How to choose an undergraduate school

By Rob Taylor

There are many different factors to consider when applying to go to university or college.

The first and probably most important factor is to find out what you want to do with the rest of your life.

Granted, school can be more than a gateway to your career. Many students find that they wish to take a very general schooling, like an undergraduate degree in the arts, to find out who they are and what they are capable of before they embark on the rest of their lives. Or they could just be pursing knowledge for the joy and rewards learning can give.

But increasingly, post-secondary education is becoming a launch-pad for the rest of our lives. And to safely take off from this launch-pad, you need to know where you are going. You need to know what career you're interested in.

Chances are pretty good that you already have an idea what you want to do. If not, then we suggest an interest test like the 3-Step Career Quiz™. This can give you some direction by suggesting what careers might suit you and what you might be good at.

After you've figured out what possible career options are open to you, you've got to decide on which post-secondary route you wish to take - college or university. There are many factors to consider, including cost and what you want to accomplish after graduation. People used to think that university was superior to college. This isn't the case.

The kind of education you get at university and college is different. For example, in a college, you are more likely to receive hands-on education, such as training to be an electrician, whereas a university education is more likely to be theoretical. There are some exceptions to every rule, such as co-op programs in university or colleges offering combined bachelor and diploma programs.

There are some careers that require you attend a certain type of institution. If you want to be an engineer or a teacher, you're going to have to pursue a bachelor program to begin with. If you want to become a mechanic or an electrician or a technician, you're generally going to pursue a diploma program.

So after you figure out what kind of studies you want to take, you'll need to figure out where to take them.

You might not have idea where to take a program. Well, offers three routes for you to follow in this case.

The first is for those who have completed the 3-Step Career Quiz™. Have a look at the career profiles at the end of the quiz. Those profiles link to programs related to those careers and in turn, the programs link to schools that offer those programs. So you can get a listing of schools that way.

The second is if you know what program you want to take, you can do a program search. Simply type in the name of the subject you wish to study and we'll give you a list of schools that offer that program.

The third way to find a program or school to study at is to use an advanced program search on This is extremely helpful because in one search you can filter by province/territory, city, field of study, degree type, degree modifier (co-op, apprenticeship, etc.), entrance dates, language of instruction, school size, on-campus housing and sports. You can use as many of those fields as you want with your search. Or you can use only one. So you could look up all the schools in Ontario that offer English or you could look up all the schools in Victoria that offer English. It's up to you and your personal taste.

Ah, personal taste. In the end, after you've compiled a list of all the schools you want to go to, considering all the factors and goals in your life, that's what choosing a university or college comes down to. How well does a school fit your needs and would you be comfortable there? One of the sure-fire ways of figuring this out is visiting the school. Many high schools arrange trips to the schools in their area and you can often call or write to a school to arrange a tour on your own. But if the school is outside of you province or area, what can you do? Well, try an e-Tour™. You can visit schools from coast to coast (and some around the world) without ever having to leave your computer.

Guides like the Maclean's Guide to Canadian Universities might be helpful, though, sadly, there does not seem to an equivalent for colleges.

There are many other factors to consider, such as your grades. If you do not have outstanding grades, some programs may be difficult to get into at the more popular schools. But that doesn't mean you have to give up. You may make the cut-off at another school in a more remote area. If you look and you've done reasonably well, there's probably going to be a space for you somewhere.

Don't be afraid to ask for help from your parents, teachers and guidance counsellors. Their advice is invaluable. Many schools have admission counsellors that help students decide if the school or the program is right for them.

Lastly, keep your mind open to new ideas. If something catches your eye that varies from your plan, don't be afraid to explore it. Don't forget, it's your life and applying to a post-secondary school is one of the most important parts of it.

Modified on April 23, 2009