High school always goes by faster than you think it will. For me, I was a part of the infamous Class of 2020, better known as the “pandemic graduates”. As you can guess, Grade 12 went by even faster for me. The pandemic definitely altered some of my decisions, however, even if it had not happened, I still feel that I would have done a few things differently when picking my program if given another chance.
I was extremely stressed, undecided, and under a lot of unnecessary pressure. In retrospect, this could have been avoided entirely. As a student currently entering my third year at the University of Toronto, I have become the family “elder” with all the knowledge and wisdom of how to go through the post-secondary process. If I could go back to Grade 11 and Grade 12, here are some of the things I would have done differently:
1. Start exploring post-secondary programs early
Being an extremely uncertain person, I had far too many options. There are THOUSANDS of programs to choose from and it can get fairly overwhelming. There is so much to consider: interest, location, budget, competitiveness, grades, etc. I made the mistake of exploring programs at the beginning of Grade 12. In fact, I got so overwhelmed that I applied to TEN PROGRAMS. TEN. DO NOT BE ME.
The stress of making grade cut-offs and meeting deadlines would have been lessened had I just started earlier. Even as a third-year student, I am still finding out about programs at my own university that I wish I had known about in high school. Try making a list of your interests and looking for programs that encompass one or more of them (you might be surprised at what you find).
If you are specifically looking into schools in Ontario, I highly recommended Ontario Universities Info. This website was an absolute life-saver: it has program descriptions, essential links, true grade cut-offs, tuition costs, and a lot more information.
Regardless of where you get your information from, one of the best ways to really learn if a program is right for you is to talk to current students. Connect with students in programs you are interested in as early as Grade 11, via Reddit and Facebook groups, or by attending a University fair.
When going through your research, document all the information you collect: it is crucial. I’m not going to lie, the process is quite stressful and you will tend to forget details. Therefore, having them written down somewhere is a great idea. Once you collect all your information, choosing the programs you should apply to will become a lot easier.
2. Give yourself enough time to do your applications thoughtfully
If you followed my advice so far and have your list of programs, I suggest you start applying RIGHT AWAY—especially for more competitive programs.
Now, for the applications themselves, questions will vary. That said, they tend to follow a very similar format. Questions can usually be broken up into three key categories: showcasing skills (“Talk about a time you showed leadership”), interest in the program (“Why did you specifically choose this program?”), or situational (“What would you do in this situation?”).
PRO TIP: always make sure you are clear and concise. Do not use overly fancy words to impress your school. Powerful writing is clean, easy to understand, and clearly communicated.
If you can, start brainstorming examples from your life that you might talk about in your answers. Once you have specific questions for any of your applications, make a separate document where you can write out your answers, edit them, and even have others offer feedback before submitting them. When I was applying, my friends and I constantly edited each other’s answers and it saved my applications so many times. Parents and teachers are also great people to go to for editing help!
NEVER RUSH YOUR APPLICATIONS. If you start early, you will be able to take your time and polish your answers to make them reflect best on you as a potential student.
3. Take some time for yourself
By now, you may have realized that the post-secondary application season is STRESSFUL. Make sure you take some time for yourself to relax, unwind, and see your friends. One of my biggest regrets is turning down hangouts with friends to work on applications, especially considering that the pandemic eventually kept me from seeing some of them for over two years.
Obviously, getting into post-secondary is important. But so is your final year in high school. Don’t forget to make those memories and spend time with the ones you love because if you plan your time right, you can absolutely do both. As Ferris Bueller once put it: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
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*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.