Private Schools: caveat emptor

Caveat emptor:  a Latin legal term for “let the buyer beware”

I was recently advised about a private school in the Greater Toronto Area that had its credit-granting authority revoked by the Ontario Ministry of Education (a list of revocations is available here).  Meaning?  Anyone we admitted with a required course credit from that school may have to have their admission offer revoked. Staff are looking into it, but it raises once again the issue of private schools and university admission.

It’s easy to find stories in the news media about students that pay their tuition to a private school and get a credit (with a good grade that helps their admission chances), but don’t have to do any work or show up in class.  I don’t know what was involved in the most recent cases, but presumably the school didn’t deliver the content as required by Ministry criteria.  I assume that when students enrol in such places they must quickly realize that it’s unusually easy compared to a proper school, and so caveat emptor is the response when bad things follow, like an admission revocation.  Or, are the students somehow fooled into thinking this is OK?  It would be interesting to know.

For university admissions, we also look carefully at credits obtained from private schools, especially ones that we haven’t seen much before.  Having said that, there are a number of very fine private schools with quite rigorous academics.  So it is certainly not reasonable for us to lump them all together as unsuitable, so we continue to accept credits from private schools, as long as they are accredited by the Ministry of Education.

There are certain scenarios that get our attention.  Often, it is a student in a regular public day-school who did a single course or two in a private school.  Our AIF (Admission Information Form) asks applicants to explain why they took a course outside their regular school, so we look at that information.  We also look to see if there is an unusual increase in marks.  For example, maybe Grade 11 English was taken in regular school with a 65% average, and then the private school Grade 12 English appears with a 90% average.  Sudden improvements like that raise questions in an applicant’s file, so we might start digging deeper.  Or, maybe the student suddenly got much more motivated and is doing well.  You never know at first glance, so we never leap to conclusions.

Anyways, private schools can be a useful route to accomplishing educational goals for a variety of reasons.  Just “caveat emptor” and make sure you get a real credit at the end.

9 thoughts on “Private Schools: caveat emptor

  1. Hello Professor Anderson,

    I know this is an old post, but because my question is related to private schools, I will just post it here. So, my question is what happens to the high school adjustment mark, if an applicant takes most of the prerequisites in private schools (under the assumption that they are all accredited by Ministry of Education). Like, will that applicant not get any high school adjustment because that person took most of courses outside of school? I’m just asking this because some of my 5th year students are planning to repeat most of their top 6 courses outside of day school and to apply to Waterloo Engineering, so I wonder how Waterloo takes that.

    • We have adjustment factors available for all schools, whether private or not. In your example, the more significant factor may be the repeated course penalty, which could take 5% off the overall average. They’ll also have to explain on the AIF what they’re doing and why.

      • So, after 5% is deducted from the overall average, is adjustment mark calculated through the names of both private school and day school or is it only calculated based on the day school where one is about to get a high school diploma?

      • That will come down to a case-by-case decision. If most of the required courses are from a different school, we tend to use that school’s factor, or perhaps a blended version from the two schools. We look at the grades, our experience with the schools, explanations in the AIF, and try to come up with an assessment that’s reasonable and fair for those applicants as well as other applicants that they are competing against for the limited spaces.

      • Thank you for your informative reply!! I find that the job is really hard, but I can see how much the admission team is dedicated to give equal chance to everyone.

  2. Hello Professor,

    Is an international private school with US accreditation looked down upon as well? I live in a country where there is exactly one English school and it is a private-international school.

    Is this bad/looked down upon?

    • No, the subject of this post is directed more towards private schools in Canada. In other countries where there is not a strong “public” school system, private schools are fine and provide high quality education.

  3. Hey Professor,

    I have been going through your blog for quite some time and just had a few questions I was hoping you could answer for me. They are quite personal so I apologize in advance if you don’t have much to say.

    1) I’m currently a grade 11 student heading into grade 12, I took ENG4U at a private school throughout second semester therefore I was doing school 7 days a week (weekends). I did this in order to accelerate and because my guidance advised it would be the best way to accelerate. I finished with a 92%, in no case was this easier as I felt I had to work 10 times harder for it compared to my grade 11 mark of an 84%.

    2) After completing, I went to guidance and it turned out I have a course conflict therefore I was forced to take SPH4U outside of regular day school and I am completing it in summer at the private school due to accessibility/travel issues. I am finishing with around a 93% (before exam mark) compared to a 66% in SPH3U, although SPH3U was taught horridly by my teacher and the course average itself was lower than my mark. This new teacher has taught me from the start and I have spent long hours working hard for my mark. My attendance and lates have been clean. I have been motivated to get into Waterloo and have stepped up to the plate. Along with a smaller class size, it is easier to ask questions and get help. I was wondering if I would be penalized for this?

    3) In my AIF, how do I explain all of this in 900 characters? Also do the characters include things like spaces?

    I am looking to apply to civil engineering and Waterloo has been my dream since as long as I can remember. I don’t intend or plan on taking any other courses outside of regular day school. Please advise as I’m very worried about my chances for 2017.


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