It's not always easy for high-school students to make the grade in B.C.
At just 17, Rahul Walia already knows he wants to be a doctor. After a family trip last year to India, where he saw “deplorable” living conditions up close, he was inspired to help. So, at the beginning of his Grade 12 year at Sir Charles Tupper secondary, his quest for the best premed school began.
A local symposium on international education dangled the sweet possibility of a medical degree from King’s College, London. There, he could earn his white coat in just five years (instead of seven in Canada). The cost: $250,000. He didn’t have $250,000 at his disposal, so he swiftly ditched that idea. Next up, he considered schools across Canada. Ultimately, though, on the advice of his older sister, he chose the University of British Columbia.
That’s when this super planner took a risk. He didn’t actually apply anywhere else. Just UBC.
“I have a lot of friends whose parents say they must get into UBC,” he told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from his home in East Vancouver. He mentioned that this is a very stressful time for Grade 12 students, as they’re receiving their letters of acceptance—and rejection—this month.
“And they must get into sciences. If they don’t get into UBC sciences, their parents say they’re failures.”
First-year sciences at UBC may be the most competitive program in the province—a fact Walia knew before risking his single application. In total, just 1,375 students made it for fall 2011, according to Andrew Arida, UBC’s associate director of enrollment. He knows there are a lot of disappointed students out there. For each spot open in freshman general arts and sciences, one student is rejected.
Most, unlike Walia, have at least one other application in, just in case.
“Your typical UBC student will apply for three or four schools, and some apply for up to seven,” Arida said in a phone interview. “It’s a trend. We see more students applying to more schools.”
Of the students who are accepted, about half decide to actually attend UBC. That’s a pretty good ratio, according to Arida. If all students applied to four schools, only about a quarter should choose UBC, everything being equal. So he’s pleased that UBC is so popular.
Arida noted that when he graduated, in 1987, he also applied to just one school: the University of Calgary. That was more common back then, he said. Now, because schools are much more competitive, students must make multiple applications and then make a decision based on where they’re accepted.
Walia said that’s a complicated equation; most students consider money, their parents’ will, their friends’ ideas, and their own desires when choosing a school.
At the other extreme from UBC, Langara College is dedicated to open access to its university-transfer courses. That is, all 6,000 applicants for fall 2011 may attend, according to Charlotte French, a Langara registrar and director of enrollment services. For first-year students, a stellar high-school grade point average is no advantage in registering for courses: they’re on a first-come, first-served basis. The earlier you apply for Langara, the better your registration time will be.
“Some students at last year’s grad speeches had fabulous stories,” French told the Straight in a phone interview from Langara, mentioning that open access leads to some innovative academic careers. “Some were returning to school after years away, some were coming from abroad, some were switching from one thing to another. One guy was a musician who had gone into sciences. College gives you that opportunity.”
With an average of 94.6 percent and a solid 4.0 GPA, Walia was confident he’d make his first choice. He did. The letter came. He got in to sciences at UBC.
Walia’s second choice wasn’t school at all. If he hadn’t been accepted at UBC, he would have taken a year off.
“I’d go exploring,” he said, sounding stoked. “But I’m sure my parents wouldn’t be happy.”