to help his or her chances of acceptance into the Canadian institution of his/her choice?

According to Saint Mary’s University’s International Recruitment Specialist, Kristen Sutherland, the answer is simple: focus on your academics.

“Honestly,” she says, “the most important thing to do is perform well in academics. If you are a strong academic student you will have many more options available to you... This will also assist in both gaining admission and obtaining scholarships.”

With almost a decade of experience as an international recruiter, and more than 300 new international students at Saint Mary’s each year, Sutherland is a bit of an expert in the application process. The most avoidable mistake she says students can make? Not submitting a full application.

“Admissions require all the necessary information to properly evaluate a student’s academic history,” she explains. “We are unable to process applications that are incomplete.”

So rather than risk having all your hard work (not to mention hopes!) being tossed straight into the garbage, make sure you have all your papers in order. Check the university’s website to see all their admissions and course requirements, and make sure your own school provides you with all the correct (and official) documents you need.

A number of Canadian universities also have outreach offices and/or appointed representatives located around the world, such as the Canadian University Application Centre (CUAC, www.canada123.org), in place to help students with just these kinds of matters – in addition to helping universities accurately assess foreign curriculum and grading schemes, as these are sometimes very different from Canada’s own.

Another area of consideration for students to keep in mind is community involvement outside of the classroom. Although grades are still the most important thing in an application, additional experiences can really help students to stand out, and should certainly be highlighted in appropriate areas of the application – particularly, says CUAC’s Toronto Manager, Lisa Roosen-Runge, for those students hoping to take part in cooperative education programs, for which previous work or volunteer experience is a major bonus.
Above all, Roosen-Runge says it’s important for students to choose and apply for the courses that interest them the most, rather than ones that fit the job market “right now”.

“You are four or five years away from joining that market,” she explains. “Don’t apply for a university program to please your parents or because you think you want a ‘label’ of an accountant – go in with an open mind and try as many types of courses as possible (which is easy to do at Canadian universities!). How many 17-year-olds can accurately foresee their future jobs anyway? Keep in mind, most people these days have at least seven serious jobs in their life. Just because you were accepted to a business or engineering program does not mean you will ever actually be an accountant or an engineer.”

So now that you’re actually prepared to compile your application, Roosen-Runge says the final thing to keep in mind are due dates. Even if the official ‘end deadline’ is not for a while, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim to apply as soon as admissions are open. At many Canadian schools, the turnaround process from receiving an application to actually sending the student a decision may not be particularly long, but after that happy day when your official offer letter finally comes, there are still plenty of other time-consuming projects you’ll need to concentrate on before classes start – visa, flight booking and getting yourself on your way!

Arwen Kidd currently serves as Communications Dire-tor for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate her-self, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photojournalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.

Posted: Mar 4, 2011

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