With the start of applications for post-secondary institutions just around the corner (or have already started in some areas), we thought it would be beneficial to briefly cover how to choose a post-secondary institution. Here, we’ll provide some tips we received when we were selecting our path after high school.

First and foremost, decide what you would like to study. The decision of which program you would like to apply to can be a difficult one. If you are not sure, you can start with thinking about what you like to do. For example, if you like mathematics, consider doing something that involves math on a regular basis (accountant, math teacher, engineer, etc.). If you are still not sure about what you like, you can talk to your guidance counsellor, a teacher, your parents, etc. to see what they think you could do. A word of warning with this option, what these people think you should do is not necessarily the best path for you. It is something you need to decide. Another way to decide what to study is through the aptitude tests you likely did at some point in high school (or do them again). Though these are great starting points, you should not pick one of the careers on there just because the test selected it for you. Take some time to research the job and see whether you would like to dedicate your life to it. If you still are not sure what you would like to study, some post-secondary institutions offer “Undecided Majors”. For these, you do not declare what you are studying and instead take some time to decide which path you would like to take. Simply put, if a post-secondary institution does not have the programs you are interested in, there is no real reason to apply (unless it is your safety school).

Which brings us to the next point, decide whether you would like to have a safety school or a safety program. A safety school is a school that you have a high chance of being accepted based on your profile. For example, if you are applying to School A, where you have a small chance of getting in, you can also apply to School B, where you will likely be accepted. In this scenario, School B is your safety school. Similarly, a safety program is a program at a post-secondary institution that you know you will be accepted into. For example, you really want to enter Program X at College A, but you are not sure whether they will accept you since there is a lot of competition, so you apply to Program Y at College A where you are sure you will be accepted. This can be a way to minimize the stress students feel when applying to post-secondary institutions.

Now, it might be a bit of a cliché, but consider going to the campus and their open houses. This can be a great way to see whether you can see yourself attending there the next year. Talk to people about life on the campus and what you can expect if you choose to go there. The guides are there to answer questions you may have. If there is a part of campus life that is important to you (clubs, sports, etc.), do not be afraid to ask. Some even have online sessions where you can gain a quick understanding of the programs offered and talk to current or past students.

One big thing to ask yourself (and discuss with your family) is whether you will be living alone, in a dorm, or with someone else. This can be a difficult decision to make, as it involves a lot of aspects. Do you think you are ready to have the responsibility of living alone and attending a post-secondary institution at the same time? Will you be able to do everything you have relied on others (laundry, groceries, cooking, etc.)? If considering the dorm option, are you able to study with constant distractions? Can you ask your neighbours to keep it down if they get too loud? Will your dorm room be a single or a double (that is, will you have a roommate?)? If deciding to live with others (both in a dorm room and outside the post-secondary institution), do you know their habits and are they compatible with yours? For example, if you like to study in the morning, but your roommate was keeping you awake the night before, will you be able to focus on what you are learning? Cost is also a large part of it, but we will cover cost in more detail a little later.


A guidance counsellor can be an excellent resource to help you decide where you could apply.

Similar to how you will be living (alone, dorm or with roommates), you will need to keep in mind whether the post-secondary institution is in the same city as where you currently live. If it is not, you will need to figure things out anew there (e.g., grocery stores, laundry, transportation, etc.). If this is not something you are comfortable with, it is probably not a good idea to apply to post-secondary institutions outside of your city (provided where you live has some which are compatible with what you would like). If there are no post-secondary institutions in your area, and you are not comfortable with living alone, you might consider doing practice trips to get to know the area around your school, so it is not such a shock when you start lessons.

One of the bigger topics to cover is cost. Cost will be split into tuition, living expenses, and textbooks and other materials. Most post-secondary institutions have a general breakdown of their tuition fees, living expenses (if living on campus) and textbooks can often be found in the school’s bookstore. These can provide an overview of how much it will cost to attend. If an institution’s fees are too high, it is probably not a good idea to apply there (unless they provide large scholarships).

Selecting which post-secondary institutions to apply to is a difficult decision. Luckily, it is not one you need to make alone. Consider talking to parents, guidance counsellors, teachers and others that you feel comfortable with to help you make the right decision for you. Do not be afraid of making the wrong one either. Just because you have applied to an institution or a program, does not mean that you need to attend it or select it. You are always free to change your mind if you decide you do not want that program or school anymore. Keep costs, living arrangements and programs in mind when applying.


And good luck!