There has been a great deal of discussion recently around the issue of Ontario universities admitting homeschooled applicants. Shelley Welchner, who started the OFTP Universities Project, recently sent me a couple of thoughtful questions about this and I thought other people might have an interest in these issues. Below is her question and my response (with a couple of editorial revisions).
Shelley Welchner wrote:
I'm wondering, what procedures the universities presently follow for admissions after they have 'processed' (by computer, I believe) the first 'batch' of students. Once the computer has rated the students (strictly by marks alone) how does the process for those who didn't fit this method usually proceed? Also we would like to have a good understanding, from a university's point of view, of the profile of "successful" students. I assume universities keep some sort of record of attrition rates and the profile of students who don't make it to second year.
We are looking for some positive information about successful students to be sure that HSers, truthfully of course, "FIT" the profile. Is it possible to find out what the first year attrition rates are for different universities in Ontario? Would you know how to go about this? Any thoughts you have regarding these questions would be greatly appreciated.
Most universities in Ontario now admit a first round of students on the basis of marks, and each university wants to attract as many high marks students as possible. At WLU, we send out offers of admission to these students and then depending on how many come back, we then send out a second round of offers to the next group of students, again based on marks. This is the general procedure at many Ontario universities.
Students have the option of submitting a portfolio along with their transcripts but this portfolio is really only used for students who are near the cut-off lines. Then these portfolios can make a difference between getting in and not getting in. Again, I think this is the basic procedure used at most universities, although in some specific programs (e.g., architecture, music, fine arts) a portfolio of work or an audition may take on more importance in the admission process.
As for the profile of successful students, at WLU we don't have any public statements or documents on this, but the best predictor of success in the first year is high school GPA. Of course this is just a statistical trend and there are many exceptions but if one wanted to predict who would go on to second year, the best thing to look at would be high school GPA. Students with marks in the 90s go on at a very high rate, students in the 80s go on at a high rate, but it drops off for students in the 70s. We don't admit any students in the 60s (that I know of), but in universities that do, I suspect that there is a very high failure rate among them.
Of course, marks are just an indicator of something else, so there is no reason to think that homeschoolers, because they don't have high school marks won't do well in university. Generally speaking, students who do very well in high school are not only bright but interested in the world around them and devoted to learning, which anecdotally is a pretty accurate description of most of the homeschoolers I have met. Students with low averages are less likely to have all of these characteristics, for a whole series of reasons. We all know of students who don't fit this pattern and people often like to hold up Albert Einstein as someone who didn't do well in school. But Albert Einstein was exceptional in every sense of the word, and it is definitely not the case that all of the students we admit with low averages turn out to be geniuses.
One thing I should point out is that high school marks are the best predictor of success, but only out of the variables that universities regularly collect data on. That is, we know about their gender, high school marks, place of birth, and a few other things, but admissions processes do not, and in many cases cannot, ask about things which might be better predictors, such as level of interest in a subject, the emotional maturity referred to in the National Post story, or love of learning. Assessing emotional maturity, or love of learning would require asking questions which might be seen as discriminatory, and legally, although universities might want to know some of this stuff, they probably can't ask about it. So marks are really the best predictor, at WLU anyway, in the absence of more precise indicators of abilities.
But we all know that marks are not just an indicator of positive things like intelligence and interest. They also indicate a willingness and ability to fit into the discipline of a classroom which in mass education is an important part of the learning process. Homeschoolers don't have as much as experience with this as their schooled counterparts but I don't think the ability to fit into classroom discipline is as important in university as it is in school. The reason is that most people go to university voluntarily, and although they may kick around for a while deciding what to do, when they eventually settle on something they are willing to sit through classes that they know they must take in order to get a particular degree. I know this because I teach methods and stats courses, which most sociology students hate, but they are able to see that they need to get through the course in order to get their degree. Choosing to do something difficult or unpleasant or uninteresting because you know you need to do it in order to get something else is much easier than being forced to do it. Given this, I don't think homeschoolers are at any particular disadvantage when they get to university.
Prof. Bruce Arai teaches at Wilfred Laurier University. At the time of this exchange, he was a homeschooling father and member of OFTP. His publications include "Homeschooling and the Redefinition of Citizenship," published by Education Policy Analysis Archives, a peer-reviewed, independent, open-access, multilingual journal.