University application season is an interesting time of year. Students are stressed and ultra-competitive. Parents are often the exact same. There's almost the mutual feeling that over a decade of schooling culminated into this one single year.
I grew up in Canada and distinctly remember my application season. I applied to just four universities: Queen's, Laurier, McMaster, and Carleton. Looking back, I have no idea how or why I had this mix of four schools. Queen's was my dream school - strong academically, close to home, unique culture, and lots of family history. Thankfully, I got in. But why was Laurier my second choice?
This sounds bizarre, but I think it was because of a basketball camp I went to when I was younger. The Laurier varsity coach was there and he gave me a team practice jersey after I won a camp-wide game of "bump". Oddly enough, that was what put Laurier on the radar for me. After a bit of research, I found out that their business school was pretty good, and having an interest for business, I applied.
A game of bump nearly determined the school I went to.
Why did I even bother applying to Mac and Carleton? Mac's business school was okay, but the city wasn't a particularly appealing place (referred to as the 'armpit of Ontario') and it was a fair distance away from my hometown in Ottawa. Carleton was the opposite. The school was based in Ottawa, and I wanted to leave the city. Plus, I wasn't particularly passionate about their business program either. I also went to a basketball camp at Carleton. Maybe that was it? My Grandpa went to Mac and he always wore their memorabilia when I was a kid. Did that sub-consciously influence me?
Where did these schools come from? Fate? Luck? Fluke? Chance?
I just recently returned from a trip to Montréal with a few friends. On the way to dinner one evening, we passed by the iconic Roddick Gates - the main entrance to McGill University. It was early October, so the leaves were changing in the Parc du Mont-Royal backdrop. This place looked beautiful. "McGill was only two hours away from Ottawa" I thought, "and, it had an exceptional business program... Also, wasn't the McGill brand well-known outside Canada? That would have helped me a lot after spending four years of my career abroad, where it was rare if someone had heard of Queen's." Sounded perfect.
So why didn't I even apply to McGill?
I'm not saying I regret attending Queen's. It was everything I hoped for and more. But why didn't I even consider this top-rate school. What if my Grandpa had worn a red sweater with 'McGill' on the front instead of 'McMaster' - would I have applied then?
Then again, you might have too. I run a website for prospective university students, part of which involves counselling them on which schools to apply to and how to navigate the ever-challenging university applications. The first two questions I ask students when I sit down with them are: "Why do you want to go to university?" and "Why are you applying to this mix of schools?
Their responses almost always shock me:
"University is just what you're supposed to do, right?"
"The university was ranked the highest in this year's league tables."
"I visited the campus, and just felt like I belonged there."
Besides marriage, the university you go to could be the most life-changing decision you'll ever make. The friends you have, the job you get, the city you end up in, the skills you acquire, the relationships you experience - all of which will be shaped purely based on the university you choose to spend four years of your life.
That's a pretty impressive list - so why aren't students doing the proper due diligence?
My theory is there are two issues.
The first is self-awareness. Year 12s don't know enough about themselves to decide what they're going to wear today, let alone the university or program that would best suit them. My website recently conducted a survey, asking Year 12s if secondary school gave them enough support or time to find out what they really wanted to do in life - a mere nine percent said yes it did. Secondary schools need to step up and incorporate more purpose-driven learning into the curriculum.
The second issue I believe impacts school choices is the parents - particularly those financially supporting their child's education. In the business world, if you were to ask your boss for £100,000 to spend on a new project, you would have to develop an extensive business case on what you were going to do with the money and why. Why don't parents do the same? Students should be researching the courses offered, career services, alumni support, professor teaching quality, and many other attributes. Instead, they read the league tables, visit the campus, and then trust it's a match made in heaven. Parents, require your children to create more of a 'business case' on their university choices.
Going to university a big choice for everyone involved. So don't leave it to fate, luck, fluke, or chance - and especially not a game of bump. Take matters into your own hands and find out the school best for you.