Canada’s university admissions process fails to make the grade

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Though Canada doesn’t currently face the same bribery challenges levied against U.S. colleges, our own host of inequities are inherent in our university application system.

In the recent U.S. college admissions bribery scandal, a number of wealthy parents paid to doctor their children’s standardized test scores and university application profiles, landing them spots at prestigious schools from Yale to Georgetown. Hearing about the federal investigation, it’s fair to assume Canadians collectively sighed in relief at the supposed superiority of our own report-card-based admissions process.

However, this relief is cold comfort when you consider the social imbalances prevalent in our admissions system. They exist—they’re just harder to spot with the naked eye.

Though Canada’s system doesn’t require expensive and complicated standardized tests—and most university admissions are grades-dependent—our playing field isn’t level. Privilege factors into our post-secondary system from application to acceptance.

While Canadians don’t tend to bribe educational institutions, our process is more subtle.

Valuing report cards in an unequal education system allows a number of factors to take precedence, and these extend beyond private schools and private tutors. They include non-insured health care like therapy, extra hours for homework, and resume-padding without working a part-time job.

Privileged parents in Canada don’t have to offer universities a new library like their US counterparts to give their children a leg up.

Even without paying for tutors, adults with elite university educations and careers can assist their children by having the time and backgrounds to help them with homework and post-secondary applications.

However, the fact remains: We live in a society without equal distribution of resources and people can spend their money how they see fit. With that in mind, the onus isn’t entirely on universities or families to offer a tidy solution to deep-seated racism, sexism, homophobia, and wealth inequity.

It’s hard to blame parents when they feel the need—and have the means—to catch up with their cohorts to give their children the best lives possible. But it takes privilege to fight privilege.

The provincial government should further mobilize to support financially-disadvantaged students eager to attend university. That means not increasing school class sizes, ensuring access to guidance counsellors, and instituting flexible co-curricular opportunities for students who already simultaneously work and attend school.

Not every student has access to an elite network of opportunities and resources. Until more is done for deserving students with limited means, Canada’s university application process is nothing to boast about.   

—Journal Editorial Board

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