BEHAVIOR

The race for a space

NORA UNDERWOOD July 11 1988
BEHAVIOR

The race for a space

NORA UNDERWOOD July 11 1988

The race for a space

BEHAVIOR

School is out, and thousands of Canadian high-school graduates who should have been anticipating a carefree summer have in recent weeks had something else in common—a bad case of nerves. Many students who earned outstanding marks in secondary school have already been granted early admission to the university of their choice. But some—those with average to good grades—still share a deep concern about whether there will be a place for them where they want to go. And each year—as the number of high-school graduates who want to attend university increases—the competition for postsecondary education becomes fiercer. As a result, the quest for places in such coveted faculties as physical therapy and engineering may begin as early as Grade 11. Said Jennifer Dobson, 18, a Grade 13 graduate at Toronto’s Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute: “A lot of the stress can’t be blamed on the parents or the administration. A lot of it comes from you. Because this is it, this is what the five years have led up to.” During the past decade, secondary -school enrolment levels have remained relatively stable. But, at the same time, increasing numbers of graduates are deciding to continue their educations. According to many high-school guidance

counsellors, students believe that a postsecondary degree is needed to get a good job in a highly competitive employment market. And although many universities have maintained minimum admission requirements at levels ranging from 60 per cent to 65 per cent, entrance standards in many of the more sought-after courses are much higher. Declared Greg Ferguson, director of admissions at St. Mary’s University in Halifax: “Students who would have been admitted routinely 10 or 15 years ago are being turned down.”

Patrick Walsh is among those who have recently learned that there will be academic life after high school. A recent graduate of Western Canada high school in Calgary, the 17-year-old averaged 75 per cent in his final year of high school—a standing that has brought offers of admission into arts programs from both the University of Victoria and Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. But Walsh—who chose the University of Victoria—said that his decision will create a gulf between him and some of his high-school friends. Said Walsh: “Several of my friends won’t get a chance to go to university because of averages. And in this society, unless you have a degree, many kids won’t be living the life that they are used to at home.”

His father, lawyer Thomas Walsh, 61, acknowledges that academic pursuits have become more difficult. Said the elder Walsh: “It is a completely different deal for them. It is much more competitive, and unless they can cut it, they won’t be able to stay.” Other students complain that universities place too much emphasis on grades. Indeed, 18year-old Deborah Kerr of North Vancouver could not apply for science courses at Burnaby, B.C.’s Simon Fraser University despite her 84per-cent average at Handsworth secondary school because she lacked 5 Grade 12 algebra. As a 2 result, she said that she ^ is now considering en| rolling in education. Kerr § admitted that she frequently felt the pressure to get good marks during high school, but added: “There are more important things in life than your transcript. I have worked so hard for that little bit of paper. But in 20 years, who’s going to care?”

Still, the increase in applicants has left officials of many institutions little choice but to raise the entrance requirements. In Ontario, for one, the number of high-school students admitted to the province’s 15 universities increased by about 23 per cent to 32,440 students between 1980 and 1987. At Queen’s, candidates for the school’s tiny program in physical therapy—there are only 26 first-year spaces for 1,100 applicants— now must have a final average of at least 90 per cent. And even those students who are considering a bachelor of arts program—traditionally one of the easiest to enter—at a major Ontario university now need an average of about 75 per cent, compared with the 65-percent average that practically guaranteed entry to such courses 10 years ago.

For most high-school graduates, at least, the nerve-racking waiting period is over. Last week, after having won acceptance into a general program at the University of British Columbia, Jennifer Dobson left for a six-week holiday in Europe—happy, she said, to have high school behind her. But for many others—who are still waiting to find out where they will be in September—the pressure remains intense.

MARK LEIREN-YOUNG

DIANE LUCKOW

JOHN HOWSE

CRAIG BENJAMIN

-NORA UNDERWOOD with MARK LEIREN-YOUNG in Toronto, DIANE LUCKOW in Vancouver, JOHN HOWSE in Calgary and CRAIG BENJAMIN in Halifax