High school always goes by faster than you think. For me, I was part of the infamous Class of 2020, better known as “pandemic graduates”. As you can guess, grade 12 went by even faster for me. The pandemic has definitely changed some of my decisions, however, even if that hadn’t happened, I still feel that I would have done some things differently when choosing my program if I had been given another chance.
I was extremely stressed, indecisive and under a lot of unnecessary pressure. In retrospect, this could have been totally avoided. As a student currently entering my third year at the University of Toronto, I have become the “eldest child” in the family with all the knowledge and wisdom needed to navigate the post-secondary process. If I could go back to grades 11 and 12, here are some of the things I would have done differently:
1. Start exploring post-secondary programs early
Being an extremely insecure person, I had far too many options. There is THOUSANDS of programs to choose from and it can get quite overwhelming. There are so many things to consider: interest, location, budget, competitiveness, ratings, etc. I made the mistake of exploring the programs at the start of grade 12. In fact, I was so overwhelmed that I applied to TEN PROGRAMS. TEN. DON’T BE ME.
The stress of clipping notes and meeting deadlines would have been less had I started earlier. Even as a third-year student, I’m still learning about programs from my own college that I wish I had known about in high school. Try making a list of your interests and look for programs that encompass one or more of them (you might be surprised at what you find).
If you are specifically looking for schools in Ontario, I highly recommend Information on Ontario universities. This website has been an absolute lifesaver with program descriptions, essential links, real grade cutoffs, tuition fees, and much more information.
No matter where you get your information from, one of the best ways to really know if a program is right for you is to talk to current students. Connect with students in the programs you’re interested in starting in Grade 11, through Reddit and Facebook groups, or by attending a college fair.
During your research, document all the information you collect: it is crucial. I’m not going to lie to you, the process is quite stressful and you will tend to forget the details. Therefore, having them written down somewhere is a great idea. Once you have collected all your information, choosing which programs to apply for will become much easier.
2. Give yourself plenty of time to apply thoughtfully
If you have followed my advice so far and have your list of programs, I suggest you start applying IMMEDIATELY, especially for the more competitive programs.
Now, for the apps themselves, the questions will vary. That said, they tend to follow a very similar format. Questions can generally be divided into three key categories: highlighting skills (“Talk about a time you showed leadership”), interest in the program (“Why specifically did you choose this program? ”) or the situation (“What would you do in this situation?”).
PRO TIP: always be sure to be clear and concise. Don’t use fancy words to impress your school. Powerful writing is clean, easy to understand, and clearly communicated.
If you can, start thinking of examples from your life that you could mention in your answers. Once you have specific questions for one of your applications, create a separate document where you can write your answers, edit them, and even ask others for feedback before submitting them. When I applied, my friends and I constantly edited each other’s responses and it saved my applications so many times. Parents and teachers are also great people to turn to for editing help!
NEVER rush YOUR APPLICATIONS. If you start early, you can take your time and refine your answers to best reflect your potential student.
3. Take time for yourself
By now, you may have realized that post-secondary application season is STRESSFUL. Be sure to take time for yourself to relax and see your friends. One of my biggest regrets is turning down meetings with friends to work on apps, especially since the pandemic ultimately prevented me from seeing some of them for over two years.
Obviously, it is important to undertake post-secondary studies. But the same goes for your senior year in high school. Remember to create those memories and spend time with the ones you love because if you plan your time correctly, you can absolutely do both. As Ferris Bueller once said: “Life goes pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it.
Hi! My name is Rubaina Farin (she/her) and I am a third year life sciences student at the University of Toronto on the St. George campus! I am currently pursuing a double major in Basic Genetics and its Applications and in Cognitive Science – Computer Science and a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. In my spare time, I like photography, playing guitar or piano and watching movies!