Leaving home

Going to university in a different part of the province, or in a different province altogether, can be a very eye-opening and rewarding experience.

“It’s a chance to explore and broaden your horizons, and get a taste of as much as possible so that by the time you finish your three- or four-year degree, you’re really focused and motivated,” says Alison Hebs, assistant director of communications for the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), the advocacy organization for all 95 universities and university colleges in Canada.

Yet, studying outside of your hometown requires much decision making about location, cost, academics and more to ensure the right fit.

No matter where you pursue your university undergrad degree, Hebs says, you’re guaranteed the same level of quality in your education.

“A student receiving a bachelor degree in one province would be deemed to have the same credentials as those from another province, as all Canadian universities follow rigorous quality controls and high academic standards,” Hebs says.

Any bachelor’s degree you complete anywhere in Canada, Hebs says, will be relevant when you are ready to pursue your career.

Tuition fees vary from province to province, and from school to school, Hebs says, so research the tuition fees of the institution you are considering to determine if you can afford it. The AUCC tracks tuition rates at all universities across the country — to learn more, visit www.aucc.ca/publications/stats/tuition_e.html.

Also important to consider are all the extra cost-of-living expenses associated with studying away from home.

“It’s about much more than tuition — it’s books, living arrangements, transportation, how you’re going to eat — whether you’re buying groceries or will have a meal plan,” Hebs says.

She advises first-year students to consult with their school’s guidance counsellors for help with budgeting.

One of the biggest factors to investigate is the setting of your prospective university, Hebs says.

“The decision on the community should go alongside the decision of what to study,” she says. “Asses whether you’re a big city person or if you might enjoy a smaller community. There’s a big difference between a downtown curbside campus, and one where the campus is the centrepiece of the city.”

Other factors to consider along these lines are where to live — on or off campus — availability of local public transit, and the proximity to the campus of shops, services and amenities.

A big challenge for many first-year away-from-home university students can be acclimatizing to their new independence, and dealing with homesickness.

Hebs recommends researching university services for managing academic workload and developing good study habits. As well, she says, explore campus clubs, teams and activities and participate in Frosh Week events to help you make friends and feel a part of the community.

As you narrow down your top list of potential schools, you should check them out in person to get the best sense of life on the campus.

Looking for a program/h3>
Looking for an easy and efficient way to find the Canadian universities offering your desired academic program?

The Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) offers a free searchable academic program database at www.aucc.ca/can_uni/search/index_e.html with records of more than 10,000 programs.

For more information on Canadian universities, check out the AUCC’s 2010 edition of the Directory of Canadian Universities ($49.95), a comprehensive resource covering not only academic programs, but also campus housing, fee assistance, sports, costs, academic support and services for first-year students.

Tips for visiting a campus

The best way to make your final selection is to visit the campuses of your top choices. This way, you will get a feel for all the school has to offer. Ask yourself: does the university or college offer the programs and resources I’m looking for? Will it meet my needs and expectations? Do I feel comfortable here?

Many schools offer special orientation days for high school students and parents, but visitors are welcome all the time. Don’t hesitate to phone a university or college (try the high school liaison office or registrar’s office) and schedule a visit.

To make the most of your visits

• Write or phone ahead.
• Try to visit on a regular school day, rather than on weekends.
• Write down your impressions, keep lots of notes. Bring along a camera. Once you get home, keep individual files on each school you’ve visited.
• Don’t just listen to tour guides — get the inside story by striking up a conversation with other students.
• Talk to professors about what the courses are like.
• Come prepared with questions and don’t be afraid to ask them.
• Check out all aspects of the campus, including the library, student services, athletic centre, student lounges, residences and lecture halls.
• Check out the local neighbourhood and nearby services and attractions.
• If you can’t physically visit every school you’re interested in, “visit” them virtually on the Internet. Many post-secondary schools have virtual e-tours of their campus via their website.