For top Canadian universities such as Queens, Western, McMaster and Laurier, there are three important factors to be considered:

1) Academic score (especially English 12 and Advanced Functions)
2) Extracurricular activities that demonstrate passion and leadership
3) Application essay / Personal statement

The application process is highly competitive. For a good program, thousands of applicants across Canada compete for limited positions. If your grade is 95%, you will be in a fine position. But if your average is in the 75%-85% cut off range, you will face severe competition.

I am writing this article to show you how to increase your chances to get admitted into the top ranking universities in Canada. What universities are looking for and how do you target them? These insights are based on my personal experience of working with over 500 students (tutoring, advising, taking my credit courses etc.) over the past years, many of whom were admitted to top ranking universities with scholarships. This article consists only of my own views and you will need to judge them accordingly.

What are universities looking for?

Top ranking universities are seeking students with personal qualities and interests that fit into their academic focus. Therefore, beside academic grades, they seek candidates with accomplishments and leadership qualities who can contribute beyond the classroom. This is why for the more competitive programs, such as Queen’s Commerce, students are required to submit a personal statement with their application. This is the opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd.

Insight #1: Link your most dedicated activities with your passion

What activities were you dedicated to in the past few years? What programs are you applying to? Universities often look at your extracurricular activities that are long term, where you have demonstrated commitment and dedication. You will need to explain what you are passionate about, and how this (or these) particular activity (or activities) fulfill it.

For example, say you are applying to Waterloo engineering program, and you had worked several summers at a web design company. You can explain your dream to become an Internet entrepreneur and your desire to learn the technology and dynamics in the field. Over these internships you have learnt the challenge of carrying a web design project to completion, which is beyond what you have learnt in textbooks. You are fascinated by the work involved in developing HTML pages and Java software programs, and you are passionate about the technology. Your next goal would be to develop an App for the iPhone, and you hope to gain the opportunity and knowledge to do so from the programs offered at Waterloo.

Another example perhaps, is that you have dedicated your time to football in the past years, and you are applying to Queen’s Commerce. You can explain that you like teamwork in a competitive situation. You can imagine the similarity between business and football in terms of the competitiveness and collaboration. You can also mention your accomplishments (championships: how many games you have won), how important teamwork and team spirit is to overcoming challenges, and how to win together.

Insight #2: Building your credentials

At this time of the year, it might be late to start a new activity that requires major initiative and time. However, there might be other items that you can look into, which can potentially strengthen your credentials. Remember when pursuing these, you still want to and should maintain a balance with your academic work.

For example, if you are applying to a Commerce program, starting a new company with a friend will distinguish yourself, because it demonstrates initiative and commitment. It doesn’t have to be big and you don’t even have to make money: it could be a snow removal company, or selling snacks outside of school. By simply developing an idea, you can talk about how you have spotted the market opportunity, planned your business, assembled your team and marketed your company.

Let’s say you want to get into McMaster’s Health Science program. You could consider joining a chemistry or biology competition team. (York University hosts these types of competitions every year.) The University of Waterloo also runs mathematics competitions as well (in late January or February). If you are aiming for top business schools, participate in the Ontario Provincial Business Plan competition, which involves developing a business plan and making a presentation. The advantage is that these contests are not very time consuming, while you can demonstrate your passion and dedication to it. DECA offers an alternative to the Ontario Provincial Business Plan. Wilfred Laurier University also offers a simulated stock market competition, where top participants will increase their chances of being considered for acceptance.

Insight #3: Strengthen your academic standing

There is no doubt that your academic performance plays an important role in your admission, and therefore many students seek to strengthen their academic standing. Our school, Queen Elizabeth Academy, offers after school credit courses in a small class setting (less than 8 students). Our students, in this environment, can strive for and achieve more. Over the years, many students who have taken our courses (or tutoring) were admitted to these top ranking universities with scholarships, from $2,000 to $12,000. In 2012, over 80% of our students were admitted to their first choice university.

Beside taking credit courses from us, another strategy is to take advantage of the fact that universities take only the top 6 grade 12 marks. Most universities clearly state their pre-requisite courses, with the popular ones being Advanced Functions, Calculus, and English 12. Beyond that, they tend to look at courses that are related to the field of your application and in many schools, courses such as International Business, Economics, Marketing, Accounting, and Technology tend to be easier to obtain higher marks than the

For example, if you are applying to Business program, you can take high school Business and Accounting courses. If you score well in math and English (i.e. obtain over 85%), and attempt your business courses with 90%-95%, your top 6 grade 12 average will be in the low 90’s. Your chance, with this average, of getting admitted to the top schools will significantly improve. Several of my students actually used this approach last year. One of the students worked hard to obtain a low 80% from my math courses, and scored 95% in the business and marketing courses in his school. He ended up with an offer from Western University.

However, these approaches require careful planning from grade 11. Using your summers wisely will also get you one step ahead.

Good luck on your university applications! These are merely tips to help you increase your chances, but no substitute for hard work and perseverance.

The post is originally written by Queen Elizabeth AcademyTutoring Mississauga.