Heads Up

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Strategies for beginning your post-secondary search

With the impact of COVID-19 on many co-curricular activities, students should consider using some of their free time this spring to conduct detailed online research into programs and schools of potential interest. It is common to feel rather overwhelmed at the outset as there seem to be so many different programs, colleges, and universities: how does anyone decide?

The best place to start is with yourself. An honest and detailed assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, interests and talents, values and goals is essential. Some useful prompts for reflection are included in the package you were given by your university counsellor in the introductory overview session in Year 10 (or at the beginning of Year 11 if you started at UCC this year). This package material is also posted on the UCO Power School site. You cannot decide which programs or institutions would suit you best until you know more about who you are and what you want out of the next few years.

You are not expected to have all the answers at this stage of your life (or indeed at any other!), but this is a time where it is essential to begin to understand yourself in a more adult way. You may not know exactly which career to pursue, but you should be able to answer questions about how you learn best, how adventurous you are, what bores or excites you. Such answers will help you to decide whether you would fit best at a big, medium, or small school, how far away from home you are willing to look, what kinds of courses you might enrol in, which extracurricular programs are of most interest.

Once you have a clearer sense of your needs and goals, you are ready to begin researching programs and institutions that might be a good fit. Again, some useful questions to consider are provided in the introductory University Counselling package and in your campus visit assignment. Answering such questions for each program/university of potential interest will allow you to construct a set of criteria that should prove very useful in comparing different programs and institutions.

Rick Clark, Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Georgia Tech, offers some good tips for students researching universities:

“You should intentionally check out the social media accounts of the student groups or clubs that interest you, and compare them between colleges. If you are thinking about participating in music or club soccer or robotics, go to the Instagram or SnapChat pages of those clubs and organizations. Why? Because they are not intentionally talking to you for recruitment purposes. Read the comments and see who is involved. That will provide you invaluably organic and authentic insight. They’re not trying to `sell’ you on attending–they don’t even know you are there.

You should read the online school newspaper and alumni magazine from the universities you’re considering. Using sources that are intended to `talk to each other’ is going to help you glean true culture. Do these conversations resonate with you? Are these your people? Do they make you excited to be part of that community?

You should reach out to advisors, faculty and current students. They are remarkably available right now. Ask them your specific and personal questions so you are able to make the best final college choice.”

There are a number of print resources available that can provide a quick overview of a wide range of institutions. One of the handiest is the Maclean’s Canadian Universities Guidebook. Other useful resources include the Directory of Canadian Universities, The Princeton Review or Fiske Guide to Colleges (for the US), and The Times Good University Guide (for the UK). Comparative surveys published by magazines such as Maclean’s or U.S. News and World Report or newspapers such as the Globe and Mail or The Guardian can be helpful as long as you clearly understand the criteria they are using as the basis for evaluation.

There are also many websites that provide searchable data bases invaluable for gathering information and weighing your options:

Those interested in Canadian schools could check out www.universitystudy.ca or www.schoolfinder.com or http://www.macleans.ca/education/. The best database for Ontario schools will be found at the site run by the Ontario Universities Application Centre https://www.ontariouniversitiesinfo.ca/.

Students planning to apply to U.S. colleges will find helpful information under the Colleges tab on their Naviance account. The College Board website is also a great place to start: www.collegeboard.com, especially the tools and articles on The Big Future link: https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-started. CollegeXpress is another good search tool: http://www.collegexpress.com/ as is the Common Application: www.commonapp.org. Student athletes should check out the National Collegiate Athletic Association at www.ncaa.org.

Those thinking of applying to U.K. universities will want to check out the UCAS site at https://www.ucas.com/ as well as https://study-uk.britishcouncil.org/, and https://www.theuniguide.co.uk/. Once you have identified some potential schools, of course, you will want to explore the individual websites of those institutions in some depth.

If the public health crisis has abated by the fall, the research process will continue with the Ontario Universities Fair in late September, fairs hosted by Western and Atlantic universities (generally in October and November), and of course, the visits by many university representatives to the UCC campus. If in-person events are not possible, please be assured that universities will offer a wide variety of ways to connect virtually.

Remember that as with any big research project, the keys to success are to start early, break the process up into smaller steps, pay careful attention to deadlines, and ask for help when you need it. If you do careful research, you will be much more likely to choose a university and program that are a good match.