University: acceptance, money, programs

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Kirsti Juurakko is a first-year student at the University of Guelph in Ontario. This is the first in a three-part series about her

experiences getting ready for and adjusting to university.

For Grade 12 students, this is the time of year the transition to post-secondary education really gets rolling.

Early letters of acceptance will soon be delivered, followed by more general letters of acceptance as we move into spring.  

When I received my letter of acceptance last year, it was a time of great excitement and planning to begin the rest of my life and my transition to adulthood. I am now a full-time student studying geography at the University of Guelph in Ontario.

Many students will have already completed the application process for their university or universities of choice. Generally, university applications are done online and due dates vary between schools and provinces. Applications are usually due early in the calendar year for the fall semester. The sooner students apply, the sooner they may find out if they have been offered early acceptance. Students should plan to apply to more than one university so that they have a second or third option if they do not get accepted to their first choice as some programs are competitive to enter.

If you haven’t yet applied, there may still be time to do so in order to attend university in September – check the individual deadlines of the universities that you want to apply to. If it is too late to apply to begin courses in September, you can apply to begin courses next January or in September 2012.

University is an expensive endeavour. Tuition is generally around $5,000 per year in Canada; this fee often includes others unrelated to academics, such as athletic and medical fees. There are other costs associated with university, including textbooks (around $1,000 a year), though you can sell your books when you no longer need them, and residence fees (around $5,000 per year), or rent if living off campus.

Students must also budget for entertainment, clothing and food in the form of groceries or a meal plan. The latter costs from $3,000 to nearly $5,000 per year.

All together, university costs students about $15,000 a year.

Costs vary between universities, degree programs and lifestyles, so students should research how much their program of choice will cost.

Students also need to budget for their lifestyle and where they will be living while at university, particularly if they will be living away from home. Individual university websites are your best resource for researching the costs of schools, programs and requirements.

One of the best ways to counter expenses is by applying for scholarships and bursaries. Bursaries are awarded according to demonstrated financial need, whereas scholarships are awarded according to academic merit, contributions to one’s community, the quality of an essay or a combination of these factors.  

Volunteering and contributing to one’s community are especially important to qualify for many scholarships; in some cases, volunteering may be more important to the scholarship selection committee than one’s academic grades.

I was able to win one scholarship that I applied for, a Westminster Savings Youth in Action Award in the amount of $2000, largely due to my volunteer work with the North Fraser Therapeutic Riding Association (NFTRA). I was a volunteer with NFTRA from February 2006 to June 2010 for several hours each Saturday. As a volunteer I helped to prepare horses for therapeutic riding lessons and assisted during lessons, either by leading a horse or walking beside a rider to provide them with support. Over the years I was able to accumulate many volunteer hours and make a positive contribution to my community and the lives of many people within it. These factors are strongly considered by scholarship selection committees.

Since there are a limited number of scholarships and bursaries available, some are awarded on a competitive basis. To increase chances of winning any scholarships or bursaries students should apply for as many as they can, but before applying, make sure that they meet all of the qualifications for the particular award and follow all of the application instructions exactly; failure to do so may cause immediate disqualification.

Many universities also offer entrance scholarships based solely on academic grades. These are usually applied for automatically with your application to the university, but always check with the university to be sure that you do not need to submit additional documents to qualify. Students should also research any additional scholarships offered by the universities as some may require separate documents.

When searching for scholarships that are offered through the community, it is helpful to use internet search engines such as the one found at These allow students to create a profile and search parameters to find scholarships that they qualify for.

Students should also check with any extra-curricular activity organization that they are involved with, their parents’ places of work and use scholarship search engines to find other scholarships.

Like many students, I still am not sure about what I want to do with the rest of my life. I was even less sure when I was applying for university. Universities offer many programs which cover a great variety of subject areas. For example, there are programs in science, applied science and the arts, all with a variety of majors and minors to choose from. Rest assured, the program you are applying for now is not necessarily the program you will complete your degree in.  It is entirely possible to change your major; many people do, some multiple times.

It is also possible to change your degree program, as I did. I initially registered in the arts and sciences program at Guelph and after three days of classes I realized that it was not the right program for me. I then changed my courses and program so that I am now enrolled in the bachelor of arts program, majoring in geography.

Currently, I am considering a career in physical geography conducting field work. I ultimately want a career that will allow me to see and experience the world while doing something that I love; a career in physical geography fits these criteria.

I am not alone in this uncertainty; a friend of mine, also in first year, recently changed her program as she realized that her original program was not what she wanted. Once students begin the university experience, they often find more clarity in what they want to pursue.

University has, overall, been a great experience, so far. You are able to, for the most part, take courses that interest you and that you enjoy. You experience a new type of freedom, especially if you are living on your own.  Regardless of what degree you earn, you open up numerous potential career paths by having a university degree, creating more possibilities for your future.

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