Applying to University: Done Your Homework Yet?

For those applying to university for Fall 2020 admission, there is some homework you should have done, or at least started by now. Arguably, this is probably the most important homework that you have, even if no one has explicitly assigned it or told you to do it. Properly done, this homework will make success in university more likely. So what is this homework?

Essentially, this homework is deciding what program(s) you want to apply for. It’s only logical that you should apply to programs that you’re interested in and have some affinity for. Otherwise you may not be very engaged in the courses and classmates, and success will be much more difficult. If you don’t do a good job on this homework, you’re setting yourself up for emotional and financial turmoil if you suddenly discover later that you hate your university program or it wasn’t what you were expecting.

There are many different ways to approach this homework, and it depends somewhat on your personality and learning style. So rather than focus on how to do the homework, let’s look at it from the other direction. Like any good homework assignment, it should be helping you to prepare for the final exam. If you’ve done a good job on this homework, you should be able to answer the following two “exam” questions…

What are the five courses in your prospective program that you are most looking forward to taking, and how do they fit your interests and abilities?

If you haven’t looked at the program in detail, including what sorts of courses you’ll be taking, then you’re essentially going into it just hoping you might like it. Hoping is OK for lottery tickets, but not for career planning. So, if I was thinking of doing a degree in History at Waterloo, I would look at the course descriptions and see ones that I would probably like. For example HIST 206 “The Victorian Age”, HIST 226 “Canada in World War II”, HIST 236 “Law and Society in the Middle Ages”, and HIST 379 “Reformation History” would fit my interests in societal transformations and impacts of technology.

So have a look at detailed course lists, and see if you find things of interest. If you don’t understand the terminology or specifics, look it up and find out more. If you can’t be bothered to explore the material now, you probably won’t be interested later either.

After graduation from that program, what are five different initial jobs or career paths that you might be interested in pursuing?

If you can’t provide a few detailed descriptions of where you might work, and what sorts of things you might be doing, then you don’t know enough about your program. You can’t just hope that after 4 or 5 years of university someone will drop an interesting career into your lap. You need to be exploring and directing your own destiny. There are tons of websites, videos, etc. with this sort of information if you look hard enough.

If I was interested in Chemical Engineering (which of course I am), I would google “chemical engineering careers” and find this nice video from the U.S. National Science Foundation. With that and other resources, I would be able to talk about several different industries that I would like to work in.

I’m sure that everyone can find similar resources that explain a wide variety of potential careers and job descriptions.

Note that if your plan is to graduate from your program and go into medical, dental, or some other similar school, that’s an incorrect answer to this question. Those are low probability directions that depend on future performance. Your answer needs to focus on what you will be able to do with the program you are aiming to enter. If, like about 85% of the applicants in Ontario, you don’t get accepted to medical school you need to be happy with what you’ve done to that point.

So, have you done your homework? Have you started? Can you answer the two exam questions? Try answering them in the comments section, and I’ll grade a few if I have some time.

2 thoughts on “Applying to University: Done Your Homework Yet?

  1. Hey Bill. I’m a 1A ECE 2024 student. Just wanted to thank you for your blog posts; I was able to get early admission to the program of my choice with a sizeable scholarship! Keep doing what you’re doing, I hope to meet you sometime!

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