university applications, student sitting cross-legged with laptop

University Applications: Timeline and Guide


By Ingrid Wang

Are you a high school student looking to attend university in the near future? Look no further! This article will help you navigate this confusing and intimidating process of university applications. It will also provide a timeline to guide you through your journey.

It’s essential to start the research process early on so you know what you need to do when it’s time for university applications. You don’t have to know which programs or schools you want to apply to yet. However, knowing the general path can help you narrow down your choices when you select your high school courses.

Do you want to enter the humanities or science stream? Or a competitive program like commerce or computer science? Start asking yourself questions early on, so you can devise a plan for your high school career. If you already know the program requires you to have taken a specific class—gr. 12 calculus or physics, for instance—work backward and trace the prerequisites you need to take those classes. Even if you missed certain courses in gr. 10 or 11, you can make up for those prerequisites through night school or summer school.

Look into the general requirements for each school and the specific requirements for your area of study. Consider researching the following when you apply:

  • Do you need to mail or upload transcripts? Interim grades?
  • Do you need to have taken specific courses in high school?
  • Will you have to submit written works? Send in sample papers from school, answer a supplementary questionnaire, or write a personal statement?
  • Do you need to meet a minimum grade average or meet a target grade for a select few courses (often in English and other required courses)?
  • Do you need to attend in-person, virtual, or phone interviews?
  • Will you need to write or pass a test (e.g. language placement test)?
  • Are you a domestic or international applicant? In-province or out-of-province student? As deadlines and requirements can often vary depending on your status, make sure you read through the university applications and their requirements/instructions carefully.

While many of us might wish to postpone thinking about postsecondary until later in the school year, the process begins earlier. Here is a timeline, so you can keep track of those pesky university applications.

September – October

Around the start of every school year, there will be major university fairs held in your city or province, like the Ontario University Fair (OUF), the Halifax Universities Career Fair, and the Canadian Universities Event (CUE) in British Columbia. Sometimes local high schools bring in representatives from universities to host a Q&A session. While most of these large scale events are held in major cities, university fairs are moving online this year. So check if any interest you and register for their virtual fairs. 

Before school gets too busy, meet with and talk to faculty, representatives, and recruiters at these events. Also consider making an appointment with your guidance counsellor in the weeks leading up to your application date. Here, you can discuss your post-secondary options, preparations, and or the application process. Prepare a list of questions to ask and note anything important or interesting from these fairs. This could help you make a decision later on!

November – December

Many regional and in-school university fairs are held in November. By November, most universities will begin accepting applications. However, some schools like the National Theatre School of Canada open their applications in October. While the deadline to apply to most Canadian universities isn’t until January, many schools like Queens and UBC have earlier deadlines for specific programs or for major scholarship consideration. So keep an eye on those! Thoroughly research the schools and programs you’re interested in so you can focus on gathering key information on supplementary application material, scholarships, and deadlines.

Maintain a record of your university application journey:

  • Browse their website
  • Stay updated with your school’s guidance newsletters
  • Follow universities on their Facebook or Instagram page
  • Collect brochures from university fairs

If you are planning to apply to schools in a specific province, there are centralized application services to submit your applications. This includes the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre OUAC or Apply Alberta. Note that you can use OUAC to assist you in providing academic data to some out-of-province universities without the need to mail them physical transcripts. However, not all schools are participating institutions of these centralized application systems, notably art and theatre schools, and may have their own application system.

Take advantage of your winter break in December to refine your university application. Ideally, your questions and concerns should be addressed with school counsellors and representatives from university fairs before you head off into this two-week-long break. This break is a good time to consult with friends and family about future options and seek their advice. If you are applying to a specific program that requires a supplementary application—e.g. animation, commerce, health science—it would be a good idea to have other people review your responses for grammar and structure mistakes.

January – February

After the new year, things get busy. Standard deadlines for university applications take place in mid-January or early February. If you applied for early admission, this is when you can expect to hear back for first-round offers. 

Also, keep track of which schools and programs you’re applying to. Be aware of any interviews you have to attend or supplementary applications and supporting documents you have to submit. In addition, you may be requested to self-report your interim or completed course grades (if your school is semestered) or mail your mid-term transcripts. Request a copy of your official transcripts and send them off as soon as they’re available. Do this as early as possible as you don’t want to miss any deadlines!

March – May

Most of the tough work is out of the way now. However, stay motivated and work hard to maintain your grades to meet any conditional offers. If you applied during the regular admission cycle and are waiting for a response, April is when you will be sending out your next set of interim marks. (Or they go through OUAC if you’re from Ontario.)

There are also schools whose applications are still open during this period. And if you’re an in-province student, you might also have a different—usually later—deadline than out-of-province applicants. For example, March 1st for CEGEP and Quebec high school students applying to McGill. During this time, you may have to send in supporting documents. This includes a letter of intent, architecture, music or art portfolios, personal statements, etc. If this is the case, manage your time wisely!

June – August

While these months are way past most school deadlines, some schools like Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the Alberta University of the Arts still allow you to submit applications. Other schools like Acadia University and St Francis Xavier operate on a rolling admissions basis and continue to accept applications if there are spots available.

However, most students have heard back from universities by now and are expected to respond to offers as early as June 1. At this time, students may be expected to give a financial commitment (e.g. a registration or housing deposit). Between July and August, your final mark transmissions are complete and you are graduating! Once you decide on and enroll in a postsecondary institution, stay updated on course selection, degree requirements, and paying your tuition.

Some Last Words… 

Remember, you are not alone in this process. Seek advice or feedback from friends, family, peers, teachers, guidance counsellors, and the admissions office. If you feel lost or unsure, reach out to older students and hear their experiences.

While this whole application process may sound difficult and tedious, it’s totally worth it. Applying to university is the next big step towards your future and you should make as much as you can out of it. Having a clear goal in mind or passion to strive towards will help you write a better university application and make you more aware of your decision-making process, motivations, and future aspirations. Good luck!