Choosing a university as a 16-year old high school student can be… well, stressful. I had no idea when I first applied in September that I would end up at the University of Toronto.
Trying to enjoy your senior year can be dampened by the need to achieve high grades, get into your dream school, and ultimately, choose the right path for your future.
For me, applying to university was a difficult, but exciting process. I needed to write the SATs, finish all the application essays, and ensure I picked the best school for me. This was not easy – I could see myself at each of the schools I had applied for. And not only this, I could see myself enjoying various programs of study. In some ways, this only made my decision harder!
As a teenager, it can be hard not to let the opinions of others affect your decisions. But choosing my university would be something I would have to deal with alone. Despite where my friends were going to school, it was important to make the best decision for me. Remember, you are the one spending four years of your life there. Picking a school should maximize your desired college experience – and this will be unique for each person.
Here’s my experience on why I chose University of Toronto.
Applying to Universities in the Fall of Senior Year
During the first few months of grade 12, we received our portal IDs to apply for universities. As an Ontario student, this portal allowed me to apply directly for the programs of my interest in Ontario schools. I applied to Queen’s University, University of Toronto, Western University, McMaster University, Carleton University, and University of Waterloo.
To initially apply to these schools, my grade 11 marks were used as it was early in the process. However for later applications, the schools waited for our first semester grade 12 marks to be released.
After I decided to apply to these 6 schools, I needed to choose my desired program of interest. As someone who enjoyed math, physics, and science classes, I felt that engineering would be a great fit for me. However, I always envisioned myself as a business owner one day, and felt that business school would teach me some of the necessary skills to communicate with people and present myself effectively.
I ended up applying to both Commerce and Engineering programs at most of these schools. Although I loved science classes, I knew deep down that I was more passionate about business. But I didn’t want to leave any doors closed, hence, applying for both. This allowed me to delay the need to make my final decision (which in my case, ended up being the day before the deadline).
In hindsight, I wish I had applied for fewer universities and programs. Each application cost $50.00. I should have looked into each school early in the process, thereby saving my family the money and time of applying to and touring various schools.
Writing Application Essays for University
The next major step in the process was creating an application on each school’s portal. For some schools, this involved listing my work experience, extracurriculars, and volunteer commitments. For others, I was required to write a few small essays (300 words) or one large essay (750 words). At some schools, there was even a recorded video component requiring you to answer live questions.
Many of these supplementary applications had to be completed between January and March. In high school (at least in Canada), finals season for semester 1 was end of January. This made it hard to balance studying for finals and doing my best on these essays/videos.
I had to ensure I maintained a high average throughout grade 12 to ensure I would get into programs I had not heard back from yet. I needed to balance doing well in both. Luckily I had a spare period this semester and tried to use that time for applications, and my time after school for extracurriculars and homework/studying.
Touring University Campuses
After applying to my top schools, I began receiving offers. This was exciting for me – but deep down I knew the decision would come down to only a few schools. Nevertheless, I still toured 4 schools. This helped me understand more about each school and whether I could see myself fitting in well.
Most schools offer tours and information sessions about each faculty, program, and residence building. I toured University of Western Ontario in the Winter, Queen’s University and University of Waterloo over March break, and University of Toronto in February and April. Each campus offered unique culture, architecture, student life, and opportunities.
Narrowing down my options, I chose to focus on Queen’s University and University of Toronto. Now, it was a matter of figuring out what program I would enrol in.
Choosing My Program
Although I had narrowed down my schools to 2 options, I still needed to pick a major. As mentioned before, I applied for both engineering and commerce programs (at both schools). I had to focus on what was best for me after school.
I looked ahead to where I saw myself after graduating university, and felt that engineering wouldn’t be the best fit for me. Although I loved science and physics, I decided I could learn those subjects on my own time through books. And don’t get me wrong – engineering is an amazing program! But it wasn’t going to work for me.
I decided from that point on that business would be the best fit for me. The finance and economics courses involved math skills, and the strategy and marketing courses involved interpersonal and creative components.
I wanted to keep my options open and be able to work in any industry. I wanted to learn financial knowledge, how businesses operate, and even how I could run my own one day.
It was also important to visualize myself doing internships and jobs related to my program. If I couldn’t see myself pursuing a career in some program of study, it wasn’t a good fit. I could see myself working in accounting, consulting, or banking. I liked the nature of auditing because I could study a business in any industry from end-to-end. Similar to accounting, I thought consulting would be a good fit – getting to work with business owners and strategize how to take their business to the next level. Then banking was interesting because of the fast-paced and analytical environment.
Making the Final Decision
I decided commerce would be the program for me. However, I still needed to choose between my top 2 schools – Queen’s University and the University of Toronto.
The deadline to make my final decision would be early in May. I was one of those people that submitted my application 1-2 days before it was due. It was a tough decision that I didn’t want to make yet. I was worried I would make the wrong choice and regret it.
Despite this, I went with my gut and chose the University of Toronto.
Why University of Toronto?
University of Toronto is located in the heart of downtown Toronto. This meant I would be close to shopping, restaurants & bars, lots of people, and new places to see. I always saw myself living in a big city at a young age. This seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Coming from a smaller town (Orillia, Ontario) made the city life very exciting and new. However, University of Toronto has a very charming campus. Surprisingly, when you step foot inside UofT, there is definitely a campus vibe. It was like a secluded area inside of a busy, bustling city. University of Toronto is full of nature – trees, parks, grass fields. I had the best of both worlds.
I also loved the faculty at University of Toronto. The commerce program at UofT, Rotman Commerce, ranked well amongst Canadian schools. And further, the broader University of Toronto ranked well against other schools in the world. I wanted to make sure I was getting a competitive degree.
Another great thing for me was the student life. University of Toronto has a very different student life than many traditional schools – it’s not your typical “party school”. However, I loved the diversity on campus. The university experience is what you make of it, and I was excited by the chance to meet lots of different people. I found so many friends with common interests who are very similar to me. But I also found new friends who are very different – which was why we got along so well! I enjoyed going for dinner, walking downtown, shopping, and even just grabbing coffee with my friends. I loved that UofT was in close proximity to do all these things.
During my first year I also lived in residence. I lived in an off-campus residence building called CampusOne. This building had 25 floors, featured downtown Toronto skyline views, and was just across the road from campus. I had 3 suitemates that I shared 2 bathrooms with. There was a meal hall, gym facilities, and study rooms all in this gigantic building. Not a bad place to stay for my first year!
The final cherry on top was that my mom had recently found a new job. This required her to be in both Orillia and Toronto throughout the week. And not only this, but my older sister was going to UofT. I knew it would be nice to have family nearby if I needed them.
Do I regret choosing University of Toronto?
To be honest, there have been times when I look back and wonder how my life would be different, had I attended a different school. There are highs and lows – sometimes when you’re low, you wonder if you made the right decision. However, I have never at all regretted the decision I made. Choosing a school, and ultimately, choosing where your future will begin, is something you need to do for yourself.
I knew almost nobody attending my school (except my older sister). Even though this was scary at first, it gave me a chance to learn so much about myself and the friends I wanted in my life.
Helping you choose a university!
I didn’t write this post to convince you to go to the University of Toronto. I wrote this post on Big Sister Blog to inspire you to make the best decision for you. UofT was the best fit for me. But, that doesn’t mean it will be for you. Think about the things that are important to you. At the end of the day, you’re the one attending this school for four years. Make the decision about you, and don’t let anyone else influence that.
Try to think about what you want out of your university experience. This can help you eliminate options and narrow your choices down to one! Even make a pro-con list if you need to; I definitely did this for my final 2.
At the end of the day… trust your gut. Throughout the end of the application process, I always knew deep down I wanted to go to the University of Toronto for Commerce. However, I held myself back, afraid I might regret my decision. But I never did. I remember accepting my offer at UofT, then just closing my laptop and not thinking about it for the next few days.
At then end of the day, these fours years are meant to be some of the best years of your life. You will meet some of the most amazing friends you’ve ever had. Listen to your heart and make a decision, then work hard to make the most of that decision every day.