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The Admission Process Decoded* *...kind of

* This is a guideline. It may not be exactly how every university admission process works. Some universities may calculate the admission average differently than the way I describe here. Even though I was an Admissions Officer at 2 universities for a total of 7 years, it’s impossible to know how each and every institution in Canada handles their admission process every year. But the process I describe here is probably similar to what most universities do, most years.

Yes, this is a disclaimer because...

And, while some universities have gone to broader based admissions, e.g. including a personal statement, this article focuses on how most universities admit students based on academics.

OK, end of disclaimer.

Now, on with the show...

October – December: the fun begins

Students can start to apply for universities early in the school year. Many universities open the application process between October-December.

If a student applies during this time, they can be assessed for early admission based on Grade 11 final marks.

How the average for admission is calculated

It’s important to know that Admissions Officers don’t calculate your student’s admission average based on all of their grades, or on their highest 5 or 6 grades.

The admission average is the average of the marks from all degree/program-specific required courses, plus other course(s) for the total number of required courses. Most universities require a total of 5 or 6 courses for admission.


To get a better understanding of the “admission” average, please read my blog post, “Yes, Grade 11 marks matter”, where I describe how most universities calculate the average for admission.


It’s also worth noting that the days of personal admissions is over for many institutions. Today, most university admissions processes are automated; a real live Admissions Officer rarely touches a paper file.

(Oh, but I remember the “good old days” of admission -- sitting at my desk with my trusty calculator, with a stack of applications on one side, and my 3 piles of applications on the other: accept, defer and “have questions”. I wielded my red pen swiftly, methodically, and fairly. I was an admission average calculating machine! But I digress... )

Early admission

Universities will set an “early admission” average for admission based on Grade 11 marks.

Let’s call this round of assessment based on Grade 11 finals “Round 1”.

The admission average for Round 1 is—depending on the institution—slightly to significantly higher than the average required for admission later, meaning the next assessment, based on first semester final Grade 12 marks, in combination with Grade 11 final marks.

Let’s call the next assessment of Grade 12 first semester finals/Grade 11 finals “Round 2”.

Each university will set its own admission averages, so there’s no “one mark fits all”. Well, unless we’re talking 98%. I doubt anyone would defer a student with a 98%.

For example, Round 1 admission cut-off might be 87%, and Round 2 cut-off might be 80%.

Some universities might have specific cut-off for some programs that are different than for other programs. So, for example, Engineering might be 85% for Round 2, while Arts may be 80% for Round 2.

Individual course requirements

Students must also meet the required course requirements for the degree/program, and any individual course cut-offs. For example, for admission to Computer Science, the student may need to have a certain minimum grade in math.

Not all programs have these specific course minimums but, if they do, they should be indicated on the institution’s admissions requirements web page.

What happens after you apply?

When your student applies, they are required to provide their email address when they set up an account in the university's student portal. The university will use this email address to correspond with your student from this point forward.

They can also log in to the portal and check the status of their admission, residence, etc. (and eventually, grades) from this point forward.

Because email will be the university’s main form of communication, it’s important for your student to read all email from the university.

I suggest my student clients set up a separate email for this purpose (to communicate with universities, scholarships, and other “official” people/organizations) to keep the important emails separate from their regular emails. One student I worked with had over 600 emails in his inbox...and he rarely read any of them!

Or, students can keep using their regular email, but they should create a folder to keep these important emails separate from the rest.

Some correspondence from the university may come as regular mail, but the majority will be via email.

Admissions decisions

The university will notify students via email of their admission status, and most other information as well, e.g. residence, scholarships.

If the university needs information and it's missing from the student's application, they will inform the student via email. The student can also view this kind of information on the portal.

Some admission applications have residence applications included in the process, while others require a separate application for residence. Same goes for scholarships.

The university will tell students their required next steps, and it will all be done by email; that’s why it’s so important to read and save all of these emails.

All early admission is conditional

All early admission acceptances are conditional offers of admission. That means the student will be re-assessed until the institution assesses their final, second semester grades in June.

All admissions decisions should be explained in your student’s letter/email from the university.

When your student is accepted

Your student may be accepted to the university in Round 1. If so, they will still be required to submit first semester final grades. They will be re-assessed on these grades. They will also be required to submit final grades when, again, they will be re-assessed.

If they still meet the requirements, the final acceptance (with no conditions) will then be sent to the student in June.

When your student is deferred

If your student is not accepted on Round 1, the admission will be “deferred”, which means they will be re-assessed on Round 2 marks.

Note: some students don’t apply until Round 2. Applying at this time is often not a problem unless there was an early deadline for applications, which vary, so make sure you know deadlines for each university your student is considering.

Round 2 marks are the ones used most often for scholarship consideration.

And, once again, if they are not accepted on Round 2 marks they will be deferred and re-assessed later. You may not have to wait for second semester, though. If the university doesn’t tell you, specifically, what your options are, check to see if they university will accept grades from mid second semester.

When your student is refused

It’s unlikely, but possible, for your student to be refused before the final grades are received.

The most likely reason for a refusal is not meeting the specific course requirements for the program. For example, not having pre-calculus math (or having a low/failing grade in pre-cal) for admission to a Bachelor of Science.

Often the university will accept the student into an alternate program if they can. Then the student can, if he wishes, upgrade to get the required course and re-apply for the program at a later date.

For example, the student could be accepted to a Bachelor of Arts program, and then upgrade their math (either during summer or during 1st year) and then re-apply to Science.

Best advice

There's no doubt the admission process can be a tad confusing, especially if your student is applying to several universities, and they have different timelines and processes.

The best advice I can give is to know deadlines, stay organized, and read all correspondence.

Contact the Admissions Office if you have specific questions.


Have questions about admissions or scholarship prep? That’s what I’m here for! Reach out to discuss my services.

Don't forget -- I work with students from all across Canada using Zoom (Zoom is like Skype only better), phone, email, and text.

Happy applying!

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.

You can find her online at, and on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Janet MacDonald by visiting the About Page.

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