Making The Right Decision When Choosing Post-Secondary Schools

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By Lauren Stewart 

“What are your plans for after graduation?” 

“Are you done your applications yet?”

“Where are you applying?”

“Have you gotten any acceptances yet?”

These questions are enough to make any soon-to-be grad’s head spin. Choosing post-secondary schools can be daunting. Not to worry, I have some advice to get you through the most stressful time of the year. 

choosing post-secondary schools, list of art history programs
UBC Art History Degree

Your number one program choice.

Which schools offer the best options for your top program choice? A common misconception about this is that only the ivy league schools will have excellent programs. Sure, there will always be “better schools” but just like in any cliche movie trope, the underdog often comes out on top. Apply to the ones with the highest employment rates for your program, and the ones that have the best student reviews. Read up on the schools that offer courses that are relevant to the job you want after graduation. Choosing post-secondary schools that align with your goals benefits you.

Most websites showcase the classes you’ll be taking throughout your degree, so you can read into what they entail. For example, on the University of British Columbia’s website, you see all the classes you’ll be taking across all four years. I’ve included a photo of how this will look using the example of an Art History degree. Basically, the classes you take throughout university are the foundational skills you’ll be using later on. Therefore, it’s important to make sure the school offers the classes you want to take. 

Undecided on a program?

Now, in the circumstance you have no idea what you want to do, but you know you want to go to university, do not panic! If you’re considering a school away from home, a huge thing you need to consider is location. If you live in Alberta, for example, and want to go to school in Ontario, look at the cities where the universities are. For the sake of commonality, let’s say you’ve been looking into the University of Toronto, but have no clue what program you want to join. Lookup activities to do around campus and popular student living locations (if you’re not interested in residence). What do students do to unwind after class? Where do they hang out and eat during their downtime?

You may be spending four years of your life in this city. It might not seem like a long time, but think about how much happens in a four-year span. A great resource to find out what life is like at a school is to peruse student-run newspapers. Ryerson University has a great student-run magazine called The EyeOpener, an excellent paper covering school events and things to do on campus. Sit back and ask yourself where you think you’ll thrive! Whether your best fit is an exchange to Russia or Yakima Valley College in Washington, it’s important to go where you’ll feel the most at home while you’re away from home. 

choosing post-secondary schools, coffee mug notepad and laptop
Photo by Oli Dale via Unsplash

How do I apply?

Now, once you pick a school and a program (if not, every school has a general studies program for those who aren’t sure what their niche is), it’s time to apply! Every school is different in how they run applications. Some go through a third-party website like the OUAC (Ontario Universities Application Center), or you can apply directly through their website. While the way you start applications might be different, most of them are actually quite similar. The questions are generic and easy to answer. However, while it’s easy to check off boxes and fill in some personal information, you have to be careful. You don’t want to make a mistake. All websites give you the option to review your information before moving onto the submission part, so take the time to go back over your answers and double-check everything!

After filling out the personal information part, the rest is a cakewalk.

Select the program you’re interested in, the term you’re applying for, and that’s pretty much it! Some schools require a supplementary application, which means you’ll have to submit more information post-applying. Essentially, if you’re applying to an art school, they will ask you for a portfolio of your work. Or, if you’re applying to a dance/drama school, you might need to do an audition or submit a video of a performance you’ve done. Most programs only need a basic application.

However, programs such as music, dance, theatre, art, and sometimes writing programs will ask for a supplementary application.

Every school has different outlines for what they look for in supplementary applications, so be sure to follow the guidelines listed on the school’s website!

In Canada, not too many universities will ask for an essay on top of an application, but if you’re considering a school in the US, you might want to take notes. They usually offer prompts, so feel free to follow them, but go in with a plan. Essays for schools are difficult because while you want to be outside of the box, you do have to keep a formal narrative. Here are the essay topics for NYU for some insight: 

questions for applications when choosing postsecondary schools

Some of them are harder than others. While prompts may make you feel restricted, there’s always room for creativity. Every year schools receive thousands of essays from eager students. In order for yours to stick out, pick a topic you know you can hit the word count at, but also make it unique and show off your skills. Even if essay writing is not your “thing”, anyone can write from the heart and produce something unique to them. 

At the end of the day, applications are no one’s fun activity. However, if you have big dreams and want to experience the world, post-secondary might be your only shot. And choosing post-secondary schools is part of that process. Take the applications by storm and show whatever school you apply to why you’re an excellent asset. Remember, grades aren’t everything. While they look at your academic records, schools do care if you’re a good person. Choosing post-secondary schools is not be-all-end-all. So get out there, get it done, and don’t stress!