Achieving academic success: from High School to University

If you are in high school, you are probably thinking about how to navigate the challenges of high school and what steps you can take to maximize your chances of getting into your dream university or program. In this first blog of what will be a series of blogs, we will explore the different criteria and components of a successful university application.

First, let’s make the point clear. We live in an ever-competitive world. If you have your eyes set on attending a top Canadian university and program, then you must know that the competition is tough and that there are many more qualified applicants applying than there are seats for in those universities or programs. In this post, we’ll give go over the areas that you need to pay attention to as you navigate high school. This blog will focus on Canadian universities. In future blogs, we will explore the admissions requirements and process for applying to global universities, such as the Ivy League universities in the U.S. and U.K Universities.


Most, if not all, Canadian Universities look at your top six grades in grade 12 for the academic component of admissions. All of your grades will be submitted to the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre, but the programs are going to look at your top six grades, amongst which there may be pre-requisite courses such as Advanced Functions, English, Calculus, and others depending on the specific programs. You should note, however, that universities will look at your grade 11 grades for early admission.

You may think to yourself: This doesn’t sound too hard. All I have to do is go into grade 12 and make sure I do well in my classes. Until then, I have plenty of time to make up for what may be lackluster grades. Well, unfortunately, it doesn’t really work like that. The reality is that you cannot just show up to your grade 12 classes and expect to get 90s when you have not been performing at that level up to that point. You really need to start early on. Look at the program averages for the programs you plan on applying to. The general rule of thumb is that you should be getting those grades in your grade 11 classes and then go to your grade 12 maintaining those grades. If you are not getting those grades, then now is the time to start preparing. Really focus on your academics. Canadian universities place a big emphasis on this requirement and in most cases your performance in your grade 12 can determine where you end up in university, what you study, and what you end up doing in the future. So, in many ways your future academic and career trajectory will depend on your performance in those few short months.

Our advice is to take your grades seriously, and if you need help with your academics seek it. Personalized tutoring, whether it be in Math, Science, English, or French, is a great way to get extra help when you may not be receiving that personal attention in the classroom.

Extracurricular and Community Involvement:

Given the level of competition, many Canadian programs, such as Western Ivey, Waterloo Engineering, and McMaster Health Sciences (to name a few), are today looking beyond academics (meaning top six grade 12 courses) for granting students admission. The reason for this is that schools are looking to admit people who will be successful in their careers. Becoming successful in one’s career takes much more than just strong grades. It takes people with ability to communicate, lead, and connect with others. Universities can identify these traits through students’ personal and leadership involvements. As such, universities will at extracurricular, sports, and community involvements in school and in the community to see signs of these traits. Beyond just using these involvements to grant admission, universities look at these involvements to also give scholarships to students they really want to attract.

Let’s go over some of these involvements:

  • Extracurricular Involvement: These kinds of activities usually entail involvements in after-school clubs, ranging from student government to yearbook to theatre to robotics. Typically any school club or organization formally recognized by your school can fall under this category.

  • Sports: These include involvement in sports teams, at the intramural or varsity level

  • Community Involvement: These include volunteer activities at hospitals, nursing homes, environmental organizations, libraries or other places that make a positive contribution to the well-being of the community. These task should involve you giving back to the community and making a positive contribution.


It is not enough just to be involved in a school club or to be a member of an organization. You need to actually have a leadership role within that organization or school club. Anyone can sign up and become a member of a student club, such as DECA, but having a leadership position is what shows commitment. Beyond displaying commitment, it shows that you were a decision-maker and that you left an impact on the student club, sports team, or organization. Universities are looking for future leaders, so they are going to look at your leadership positions to get an early assessment of this trait.

So, there you have it in a nutshell. These are the areas you should be thinking about and becoming involved in if you have not already. Focus on your academics — make sure you are especially getting strong English and Math grades — but remember that is not all that matters these days. Many programs will want to see outside involvements, and if you have your eyes set on a scholarship then you should really be thinking about becoming involved and getting leadership at co-curricular programs.

Bottom Line:

You need to start preparing early in high school because admissions to universities is becoming more and more competitive every year. Your first priority is to get your grades in order. Look at the average requirements for the programs you plan on applying to. You should already be hitting that average by your Grade 11, so by the time you are in Grade 12 it just comes down to proper and smart execution. Secondly, you need to make sure that you are taking steps to become an involved student. You should ensure that you are genuinely making a contribution to the organizations your are becoming a part of. If you follow these tips, you’ll find yourself in a very strong position come application time.

As always, if you have any questions, we are always here to help. You can send us and email at and we can set up a free consultation to go over your profile!

Stay tuned for our next blog, where we will look into specific program requirements for some Canadian universities and give you the profiles of some successful admitsz

Yours truly,

Prepsmart Team

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