By Sabrina Almeida
My Facebook circle is full of announcements and congratulatory messages on the grade 10 results coming out of India. One friend’s daughter graduated with a 95.5% average while another’s son finished with 86.5%. Now begins the stressful process of applying and being accepted into college.
You might think the girl will breeze through, but in a highly-competitive arena where hopes and dreams can be dashed by a mere 0.1%, nothing is certain. Benchmarks are based on applications of the previous year, but your eligibility actually depends on the achievements of the pool of students applying with you.
Having gone through the process myself and read so many stories of suicides (and attempted suicides) by distraught students, I am all too familiar with the anxiety the whole family experiences at this time. I am reminded of a friend who had set her heart on studying at the prestigious IIT but failed the entrance exams. Her parents were so afraid that she might try to end her life as a result of it, that they never let her out of their sight for a whole year.
Fast forward to students applying to universities in Canada today, and the stakes are just as high. Don’t be misled by the percentage guidelines on the brochures. Just like in India, your acceptance depends on the pool of applicants fate has cast you with.
Even if 85% is the benchmark for engineering programs in Waterloo, McMaster, Queens and UFT, for instance, it doesn’t mean a student who meets that requirement will be granted a spot. Having applicants with averages ranging from the low to mid 90s, which is fairly common these days, can eliminate you from the competition altogether.
In fact I’ve been told by many university students that grade 12 averages in the low and mid-80s will make it difficult to get a spot for life science, engineering, architecture and many other specialized programs.
One parent also shared how her daughter was rejected by York because her grade average missed the qualifying mark by a single percentage point. Just like India, no?
Pre-acceptances, I’ve learned, are based on Grade 11 marks. And your admission might still be conditional to maintaining a specified average (in your offer letter) in grade 12, and in some cases for specific subjects. One student I know was asked to maintain an 80% average for a veterinary program at the University of Guelph, but that was more than 8 years ago. Another was told bring up his marks in French, again to 80%, to be accepted in the life science program at Weston. Stressful eh!
Having a backup plan is not just important but critical. And you’ve got to execute Plan A and B at the same time or it could cost you a year. Many students learn the hard way that once the admission process closes (sometime in January), no applications are entertained till the first week of June, which is when others who have been offered a spot accept or decline it.
With everyone keeping their options open and applying to at least six universities, your chance of getting a second shot has the same odds as winning the lottery. As a result many students feel pressured to take any program they can get into with the intention of reapplying in the second year.
Although the student who didn’t get into York worked hard, reapplied the next year and was accepted into the second year program, all stories do not have a happy ending.
Many universities have fewer spots in the second year and tend to weed out their own first-year students let alone accept new ones.
Anyone who believes that the Canadian education system is easier to navigate than the Indian one is mistaken. You’re not only competing with your peers but foreign students who leave no stone unturned to come here as well. This leads me to conclude that it is actually tougher than the one we left behind. And more stressful, given the fast dwindling job opportunities.