How do you apply to college or university?

By Ashleigh Viveiros
Special to

It's November, and if you're a high school student planning on continuing your education, you should be thinking about one thing.

No, not your first college-style kegger. I'm talking post-secondary application.

Although the start of the next school year may seem like a long way off, if you plan on heading to university or college next fall you'd better be thinking about getting your applications together now.

While some schools don't cut off admissions for the fall term until spring, most expect your application to be in by just after New Year's. So do the research now and circle deadline dates with a big, fat, red marker on your calendar.

Trust me, there's nothing worse than realizing you have just one week to get an application out to your school before the deadline. Or, worse yet, to find out you've missed the deadline completely.

Now, once you've got your deadlines figured out, it's time to turn to the application process itself. Applying to post-secondary schools can be a little overwhelming, especially if you're applying outside of your home province.

But keep in mind that application procedures and expectations across the country are pretty much the same.

The first thing you'll need for both university and college admission is a high school diploma or its equivalent. Just what constitutes a high school diploma depends on where you went to school - some provinces require 28 credits (like Manitoba) while others only need 24 (like Saskatchewan). But whatever your province's requirements, and no matter where you plan to go to school in Canada, you will likely need to have graduated from high school first.

The only exception to this rule is for those applicants known as mature students. Mature students are generally people who are 21 years of age or older (although this varies) and who have been out of school for at least a year. Most if not all institutions have a completely different set of admission requirements for such applicants. Some, such as the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia community colleges, will place students who haven't finished high school in academic upgrading programs before starting them in their desired program.

But for you high school students, a diploma is likely your only ticket into post-secondary education.

And, unfortunately, your parents were right: grades do matter. Most universities and colleges have a minimum grade point average required before they'll consider you for acceptance. This average ranges from 60 to 70 per cent, depending on the school. Remember, though, that if you're at the bottom end of the grade pile and the school has a limited number of spaces, you're less likely to make it in.

For some schools, you'll also need a minimum number of courses at the Grade 12 level. For example, both the University of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba require at least five credits at the Grade 12 level in five different subject areas. Your grades in these courses ultimately determine your admission (which means bombing one relatively unimportant class in high school might not hinder your chances of getting into university).

But even once you fulfill the necessary grade requirements, you still might not be safe. Some programs across the country also implement rigorous testing and interviewing processes to wean out applicants.

On the other side of the spectrum, a few schools, such as Alberta's Athabasca University, have what's known as open admission. This means anybody over the age of 18 can apply to the school regardless of their academic background.

Keep in mind that even though these are generally universal admission truths, almost every school and even every province does things a little differently when it comes to post-secondary education.

Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario, for example, have university and college application centres to make the application process a little easier.

The Post-Secondary Application Service of British Columbia (PASBC), the Electronic Application Service (EAS) from Alberta, the Ontario Universities Application Centre, and the Ontario College Application Centre act as middle-men between applicants and most of the province's schools (while all Ontario schools are involved with the centres, not all BC schools go through PASBC and not all Alberta schools go through EAS).

These services allow students to get program information and to fill out one application form (plus any additional information required at specific schools) which can then be forwarded to the necessary institutions - a handy thing to have if you're planning on applying to a number of schools within a province.

Quebec also does things a little differently, mainly because its secondary school program differs so much from the rest of Canada. In Quebec, elementary and secondary education lasts only 11 years, after which students planning to go further in their education enrol in what's known as a CEGEP - either a pre-university program or a career-orientated diploma program similar to what's offered at colleges in other provinces.

Most universities in Quebec require a CEGEP diploma from the pre-university program. But if you're coming from out of the province, some universities will accept you on the basis of an equivalent Grade 12 diploma, while others require a year of university on top of that.

As you can see, it's important to find out exactly how the province you're planning on going to school in does things. The cardinal rule to post-secondary education is research. Find out all you can about your program and your school of choice before applying so you can send in the best application possible.

Knowing what to expect from the process takes all the stress out of it.

Well, maybe not all of it. Nothing can stop you from wondering if you've been accepted or not. That said, most schools will let you know the outcome of your application a few months after they've received it. Apply early (by Christmas of your senior year of high school you should already be preparing to apply to your schools), and you might get a response sooner.

Modified on April 23, 2009