Healthy Post-Secondary Planning

By Heather Johnstone, Head of Guidance

One of the most tangible measures of success a school has are the post-secondary destinations of its graduating class.  Year after year Havergal students take their places among the top scholars in selective programs spanning the globe. It is this success that likely played a role in your family’s decision to attend this wonderful school. In a growingly competitive university admissions landscape, many parents are asking the question “When should we begin planning for university admission?”

Primarily, it is important to dispel the myth that any university process has to start before high school. Increased pressure on children in every aspect in their lives both through formal educational settings and extra curricular endeavours is taking a toll on the mental health of Canadian children. This pressure is leading to students who are “burnt out” by the time they reach university. Looking at this through a lens of student health and wellness, Ryerson University’s centre for student development and counselling in Toronto saw a 200 per cent increase in demand from students in crisis situations. (Lunau, K. 2012)

The following is a suggested overview of a healthy approach to post-secondary planning:


Grade 9 – Focus on Self

Students should try to figure out what makes them tick. They should be encouraged to try many different things. This is an opportunity for students to take electives because they are interested in them, not because they think they are going to necessarily lead to an elite program. Students should focus on refining work habits and establishing healthy living patterns (eating, sleeping, activity). It is important for students at this stage to fuel their emotional well-being by making friends, pursuing interests and getting involved in school or community.


Grade 10 – Explore

Grade 10 should be a focus on exploration. For students interested in looking at an international education, there are opportunities to learn about the testing that may be required. They may choose to write the practice tests for American college admissions that are offered by the school (ACT or SAT). With the support of their Guidance Counsellor this is the time when students start developing a plan in terms of their course selection. The summer of Grade 10 is a great chance to visit university campuses if you are on a family vacation. This is not about visiting specific schools, but instead exploring a diverse range of campuses in terms of size, location, and programs offered.


Grade 11 – Refine

This is the year when some students may choose to focus their course selections based on an area of interest. If students are thinking about international applications they should be registering for any standardized tests that may be required. We recommend writing these tests in the spring of Grade 11 at the earliest due to curriculum sequencing. Writing standardized tests in the first term of Grade 12 is perfectly acceptable as well. Guidance Counsellors are available to ensure that students are on track with university choices, research and preliminary tasks. The fall of Grade 11 is also a time when every Grade 11 student will go on a university tour of a local Canadian university to gain a point of comparison for other institutions.


Grade 12 – Further Refine and Action

This is an important year of decision making. Students are supported with many different post-secondary options, some that are conventional and some that are not. If students are choosing the university path, application deadlines range from October 15th to February 1st with the majority being completed before the Christmas holidays. Continued regular meetings with Guidance Counsellors and University Admissions Reps is essential this year. Our school is fortunate to have visits from over 50 universities each year.


This process is not an exact science but is merely a guideline that will vary from student to student. What we want for all of our children is that they become healthy, balanced and successful adults. Our students are intelligent, articulate and capable young women.  Like those before them, they too will make their mark and be well positioned for a bright future.