How 6 competitive Canadian university programs make admissions decisions

In recent years, personality has become an increasingly important factor in admissions decisions.

In part, the trend has been driven by research finding that personality can be a strong predictor of student persistence and success. Some campuses are turning to essays, social media feeds, and psychological tests to get a holistic picture of each applicant.

In a recent article for University Affairs, Emily Baron Cadloff shares an inside look at how six competitive Canadian programs make their admissions decisions.

McMaster University, Arts and Science: The program receives more than 800 applications per year—too many to interview every applicant. Instead, the program gets a preview of students' personalities through a supplemental application of short, open-ended essay questions, similar to what officers would ask during an in-person interview. Admissions officers look for applicants who answer honestly and demonstrate how they'd contribute to the program.

University of British Columbia, Commerce: Andrew Arida, associate registrar and director of undergraduate admissions, says he isn't looking for applications packed with prestigious extracurriculars. Instead, he focuses more on the way students talk about their experiences. "I've read some great personal profiles from students who were talking about their part-time job at the mall," he says. To better understand what makes each applicant tick, the program recently added a video section to its application.

Are the students you want the students who want you?

Ryerson University, Nursing: The program is highly competitive—in May 2017, it received more than 2,500 applications for just 206 seats. And it's selective for a good reason. From the very first year, the rigorous program includes co-ops and work placements, so students need to be able to hit the ground running, says Marisa Modeski, assistant director of student recruitment. Admissions officers focus on applicants' grades and course prerequisites, scouring each student's full academic history, including transcripts from previous higher ed institutions.

University of Waterloo, Computer Science: Because this program is math-focused, admissions officers do look for demonstrations of analytical skills, such as grade point averages or strong performance in a regional mathematics contest. However, Associate Registrar of Admissions André Jardin says so many students have strong grades, officers must look to signs of personal character to make decisions. Multiple staff members read and score each applicant's information form with short essays and extracurricular activities. Little things, like spelling errors, can also influence decisions. "The effort students put in tells us something on its own," Jardin says.

University of Saskatchewan, Kinesiology: The program has become much more competitive in recent years as students use it as a pathway to a broader range of career fields, says Dean Chad London. Admissions officers rely primarily on high school grades and transcripts, which are the best predictor of success in the program, London says. He also notes that supplemental applications with non-academic components can require significant resources to review.

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Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, Occupational Therapy: More than 261 students submitted applications for just 32 spots in this program in fall 2017, Baron Cadloff reports. To help narrow the overwhelming number of applications, admissions officers rely on an "R score," which compares the performance of an applicant to the average performance of current students. Then, officers interview finalists, looking for interest in the university and an ability to quickly build trust. They also put candidates through role-playing exercises to see how they make decisions under pressure (Baron Cadloff, University Affairs, 12/20). 


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