All Posts Tagged With: "choosing a university"
Why those back-up schools may be worth a second look
In high school I couldn’t wait to get out of my little northern Ontario town (pop. 10,500) where the main preoccupation for most residents was the size of their snowmobile and tractor engines. I dreamed of a more intellectual milieu where I could debate politics over gin and dance to live music.
I knew university was my only hope and I worked hard toward that goal. I studied late, joined student council, volunteered. I even enrolled in a seventh Grade 12 course to ensure my ‘top six’ course average would be over 90 per cent.
By the time I applied to schools in January 2003, I’d worn out my copy of the Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities, having spent years agonizing over the options. I wanted to strike out on my own, eliminating Toronto since my dad was there and Ottawa since my sister was there. Nipissing and Laurentian were close to home—too close. I settled on McGill, with Western as my back-up. Since my Ontario application allowed me to pick three, I ticked off Wilfrid Laurier and Guelph too.
Former top banker on his days at Queen’s
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here, David Dodge, former Governor of the Bank of Canada and Chancellor of Queen’s University, looks back on his days in university.
I graduated with a B.A. in economics from Queen’s University and later a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University. It was a very exciting time: neither of my parents had been to university, and I was going down the highway from Toronto to Kingston. I thought I was going to do mathematics and chemistry but I ended up studying economics. Out of high school you know some things, you don’t know others. At that time at Queen’s—it is fair to say it is the same now—you had to take a pretty broad range of things in first year. I took economics. It was relevant to the world, whereas seeing OHs run around the page in organic chemistry didn’t seem quite so exciting.
University for me was a formative period. I was lucky enough to be able to live away from home. You learn a lot about yourself and about the world when you are out of the environment in which you have been comfortable. There is a tremendous advantage, I think, to going away to university. Queen’s had an advantage too in that you were in a relatively small town—Kingston. I lived in residence and you got to meet different folks.
I was in the Naval Reserve Officer Training program. It wasn’t like a job but it took six to seven hours a week. I worked on the student newspaper too. We had ancient Underwood typewriters and the paper was still produced on hot type downtown. That was quite an experience.
As told to Julie Smyth
Senator Linda Frum’s advice
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here’s advice from Linda Frum, the Conservative Senator who, in 1987 at the age 24, wrote a widely-read Guide to Canadian Universities.
Twenty-five years ago when I wrote a guidebook to Canadian universities the fundamental premise of my book was that Canadians needed to be more adventurous. Don’t go to school in your own familiar backyard, I argued. Leave home.
What I never imagined was that one day (a day that would arrive with the speed of light) my own children would be the ones best served by leaving my home. And that as a mother, I would find this pitifully painful. But so it came to be. In August, the time had arrived for two of my three children to depart for university. So devastated was I to say goodbye to my twins, Sam and Barbara, that I considered writing a new book: A Parent’s Guide to How Crappy It Feels When Your Kids Dump You For University.
What I learned from choosing the wrong university
After years of research, tours of Dalhousie, Mount Allison, Queen’s, Carleton, and McGill, and multiple family discussions, I selected my university. It was a well-considered and entirely reasonable decision, and it was completely wrong. I’m officially a first semester drop out.
Since the end of September, I’ve been at home in Toronto trying to figure out a new vision of my future. As any student knows, the age-old question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” isn’t as straightforward as it seems.
For a while, I had it all planned out: political science, then law school. I accepted my offer to Carleton University for their difficult-to-get-into Global Politics program in June and started in September. I left after three weeks.
‘Better’ schools wouldn’t take him. Now, he’s a master.
John Fraser is master of Massey College at the University of Toronto. His advice first appeared in the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings.
The agony of “getting it right” when choosing a university to kick off the higher academic experience in life is one I never had the privilege of experiencing. I had only three humble criteria: (1) is there a university that would actually take me, (2) could I afford it, and (3) please, dear God, can there be enough distance between my home in Toronto and this mythical, inexpensive place of higher learning—preferably with water in between?
Those are not generally the concerns of either parents or students, but variations on those themes are actually not a bad way to figure out where to go. The endless searching for exactly the right high-profile place, the relentless reliance on university evaluation guides (including the highly popular one this magazine puts out every year), the phone calls to well-connected friends, the trauma visited on the victim-students, the over-the-top ambitions of concerned parents: all these ingredients can add up to a roiling broth whose only parallel seems to be the hysteria of a bride’s mother the day before the wedding.
Photos from the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings
Every university student’s day is different. Some spend their time in high-tech labs while others pore over books in the campus cafe. Some volunteer to fix bicycles between classes while their roommates rehearse for plays. With teams from basketball to rowing, athletes are in heaven.
To truly understand the smorgasbord of options, you need to visit multiple schools. Can’t make it to more than a few? Don’t fret. Photos galleries from the 24 campuses we visited for the 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings will get you started. After clicking through them all, pick up the Maclean’s Guide to Canadian Universities for hundreds of pages of advice on your big decision, including profiles of 81 Canadian schools.
Northern British Columbia
St. Francis Xavier
Some universities are cutting enrollment
The trend at universities over the past decade has been to pack in as many students as possible.
But this year, a few schools are planning to reverse the trend by cutting enrollment.
Combine that with the fact that the number of applications continues to grow—up 2.4 per cent in Ontario, for example—and 2012 may be a difficult year for students to get their top choice schools.
Alan Rock, the University of Ottawa’s president, announced last week that growth at his school will slow to 500 new students this fall.
That’s after a long stretch during which the campus added 1,200 to 1,500 new students annually.
Overheard at a night fair: “Artists starve, sweetie. Look at a business program.”
Wake up (Which city am I in again? Time zone? It’s raining…okay, must be Vancouver) and reach for my phone. After running through the morning emails (Academica Top Ten, messages from the boss, random junk mail), I flag what needs to be responded to and head to the gym for a good workout. It’s important to stay fit out here, particularly with the wild hours/random eating habits you get used to on the road.
Breakfast, more emails, and go over the school list for today. I have three “fair” format visits today, so there will be a lot of driving and about six hours interacting with students. Fairs are set up like trade shows, with 30-40 universities in attendance, and more free pens than you could ever want. I figure out my driving route and head down to the parking garage.
The Gaitermobile and I whip onto Dunsmuir in downtown Vancouver. My GPS, as usual, can’t seem to find its bearings, so I aim in the general direction of the school and wait for it to catch up. I can hear the emails coming in on my phone, but resist the temptation to check them. I’ve watched too many accidents happen as a result of distracted driving…
Arrive at my first school. Grab my big pop-up banner, my bag of promo books and head in. I watch as reps from the other schools arrive and go through the same motions. As the students line up to enter, everyone takes a deep breath and prepares for the onslaught.
As the dust clears, I realize I’m running low on business cards, books, and energy. Some great questions this morning, and some real doozies. I winced as one parent asked whether we were closer to UBC or UBC Okanagan. I make a note to improve our “Where we are” stuff on our posters, and head for the parking lot. Over 500 kids came through the doors this morning, with varying questions and interests. The students who are more timid always take me back. I sometimes forget how daunting the idea of moving away from home can be. It wasn’t that long ago, but I guess I made the same decision. I pack up and head back downtown. I forgot my phone charger (rookie mistake, Lawson) and need to get some stuff from my laptop.
Not every student will be a doctor or a lawyer. But you know what? That’s okay.
I meet a lot of you each day, at university fairs, at QUIP visits, and in hallways. Every time we talk, there’s a mixture of emotions that runs over your faces. First, you evaluate me to see if I’m the kind of person you’d want your son or daughter to associate with. In assessing me, you assess the university I represent, and, if I make the cut – fingers crossed – you start asking questions. You usually want to know about our programs, our class sizes, how long it will take your student to get home, what our reputation is like…the list goes on.
But, behind all of that, these are the questions I think you really want answered. I’m not a parent, and this obviously isn’t a comprehensive list. But I think if we were honest with each other, these are the two of the questions you’d ask, and the responses I’d try to give you:
- Will my son or daughter get a job?
No matter which university your son or daughter chooses, there’s a good chance they will get a job. This country needs educated people to fill jobs that the knowledge economy will continue to create. I promise, no matter which university your child chooses, they will find gainful employment.
But can I ask you one big favour?
Don’t make them decide what that job will be just yet. The four years they spend in university will have immeasurable impact on their personality, their passions, and their priorities. They will love and lose, experience success and failure, and return home each holiday season full of new lessons and experiences. It is through those experiences that your child will decide the kind of person they want to become, and how they will make their impact on this world.
I hate to break it to you, but not every student will be a doctor or a lawyer. But you know what? That’s okay. We need nurses and engineers. We need social workers and community leaders. Most importantly, we need people with open minds, who can face the challenges of the future. Please, give your child the chance to do that.
- Will my child be “okay”?
Well, that question is relative. Will your student face challenges in university? Absolutely. Those challenges will come inside and outside the classroom. They will come when you least expect it, and require split-second judgment. You know your child, and you know what they’re made of. You’ve instilled values in them since birth, and you should trust your instincts when they head off for the first time. Will they make mistakes? I sure did. But I learned from them, and so will they.
We’ll take care of your child, and make sure that the services they need are readily available. But we look forward to the day when they no longer need our help. That’s how we’ll know that we’ve done a good job, building on the foundation you’ve left us
I’m not here to sell you something. It would be foolish for me to believe that my five-minute speech seals the deal on a $40,000 decision. Consider me a resource, and use me as such. I’ll answer anything you want to know in an honest way. I want to help your student make the right choice. If that means that they attend the university I represent…great! If not, that’s okay too. But be sure to ask the questions you want answers to. Nothing is silly, or redundant. I’m here to help you with this process, so please…ask the questions you really want answers to, and let me help.
To give you an idea of the alphabet soup recruiters live in day-to-day, here’s a quick snippet from a conversation I had recently with a colleague.. “How are your ISVs going?” “Good, good. Collecting lots of IRC’s, but I’m heading on QUIP next week so we should see more.” “Nice. I’m seeing a lot of [...]
To give you an idea of the alphabet soup recruiters live in day-to-day, here’s a quick snippet from a conversation I had recently with a colleague..
“How are your ISVs going?”
“Good, good. Collecting lots of IRC’s, but I’m heading on QUIP next week so we should see more.”
“Nice. I’m seeing a lot of interest in WSB, seems like the BBA is popular.”
“Right on. Well, good luck with QUIP, I’m heading out to Calgary with CUE.”
For those of you totally mystified by that little exchange, let me break it down:
Quebec University Information Program (QUIP): When you see McGill, Concordia and Bishop’s presenting together, that’s a “QUIP visit”. As the three English-speaking universities in the province of Quebec, we travel together throughout the fall. We figure that if you’ve already made the decision to come to Quebec, you might as well hear from all of us at once.
Information Request Cards (IRC): When I attend schools, I typically ask interested students to fill out IRCs. This info gets sent back to Bishop’s, put into a database, then broken down by faculty, sport of interest, region, etc. That way, you only receive information about the programs that interest you. Or, if we’re holding an event in your region, you hear about it. It means that students don’t receive the kind of general junk mail that we all hate.
CUE (Canadian University Event): To be honest, I had to look this one up. I’d internalized it, and its meaning has slipped my mind. However, CUE is when universities from around the country tour places like Vancouver and Calgary, holding fairs and visits together. This cuts down on individual bookings (see ISV), and also gives guidance counsellors the opportunity to meet up with schools they may not otherwise interact with.
More acronyms to come…
Don’t waste time regretting big decisions (like your choice of university)
I had a very hard time deciding where to go to university. One of the hardest parts was my choice to turn down a position with the House of Commons page program, where I would have worked on the floor of the House in the midst of the political process. For whatever reasons seemed relevant at the time, I decided it wasn’t the best place for me, so now I’m at the University of Toronto.
I’m very happy here, but whenever Canadian politics comes up in conversation I feel a twinge of regret. I find myself trying to justify the decision I made, coming up with reasons why the decision I made was better (the university has a better reputation, the school provides a great sense of community) and why I wouldn’t have been happy there (the House of Commons is full of discouragingly barbaric MPs, Ottawa is less interesting than Toronto, and so on). It’s stupid, I know, but apparently the grass is always greener on the other side.
Despite the obvious fact that I have no idea how happy I would be in Ottawa (having not experienced it), I think that the root of this problem is that I’m attaching my happiness to something outside of myself. I realize that real, non-temporary happiness is ultimately independent of anything outside myself, but I still can’t help myself from slipping into this black hole of regret. Being in Ottawa and making high-powered connections in the political world might be exciting and, sure, it would make me feel pretty good. But the feelings would pass, just as an unhappy person who buys a new car will still be unhappy after the initial thrill wears off. A happy person will still be happy if he gets a new car, since his happiness is not attached to something external.
In this light, I suppose my spurts of regret are essentially a non-material form of buyer’s remorse. Choosing where to go to university is a very big decision, and whenever you make a big decision you’re bound to regret it at some point, because while you’ve opened one door, you’ve inevitably closed another. This is scary, since you want to know you made the “right” choice, but you can’t.
When I do find myself slipping into this realm of doubt and regret, I have to remind myself of something that might sound a little ethereal. I was fortunate enough to visit every university I was considering, and when I came to U of T it just felt right, while this feeling was completely absent in Ottawa. I think this relates to what I wrote about last week, namely the inadequacy of logic in some instances. When you “just know” something is right – even if logic suggests another option – I think it’s wise to follow that feeling. After all, nobody knows what’s best for you better than you do – even if you can’t explain it.