Strategies for beginning your university search
Many students feel rather overwhelmed at the outset of the university selection and application process. There seem to be so many different programs 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 adviser in the introductory overview session in Foundation Year (or at the beginning of IB1 if you came to UCC just this year). 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 period 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 university, 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. 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.
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, which is now available in local bookstores. In the fall, you will receive a copy of For Grads Only, a publication that focuses primarily on Ontario universities, but also provides some information about schools in other provinces.
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 UniversityStudy.ca or SchoolFinder.com or Macleans. The best database for Ontario schools will be found at the E-Info site run by the Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC).
Students planning to apply to U.S. colleges will find helpful information on the College Board website. The tools and articles on Big Future are especially valuable. Student athletes should check out the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Those thinking of applying to U.K. universities will want to check out the UCAS site as well UK Course Finder, Education UK, and Which? University. Once you have identified some potential schools, of course, you will want to explore the individual websites of those institutions in some depth.
Over the summer, as mentioned in the last newsletter, it is very helpful to arrange visits to campuses as this will help you to clarify the elements of a university that might appeal to you. You can arrange such visits on your own by making arrangements via the university website or you can participate in an organized tour. For example, College Visits runs group tours of US and Canadian schools in late June and throughout July. For more information, click here. Another good group for US college tours (including a specialized tour of arts colleges) is TS College Tours.
The research process will continue in the fall 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. All these events will be publicized in Future Ties.
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.