TORONTO — The applications are not even due yet, but the season of anxiety for thousands of would-be students at Ontario universities is already in full swing.
Roxey Size, a high school student in North Bay, Ont., had not expected to hear responses to her university applications until May, but when classmates started getting acceptances, she started getting fearful.
“It was panic, a little bit of worry and a little bit of jealousy, too,” said the Grade 12 student.
“It was a bit stressful, because even if you have high grades there’s always that fear the letter is going to say, ‘We regret to inform you.’ ”
Size also ended up getting early acceptance to study history at Carleton University, but it’s now that time of year when the first round of early acceptances to Ontario universities has kicked off months of worry about students’ futures.
The deadline for current high school students to apply to Ontario universities isn’t until Jan. 12, but some universities are already trying to lay claim to the best and the brightest.
Some schools make early offers conditional upon the student finishing their courses with certain minimum grades, said George Granger, the executive director of the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre.
“(Is it) nerve-wracking? Yeah, that’s one way of describing it,” he said.
“But it’s arguably one of the most important decisions a young person makes so it certainly, given that it’s that important, it’s natural that it be at least a little intense.”
Usually the less competitive programs are more likely to send out early acceptances, he said.
“Other universities, where in a given program they may get many hundreds, in some case thousands, more applications than they have spaces, they’ll be less likely to make an early conditional offer,” Granger said.
Universities such as Lakehead University in Thunder Bay have told high school students they could expect offers beginning as early as late December, but others such as Brock University in St. Catharines say early offers will come in February, with the majority of offers being made in March.
The university application centre receives Ontario secondary students’ final first-semester grades or full-year midterm grades by the middle of February. Any offers made before then tend to be based on Grade 11 grades and what courses a student is currently taking.
McMaster University in Hamilton used to wait to see those mid-year Grade 12 grades before making admission offers, but this year is testing out an early admission pilot project.
“We’re curious to see… is this an opportunity to look at those students, really top-achieving students, students who will in all likelihood be getting an offer in late February, is there any advantage if we make an offer to that student earlier?” said Pat Harris, the university’s acting senior director of admissions.
The way admission offers are rolled out differs from university to university, but McMaster has traditionally made early offers at the end of February, then more offers in mid-April and finally offers in three specialized courses in early May, Harris said.
Depending on the program schools make three or four times more offers than they have space available, Granger said.
“It’s a little bit of art and a little bit of science. Well, I’m going to say a lot of science and some art,” he said.
“It’s not done in a sloppy or random manner as there are certain calculations they have to make,” he said, adding the average number of universities or programs students apply to is about 4.4.
May 30 is the latest date a secondary school student can expect to receive a response to their application and June 2 is the earliest date a university can require a student to accept or decline.
“No student is disadvantaged or pressured into accepting an offer of admission earlier than they might want or before they’ve heard from their other choices,” Granger said.