Done With High School?

In the months nearing the end of high school, many grade 12 students will soon be taking the next big step in their lives and selecting their universities. Every student at the very least applies to 3 universities via the Ontario Universities’ Centre website for a single payment, and then may apply to more programs for an extra fee.

So you’ve been accepted into more than one program, most probably at different universities – now what? How on earth do you decide which program to choose and which university to go to? For some it may be pretty straight forward, but for others it can lead to a decision made on the very last day before the deadline. Hopefully, you have done your homework and picked specific programs in relevance to your own personal interest and goals. However, at times it may become fairly confusing to choose a university when you have more than one of the same programs being offered to you at different universities.

Below are some general guidelines that I felt were relevant in deciding upon a university.

 

Marks

If you have already been accepted to university, this point should not be much of an issue to you. However I am listing it regardless, as it is without a doubt the most important criteria and students who still have time before they apply to universities in the upcoming years will definitely need to know this.

So the fact of the matter is, before you consider any other criterion for selecting a university, you need to make sure you have the right marks and also have a rough idea as to what the university cut offs for your program of interest are. This is the most important criteria, because if you do not take this into consideration; the remaining criteria will be fairly useless. Speaking strictly of the Greater Toronto Area [GTA], the universities have different mark requirements for different programs and all of these may vary from campus to campus even within the same university. If you have really been successful in high school, achieving averages of 85% to 90% or even higher – then this may not be a big deal for you [for the most part] and you can move on to the next points. However, for example, you definitely would not want to be applying to Schulich School of Business at York University if you have less than an 85%, as chances of getting in are as slim as the Leafs bringing home the Stanley Cup this year. You can usually find average cut off marks on the admission requirement page of any university website. However be warned that these are in essence borderline marks [usually they are last year’s cut off] and you definitely want to be aiming a lot higher than what the cut offs are listed to be, to eliminate the risk factor.

University & Program Reputation

The second most important criterion is obviously the university and which ones offer the program that you are interested in. We are assuming that has already gone through the procedure of applying, and has now received acceptances by more than one university offering the same program.

Good ways of learning about a university’s formal standings is by picking up a copy of the Macleans’ Magazine, [or visit it online here for a preview of the rankings] and see what primary and secondary research depicts in regards to the standings of the universities. Someone who wants to pursue his interest in Information Technology Management should probably try considering going to Ryerson rather than York perhaps. Or someone who is interested in the Sciences should most probably consider University of Toronto or McGill over University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Obviously this selection is based just on the mere reputation of the program; however we cannot dismiss some of the other criteria which follow. Another problem one might run into is, say, one gets accepted to University of Toronto and York University’s Schulich School of Business for the same program. It might be a fairly easy decision for some, but on the contrary might be pretty difficult for others as both programs are good. This is why we need to consider other aspects of deciding where to go.

Social Life & Campus Location

One criterion which I feel is necessary in selecting a university is its social reputation. You’ll be spending the next four years on this campus – and these four years should at the very least be fun. This not only makes university life enjoyable, but also helps you foster into an individual who understand social norms within this society and how to deal with them. Now I did not make this criterion up because I’ve spent almost 4 years at York University – and that’s what the laymen may argue York is solely known for, but rather based on reality. You do not want to arrive at a point where you start to dread going to university. Social life on campus brings about that balance between education and free time. Now clearly, when I say social reputation and social life on a campus, it does not mean enjoying and having fun in the manner of non-Muslims. Look out for campuses with an active TMA [Thaqalayn Muslim Association] and have a look at what sort of events they hold which can be incorporated as part of your social life on campus. If there is no TMA then perhaps a little research on the campuses’ MSA may be beneficial as well. From my experience, TMA has also been a great way for me to meet Shia brothers and sisters, as well as a great opportunity to network with each other. During free time or long breaks in between classes, you can always find friends who may be free and this is a great way to spend more time them as well. Many times, as you get to know more Shia students on campus, you realize many of them may be pursuing the same degree as you and you can opt to take classes together or seek their advice on their past course experiences.

But please take note of one important point: Do not go to a certain university, merely because your friends are going to it! What is acceptable and convenient for one, may be the total opposite for another.

Other factors that could influence your decision are the facilities and various services the campus offers. Are there any halal restaurants that you could visit once in a while, or a gym which you can attend during long breaks between lectures? A final element which is also critical is the location and distance of the campus. You will most probably be attending this campus for the next 4 years so it is important to realize what is covenant for you. Do you wish to live on residence or will you be commuting to the campus? If you live in Pickering and have just decided to attend University of Toronto, Mississauga Campus – well all I can say is that may God be with you! The distance of the university should be convenient for you and not too lengthy. Though some individuals utilize the travel time by catching up on readings and last minute studying, it does get physically and mentally tiring in the long run. Of course if you’ll be living on residence, then this shouldn’t be too much of a factor for you, and you should be more worried about what residence life is like. There are studies that suggest long commute times reflect on your productivity.

Costs & Financial Assistance

Last but not least, expenses and financial assistance are a final criteria that you need to keep into consideration as well. The cost of attending a university goes beyond just the mere tuition fees and travelling because even the tuition fees will vary greatly between university to university and between different programs. There are certain outlets that can assist you with these costs. For a vast majority that doesn’t get any scholarships, there is the Ontario Student’s Assistance Program (OSAP) which offers government loans to students. It could become a burden upon your graduation, but if this is the only means of getting you through an education then it is worth it. Other ways are obviously by working and paying for yourself or with the help of your parents. Working while at university can be a tough task, but I have seen many individuals who have pulled it off and also received excellent grades. It is achievable.

Another way to get assistance is via scholarships. There are generally two types of scholarships; one is the type that the university gives upon your acceptance, based on your grades and extracurricular activities. The other types are the ones you have to apply for yourself. There are thousands of these types of scholarships. Many are offered by the universities themselves, but there are also plenty of organizations and companies that offer scholarships as well. Many workplaces offer financial assistance for their employees or their children and even help consecutive years. You can ask your local mosque, organization or research online by looking at grants and scholarships by the government. Scholarships Canada’s website is a great place to start.

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