For Grade 12 students the time is now here to choose the universities to which you want to apply. This means that you must begin seriously researching what these universities want from you in their application packages. Indeed, many students have already started to work on these applications over the summer. The reasons for starting now are numerous as I will explain in this overview.
Parents of Grade 11 students should also begin preparing now. Waiting until next year is a mistake. Resumes can only be improved from now until next January.
The process involves a large time commitment that includes:
►Committing to extra volunteer hours (this should be done prior to grade 12 year if possible)
►Researching which University has the best program for your field of study and future plans
►Writing several essays and detailed short answer questions for each application
►Updating (or writing) a resume
►Completing Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC) forms
►Collecting reference letters ASAP
Throughout the process students can expect to spend up to 20 hours researching, thinking, writing, rewriting and tailoring just one essay to impress those on the admittance committees of the institutions they hope to attend. What this means is that if your teenager wants to apply to 5 different Universities that this work can easily total 100 hours. Indeed, those who have received scholarships and entrance into the top Universities (including Ivy League Universities) credit their entrance essays as the most important factor in their being granted admittance.
Another important piece of information to consider is there are too many students across Canada applying to Universities with averages in the upper 80’s and 90’s. The problem is that these students cannot all be allowed to enter into the best University Programs, as space is limited. In the minds of University administrators these high marks can partially be explained by a well recognized 20% variation in how students are marked within different schools and by different teachers. Additionally, they are also well aware of the pressure exerted by students and parents to award higher marks to students in Grade 12 in order to assist them in gaining entrance into top universities.
To eliminate students from their acceptance lists, more and more Universities and University Programs (including Business, Math, Science, Architecture and Engineering departments) are requesting increasingly demanding entrance packages. These packages often include essays, a resume and critical reflections of past volunteer work and job experience. Ultimately, what this means is that when it comes to choosing between two students with high marks, the one whose essays and application package is superior will be chosen. Thus, when students’ marks are high to begin with, thoughtful, well-conceived essays, and application packages coupled by fantastic references can substantially increase the chances of a student being admitted.
Keep in mind - Those who have high marks, but an inferior entrance package can and do rank lower than students with an outstanding application package and lower marks.
Other Important factors to remember
- Many of the skills required for University entrance essays are very different from what you have learned in school.
- University entrance criteria include questions which combine, narrative, analytic,
expository and descriptive elements in addition to a high level of personal insight.
- You need to provide insight into your character, past learning, future plans and goals while substantiating your research skills within your application.
- Before beginning your writing, be sure that you are choosing the university with the most appropriate program for your marks, skills and experience.
- Make sure that you understand precisely what each University offers, and what they expect from you in regards to your application package
- Be prepared to spend many hours researching before you begin to write.
University Application Essay Writing
► explanation of different types of application essays
► expectations and successful examples
► structuring your application essay
► describing yourself, your learning history and future plans in writing
Constructing a Resume
► organization of experience, using proper descriptors, layout
Describing your volunteer and work experience
► matching job and volunteer experience to the criteria of the programs to which you apply Researching what you need to know to write a large variety of application essays
► navigating university websites, comparing program offerings, understanding the type of essay you are being asked to write
Choosing the best University program(s) for your future
* Important Note – While universities may offer a Business degree – what the degree focuses on and teaches is significantly different for each University.
► matching your skills and interests with university programs
How important is the admission essay?
If applicants appear equal in terms of their marks and experience, a well-written essay will be the difference between being admitted or not admitted. Also, if there are scholarships involved, essays become even more important.
A great essay can also help students gain entry into a University if their marks are not as high as other applicants to the University and/or who do not have a lot of extra curricular experience.
At Waterloo, Queens, Western & University of Toronto your essays and application package can increase your entire average 5%, often the difference between being granted entry and being rejected. A student who scores highly on their application package will almost always be chosen over someone with a higher average but a weak application package. The application essays and questions are designed to see who will be succesful in university, and are often a better indicator for admissions committees than high marks.
Some Application Package Examples
The following examples are only just a few. Many universities now require applications that include an extensive application package. To find out if your child's program asks for supplementary applications, go directly to the university website. Often these websites are confusing, so if you don't find what you are looking for, contact the registrar of the university by email. Most will get back to you within 2 days.
Example from Queen’s University
We want to hear your individual voice in your writing. Write essays that reflect who you are; use specific concrete details and write in a natural style. Begin work on these essays early, and feel free to ask your parents, teachers and friends to provide constructive feedback. Ask if the essay's tone sounds like your voice. If those closest to you do not believe your essay captures who you are, we will not be able to recognize what is distinctive about you. While asking for feedback is suggested, do not enlist hired assistance in the writing of your essays.
You're a leader in your school or community. You might be an athlete, an actor, or hold a part-time job, and you're definitely a strong student.
If you just read that and thought, "Hey! That's me!" you might also be a Queen's student. At Queen's we want to know all the things about you that make you unique. That's why, as part of the application process, we want you to submit a Personal Statement of Experience (PSE) and an additional Supplementary Essay† so that you can tell us what your marks don't.
We're looking for:
- Strong leadership skills
- Time management skills
- How your experiences will contribute to the Queen's community
Undergraduate admission at Queen's is very competitive and we use the PSE and Supplementary Essay along with your academic record, to make admission decisions ‡. The PSE is a mandatory document for every undergraduate program. That means you HAVE to fill it out and submit it. The Supplementary Essay† is required for some programs (see below for details) and must be submitted at the same time you submit your PSE. Both of these must be submitted using our online student self-service system. We will send you the link after you apply.
The PSE and Supplementary Essay† will be evaluated based on:
- Style-spelling, grammar and syntax count
- Content-your individual experiences and accomplishments
Communication-how well you are able to link your experiences with the attributes Queen's seeks (you'll find all of that on the form online)
Application Essay Question Examples
Some application packages (particularly those for business programs) ask students to write 4 or 5 essays, answer many short questions, and conduct an online interview.
1) Describe your involvement in a school or community activity in which you made a positive contribution. What did you accomplish, and in what way was this meaningful to you? (400 words or less)
2) Choose one extracurricular activity or one employment opportunity you have listed on your Personal Statement of Experience. In 300 words, or fewer, describe the impact of this experience and the greatest learning outcome for you. Your answer will be evaluated for content and writing style.
3) Leadership Question: Drawing from your personal experiences, tell us what leadership means to you. Describe an experience where you called upon your qualities of leadership, explaining what attributes you contributed toward achieving a desired outcome. What did you learn from this experience? (400 words or less)
Waterloo - Admission Information Form (A.I.F.) - Queens (PSE) - McMaster Supplementary
A Professor talks about the importance of the AIF for admission.
Admissions Averages - Waterloo
Top Programs are extremely competative
Having marks in the mid 90's does not guarantee admission. Waterloo provides a good example of this phenomenon. Success rates for applications are about 5-10% in total.
Waterloo - How Many Spaces?
We are often asked about how many spaces there are available in each program, so here is an estimate of total spaces for each (subject to change).
Computer + Electrical: 360 (these programs are combined for admission purposes)
Systems Design: 90