Getting into university is tough, but perhaps in no province is it tougher than Ontario due to the competition.
While new immigrants often face the additional challenges of learning a new language and culture, at least one Ontario-based private college prep school called Beaconhouse is helping students of all races, religions, and backgrounds — immigrant or not — to enter university.
Over 90 per cent of Beaconhouse graduates get an offer from the university or college of their choice. The college prep school’s diversity, small class size, student focus, and flexibility are making it a popular choice among Ontario high school students seeking entrance to the area’s competitive universities.
Just how tough is the competition to get into Ontario universities? Ontario university students comprise 48 per cent of all Canadian university students. As of January 2011, over 88,000 students applied to Ontario universities, a 2.4 per cent increase over 2010. Over 383,000 applications were filled out as most students submitted multiple applications, a 49 per cent increase in applications since 2000.
Having to learn a new language and culture can make this challenge even tougher for new immigrants, of which Ontario has more than its share.
According to 2006 Canada Census Highlight Factsheets, “Ontario continued to be the province of choice for more than half (52.3 per cent) of the 1.1 million newcomers who arrived in Canada during the 2001-2006 period.” Of recent immigrants to Ontario, those from India, China, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka topped the list.
“Ontarians reported more than 200 languages in completing the 2006 Census question on mother tongue,” says Factsheets. “Between 2001 and 2006, language groups from Asia and the Middle East recorded the largest gains” including Chinese, Punjabi, Arabic, and Urdu.
Among Ontario’s municipalities with high shares of foreign-born in the 2006 Census were Mississauga (51.6 per cent) and Brampton (47.8 per cent), where Beaconhouse offers two of its three locations.
The college prep school’s third location in Oakville serves mostly second and third generation Canadians.
At Beaconhouse’s Mississauga or Brampton locations, it’s common to have students from India, China, Pakistan, the Philippines, or Sri Lanka sitting next to those born in Canada. The school’s faculty and teaching staff also reflect this diversity.
Unlike some private schools which focus almost exclusively on a single religious faith, language, or culture, at Beaconhouse the door is open to all students regardless of race, religion, language, culture, gender, or age. To help all students of faith feel welcome, for instance, Beaconhouse not only celebrates Christmas and Easter as school holidays, but also Eid ul-Fitr, Vaisakhi, and Diwali.
“We’re all about inclusion, of giving opportunity for all, and our fully qualified staff from all backgrounds and races understands this,” says Bilal Rashid, principal of Beaconhouse. “It doesn’t matter if you stepped off the plane yesterday or your family has lived in Canada for generations. We want you to succeed.”
Rashid knows firsthand the challenges of learning a new language and culture, which is why the school offers a full range of English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. He understands that even students with families living in Canada for generations can sometimes feel lost in typically large, crowded public classrooms.
That’s why Beaconhouse’s three locations all offer small class size and individual attention to both full-time and part-time students.
“Students feel more comfortable in a small group setting where everybody knows them, where they don’t have to wait a week to see a guidance counsellor,” says Rashid. “Because of the small class size, teachers know each student by name and can be more focused on them. Any time students have a question about reaching their goals and entering the university of their choice, they can see a guidance counsellor in about five minutes.”
Unlike large, impersonal classrooms where it can be hard to catch up if a student misses material, Beaconhouse builds flexibility into the system along with personal attention, according to Rashid. To help students succeed, teachers track student progress. This way, if a student misses a class, the teacher can make sure the student catches up on the missed material, rather than simply forcing students to go on to the next lesson whether or not they understand the previous material.
“Tracking student progress allows students to pick up where they left off,” explains Rashid. “It allows teachers to tailor the material to the student and to intervene, if necessary, before there is a problem. The focus is on the success of the student and not simply on how fast the curriculum is covered.”
For added flexibility for part-time students, a full schedule of classes is typically offered from 3.30pm daily, plus Saturdays. With class hours designed to coordinate with schedules at other schools, a growing number of students are getting the help they need when they need it.
To help Ontario high school students fully prepare for the challenge and opportunity of university, Beaconhouse is now licensed as an Advanced Placement (AP) examination center, and plans to offer AP courses in Calculus AB, Physics B, Chemistry, Biology and English starting in the Fall of 2012. AP courses are rigorous courses taken in high school that are the equivalent of first-year university courses. With good marks on an AP exam, many universities give students class credit before they enter the university. While challenging, passing AP exams can save a significant amount of the time and cost necessary for a university education.
“Because Ontario university students make up almost half of all Canadian university students, any student seeking to enter an Ontario University is competing against the best of the best,” explains Rashid. “But with experts estimating that two out of three jobs require a post secondary education, and about 94 per cent of university graduates getting employed within six months of graduation, the need to get a quality education today has never been greater.
“Studying at a high school that’s committed to student diversity, small class size, student focus, and flexibility can be an important step to preparing for and getting into the university of your choice in Ontario or beyond,” concludes Rashid.
For further details visit www.beaconhouse.ca; in Mississauga call 905-290-1321, in Brampton call 905-494-0077.