Universities across the country are experiencing an increase in applications for September 2021 and some have reported record-breaking numbers, such as Wilfrid Laurier University, which will welcome its largest incoming first-year class ever in the fall.
The Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC) released statistics in July. They showed that applications for fall 2021 increased significantly since last year; applications from students coming from high school totaled 477,472, compared to 467,651 in 2020, and applications from “non-secondary” students, those transferring from colleges or other provinces, mature students and international students, jumped from 212,460 in 2019 to 230,977.
Postsecondary institutions in British Columbia saw “an almost across the board increase in applications this year,” said Education Planner BC’s executive director, Karen McCredie. “Our overall increase is just over 20 [per cent] with domestic applications coming in slightly over that mark and international applications just under.” Ms. McCredie noted that her organization is still finalizing the onboarding of the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria into their application system, so the data available does not include those two institutions.
The story in Quebec also appears be similar. Michèle Glémaud, executive director of admission and recruitment services at the Université de Montréal, said applications for enrollment at her university were up about eight per cent this year. She was concerned, in particular, about whether or not CEGEP students would choose to come to university in the fall “because of the fact that they’ve … spent almost a year and a half doing classes online,” she said. “But that was not the case at all. As a matter of fact, we had an increase of 14 per cent [in applications from] such students.” Based on conversations with colleagues at other universities in Quebec, many are also seeing an increase in applications. “The trend is very present,” Ms. Glémaud said.
Although there is no clear or direct explanation for why the numbers increased, Ms. Glémaud has a couple of theories. She believes students coming out of high school are comfortable with technology and studying online may have worked well for some of them. Also, young people who were inclined to do travel after high school or CEGEP, and now don’t have that option, might figure the next best thing is to continue with their studies. “I don’t know what’s going to happen next year, if the pandemic is over and the borders are open. Will there be an increase in interest [in] traveling? Will [that] be something that they have missed? I don’t know. That’s something we’ll have to see,” Ms. Glémaud added.
An increased interest in attending university can also be seen as a success story for how postsecondary institutions handled the global pandemic, she said. “From my perspective, I think it’s [been] a great success. … Our teachers have done great, wonderful things, being able to transform their courses and put [them] online and still make it interesting.”
Lynn Wells, Brock University’s interim president, agrees that the way universities and colleges handled the quick transition to online teaching and learning, and how they responded to the challenges in front of them, is a pandemic success story. “Without exception [universities and colleges] did a phenomenal job of moving a huge number of things [online] in the space of days,” she said. “How many industries could completely transform their operational model [like that]?”
Brock will be welcoming its second largest cohort of first-year students in September (the largest was in 2019, which was an “unprecedented” increase from previous years) and, according to registrar and vice-president, enrolment services, Geraldine Jones, the university saw an “overwhelming” increase in admission confirmations. While Brock didn’t experience the same trend in increased applications, a press release noted that its rate of first-year confirmations from Ontario secondary students (6.5 per cent) outpaced the average provincial increase of 1.9 per cent. In Dr. Wells’ eyes, the university sees itself as having a “double cohort of first years [in September] because last year’s first-year students didn’t really have the experience of being at university in its fullest sense.”
OUAC numbers show applications for nursing programs across the province for this September increased by 17 to 20 per cent compared to last year. Brock was in the same boat; it also saw an increase in interest in its nursing program, as well as its biomedicine program, Ms. Jones said. More applications to programs like nursing is “very timely,” given the pandemic, and speaks to why so many are choosing to apply to universities and invest in education, she added. It suggests potential students are taking a look at their lives – and at the world around them – and deciding what they want to do and where they want to be.
“The pandemic has given a lot of folks time to take stock,” Ms. Jones said. “I think that might also be a driver to education because you’re thinking … about your place in the world … and what [you] want to do moving forward, and what that journey needs to look like.”