3 tips to take control of admissions & scholarships
For about 7 years, I travelled around Atlantic Canada and Ontario talking to students and parents about applying to university. I loved it! It was my favourite part of being an Admissions Officer, and a big part of the reason why I started mycampusGPS.
Parents would often tell me they found it all very confusing because so much has changed since they went to university. There are a lot more programs to choose from, and there are so many more steps in the admission, scholarship and residence application processes.
Some of the parents I spoke with didn't attend university at all, so they had a much steeper learning curve.
I know it can feel a little overwhelming, especially if your student is applying to several universities. In fact, when you add in the stress of studying for exams, keeping up with extra-curriculars, and possibly a part-time job, it can get a little out of control for both students and parents!
Here are 3 tips to help you and your student focus and take control of what is happening right now in the university admission process.
#1. Help your student focus on getting good grades.
A bit obvious, but it's worth stating flat out: grades are still the most important factor in admissions.
Despite the fact some universities now require a personal statement for admission and/or scholarships, appropriate courses and grades are still the main criteria for admission (and often for university-awarded entrance scholarships, as well).
For many programs, a student's grades don't have to be stellar, but they do have to be solid. The grade 12 first semester finals (along with some Grade 11 marks) are arguably the most important grades so far in your student's academic career. These are the grades that many universities will use for early admission to programs, and often for entrance scholarships as well.
Of course, another reason to study and get good grades is because students will actually have to know the material for university, and they will be much better prepared if they study and do well now.
So, if your student is struggling (or you feel like a struggle is on the horizon), I suggest you invest in a tutor ASAP. An investment in help now could have a big return in the future.
The other suggestion is for your student to cut down (or cut out) a lower priority activity. For example, if they play the same sport in two leagues, drop one of them.
I worked with a student who knew her own mind well enough to know she needed to drop one of her activities to improve her grades. Once she did so, she said her grades “skyrocketed” (that's the word she used to describe it). It wasn't easy for her to give up that extra activity, but she was glad she did when she saw the result.
#2. Prepare in advance for scholarships.
You don't have to be a top student to get a scholarship, but you do have to apply.
Every year students don’t apply for scholarships they’re eligible for because they assume they don’t qualify, or they assume they won’t win.
But getting serious about scholarships means spending time researching, planning and writing applications.
Scholarship criteria varies greatly, but many require a list of activities or a resume, a personal statement or essay, and at least one reference.
To save time, pre-write your activities information and some general essay content in a Word document to cut and paste into each application, and then tailor it to each scholarship.
Think about who you’ll ask to be a reference, and then ask them. You don’t have to wait until you have a scholarship in hand. You can ask them to be a reference should the opportunity present itself later. Give referees plenty of time (and a copy of your activities/resume) to prepare their reference letters.
Scholarships have various deadlines. Use a month-at-a-glance calendar and enter the deadlines along with your regular commitments so you get a good visual of when you’ll need to make time to work on the applications.
See my NEW comprehensive guidebook "How to Find and Win Scholarships"
#3. Tour all universities your student is considering.
Open house events are fun, but a more personalized campus tour will allow your student to focus on his or her specific interests.
Even if your student attends an open house event, they should still tour all universities they are considering.
Before you go, read up on individual program offerings. Ask in advance to meet with a professor or advisor in the program(s) your student is considering.
Ask the professor/advisor what's special or different about their program: "Why should I take XYZ here rather than at another university?" For example, many business degree programs are similar, so what makes theirs better or different? This is the time to "comparison shop" so you know which university and program is the best fit for your wants and needs.
Make sure to ask about co-op, internship or experiential learning opportunities; they are some of the best ways to help your student get real world experience, develop marketable skills, earn money, and make contacts for possible future employment.
This is a busy and important time for your high school senior. It's a time of excitement and anxiety, thrills and fear. By studying, doing research, asking questions and staying organized, your student can minimize stress, and enjoy this exciting time in his or her life.
P.S. Do you know I work with students all across Canada? I do so using Zoom. Sometimes it's just me and the student in the video meeting. Often, both the student and a parent is in the meeting. Sometimes both parents. Sometimes the family dog joins in! Whatever suits you best is fine with me.
About the author
Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Coach with mycampusGPS Education Consulting. She is a former Canadian university admissions officer. For seven years, she was the coordinator of a scholarship program at a major Canadian university. Janet has helped her student clients win hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.