Sunday, November 8, 2009

Finding the right University – From a First Time Experience

I've reached that time in my life where I'm finding myself helping my daughter choose a university to continue her education and pursue her love for the sciences. The lists of universities that we are reviewing in no particular order are: University of Waterloo, University of Western Ontario, University of Guelph, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Nipissing University, McMaster University, University of Alberta, and the University of British Columbia. We are about half-way through either touring the faculties or attending showcase events hosted by a university, and wanted to share some observations.

  • So far I'm surprised that more effort is not put into creating a "wow" factor for perspective students. Each of the presentations thus far has been unfortunately 'canned' in both delivery and style. Considering the progression of technology, I'm continually amazed at the continued habit of presenters simply reading from the PowerPoint slides shown on the screen. I will give high marks however to UOIT who used 3D technology in their introductory video, but then lapsed back into reading from the slides later on. There is something to be said about 'knowing your audience', and I can't help but wonder if the universities actually get it. Assembled before them on the day of the tour or event, are students who have made concessions to visit either the university or event location with genuine interest in possibly attending that location – more effort should be made to make them feel like they should choose one over the other.
  • Just what is the value of University Rankings? It appears that every university and college ranks tops, in the top ten, the best in, etc., on someone's list, but I'm unsure of the value of this ranking. I've met professors who went to 'x' university, but teach at 'y' university…and want my daughter to attend 'y' university. If 'x' university was good enough for them, why shouldn't my daughter go there instead? Perhaps what universities should focus on is the 'weight' of their degrees, and what added value is included in the teachings to reach said degree. Is a B.Sc. from McMaster regarded differently than one from Nipissing?
  • While the Internet holds a plethora of information on each university/college, it's surprising how many responses to questions asked at tours/events were "just visit our website for more information." No one was guiltier of this than UBC, who pretty much answered every question with "check our website". Which considering that they were in Toronto with potential applicants, if their intent was to drive traffic to their website, they should have at least had terminals present to walk the applicants through to ensure they were able to get the answers required. Questions are being asked with the intent to solicit a response…not to be brushed aside.
  • Referring to the first point of knowing the audience, I would expect that if those in attendance are not from the city that the university/college was located, that more time would be spent on life outside of the classroom. UWO did a wonderful job in this category, spending more time on the social aspects of attending university then on the classrooms. While the purpose of attending a university/college is to gain knowledge, the time spent in the classroom pales in comparison to the time spent in social circles…especially for a student who will be living in residence. A student who doesn't feel comfortable attending a particular location, is not going to enjoy their time…and this could affect their ability to succeed later on.

Here is our ranking of the universities of interest before our tours:

  1. UBC
  2. UOIT*
  3. UofA*
  4. UofW
  5. UofG*
  6. UWO
  7. NU*
  8. MAC**

And after visiting half of these:

  1. UWO
  2. UofG*
  3. UofA*
  4. UBC
  5. UOIT*
  6. UofW
  7. NU*
  8. MAC**

* - signifies that we have not toured or attended a specific event for this location, so this order will definitely change once this has been completed.

** - Because we live in Hamilton, McMaster has automatically been relegated to the bottom of the list, as my daughter has it in her mind that she wishes to attend university somewhere else other than the city she resides…if only just to enjoy the residence experience.

The intent will be to whittle the application list down to five. I'll leave it up to my daughter to decide which location she'll attend based on the anticipated letters of acceptance.


  1. She wants to go out of town undoubtedly to get away from you Dad. I am starting to believe that the whole university thing is a big money making farce-and a lot of the kids in my circle-including my two daughters-one a Mac Grad-the other a second year Guelph student, agree. Three quarters of them end up going to a community college post university so that they can get some training in an area where they can actually get a job. Colleges usually get you placed, universities could care less. Besides the fees they charge are criminal. The whole university system needs to be overhauled, completely fumigated.

  2. My daughter and I have also toured quite a few of these campuses, and I have seen her 'ranking mix' change quite a bit. On Saturday we visited UOIT for their Open House, it was quite impressive, and this new university has moved to the top of her list. We have still to visit UWO and I think we will also visit McGill so the search goes on...