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Admission Criteria for U.S. and Canadian Universities

High school graduates planning to pursue postsecondary education need to research the admission criteria of the universities they are considering. Schools’ requirements vary, in terms of academic standards and other factors.

Your list of potential universities may include institutions in the United States and Canada. The admission criteria of colleges in the two countries have quite a few common components, but there are some differences that students should know.

Common Criteria

Admission officials in both countries place a high value on applicants’ academic performance, as indicated by their high school grade-point average. Minimum standards are often in place, disqualifying students with bad grades.

In the United States and Canada, a student’s application packet must contain a high school transcript, detailing classes taken and grades received; essays, which may include a “personal statement”; a list of extracurricular activities, jobs, and community service; and letters of recommendation from counselors, teachers, employers, or others.

The Canadian System

A major difference between the two countries is that, in Canada, admission criteria are set on the provincial level (rather than by individual institutions).

A student’s grade-point average as a senior in high school is the most important factor in gaining admission to a university. In some provinces, 11th-grade GPAs also count. Most universities accept students with GPAs of 70 percent, though some provinces set the bar higher. The grade requirement is often less demanding for in-province students than for those who live in another province.

Universities in Canada, as well as the United States, mandate that students pass exams to prove their literacy or language proficiency. This generally involves fluency in English, though exclusively French-speaking students are accepted by postsecondary institutions in Quebec and New Brunswick.

Applicants need to understand that the term “college” does not have the same definition in both countries. When Canadians speak of a college, they are referring to an institution similar to the community colleges and technical schools found in the United States. Students who attend such colleges often are pursuing two-year associate’s degrees or certificates in specific careers. While Canadian colleges also offer bachelor’s degrees, none of them have master’s programs. The word “university” is used for the same type of school in each nation.

In their applications to Canadian universities, students must declare a program. The usual choices are sciences, the arts, and business. Within each category are multiple majors, but students are not expected to immediately choose one.

A high school diploma or general-equivalency degree is a standard requirement of universities in both nations. In Canada, though, students older than 25 years of age (who have been out of school for at least two years) are eligible to apply for admission, even without having graduated from high school. Officials consider their intellectual maturity, interests, employment history, and financial need.

A student at a Canadian university must perform at least 40 hours of community service or volunteer work as a condition of earning a degree. U.S. schools impose no such mandate.

Unlike in the United States, applying to a university in Canada does not entail a lot of competition with other students. There are a limited number of placements in any program, and some types of degrees are more highly sought than others. However, most students find it relatively easy to be accepted by the school of their choice.

The U.S. System

In the United States, the “common application” makes it simple to send information to admission officials at multiple universities. Students may apply to as many institutions as they like. Most colleges and universities admit students to the school, rather than to a degree program.

The fact that each university determines its own admission criteria makes the application process a bit more complicated than the Canadian system. For instance, some schools accept only students with high GPAs. Applicants to U.S. universities must submit their SAT or ACT scores, for which an institution alsomight impose minimum standards.

The portion of applicants accepted by a university varies widely in the United States, from less than 10 percent to near 100 percent. Admission staff sometimes waive some of the academic criteria for students who demonstrate financial need, athletic prowess, or other characteristics. A person of color may be accepted in part because a university is striving to meet student-diversity goals.

Students and their parents are advised to begin their university searches as early as the junior year in high school. They need to set their priorities, research potential institutions, and be sure to meet application deadlines. Understanding universities’ admission criteria is essential, especially when schools in the United States as well as Canada are being considered.