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Using resources available on university websites as well as meeting with students, staff and professors, can help aspirants know how admission decisions are made.

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Getting into university has become more competitive than ever. Here’s some practical advice from university admissions officials on what you need to do to get that acceptance letter.

The right courses

One thing that high-school students often overlook when applying to university is making sure they have the right classes for the program they want to study.

“I know ‘check the prerequisite’ sounds really simple,” says Andrew Arida, the University of British Columbia’s deputy registrar. “But every year a lot of students don’t, and they’re not admitted simply because they didn’t take the right classes in high school.”

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Personal profiles and other assessment tools

Obviously, grades are important. But if everybody has the same grade, universities need other tools, such as personal profiles and interviews, to help them make admission decisions.

Students shouldn’t approach their personal profile as if it were a résumé or a shopping list of accomplishments, Mr. Arida says: “It’s about self-reflection.”

Mr. Arida has read many personal profiles – including some amazing ones about students volunteering overseas – but students sometimes struggle to articulate what they’ve learned from that experience.

One of the most impressive profiles he’s read, he says, was from a candidate who used their part-time job at the mall to explain how the experience changed their perspective on their education.

Some competitive programs at the University of Toronto require video interviews where students are given a random question and must videotape their response, adds Anne Rose, UofT’s associate director of student recruitment.

“This is to find out how they think on their feet, how well they communicate,” Ms. Rose says.

An early start

Experts also say researching universities early is key, and students should be looking into their options by Grade 11 at the latest. In addition to visiting university websites, another key resource for students is eINFO, a guide to Ontario’s university programs and admission requirements.

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“There’s a range of questions that are answered for each university,” Ryerson University registrar Charmaine Hack says. “That helps an applicant understand how their application is being viewed, how they’re calculating the grades and what are they looking for.”

By using these resources as well as meeting with university students, staff and professors, students can demystify how universities make admission decisions, she adds.

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