The new year can be a roller coaster for grade 12 students in Ontario. After years of settling into the high school groove – perfecting the cycle of semesters, mid-terms, projects and finals – students take the first months of a year to look toward an unknown future. Many prepare for the next stage of their educational career: post-secondary school.
Unlike the schools thus far in a student’s life, post-secondary institutions like universities are selective and meritocratic; the education provided there isn’t a universal right, but a privileged foray into increasing specialization based on academic performance and non-academic criteria. Students may choose their schools for application, but ultimately, it’s the universities that choose the students.
This critical distinction underpins the entire admissions system in Ontario, which is centralized through a processing centre called OUAC. The whole complex system of application, consideration and acceptance funnels through the all-important OUAC. And it is incumbent upon students to stay on top of the process.
That’s a lot of responsibility! Luckily, OES is here to help. On this blog, we aim to empower students on their journey toward higher education. We’ve written about choosing a college or university program, how to ace your university and college applications essays and more. Now, we’re tackling the bureaucratic system underneath it all. In this article, find clear answers to common OUAC questions – culled from popular internet search queries and our own experience guiding students.
What Is OUAC?
Let’s begin with the basics. Students often ask us sheepishly, “what is OUAC, exactly?” and “how does OUAC work?” There’s a sense that students should know these answers intuitively, but how could they possibly? So, these are fantastic questions to ask – and they’re the perfect place to start our journey.
OUAC is short for Ontario University Application Centre, a centralized hub for university applications in the province. Rather than requiring students to manage individual applications to universities (a logistical headache for both appliers and universities), OUAC serves as a processing intermediary, grouping and eventually transferring your applications to your chosen university.
They don’t make decisions. They don’t even read your applications. They’re a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to administer the high volume of student applications flying around Ontario early each year.
Please note: OUAC deals solely with Ontario universities. For colleges, visit OCAS. For more information on university vs college, including which is right for you, explore our article at the link.
How Do You Make an OUAC Account?
As a student at an accredited online high school, you’re already intimately familiar with enrollments, logins and account management. Think of OUAC as just another arm of your online educational experience – another digital hub through which to realize your academic goals. It’s not scary – we promise!
Students wondering how to make an OUAC account can refer to this handy tutorial from the organization itself. But if you’re in a rush (more on deadlines below!), let us summarize the tutorial for you. In many ways, the process resembles any online account creation:
- Visit the “Create my OUAC Account” page. (We’ve linked the page here, but you can also find it through the “Undergrad ” button on the organization’s homepage).
- Answer a few basic ID questions like name and date of birth, and add your email address. Double-check that the information you enter is accurate!
- OUAC will send you a verification email (see: standard account stuff!). If you don’t receive an email, visit the “contact information” section of your application to find a resend option.
- You’re in! Now, choose a personal username that’s easy to remember. Your first and last name should suffice here.
- Create a password including an upper-case character, symbol and number. If you’ve chosen a random password, keep it in a safe place, like a trustworthy password manager, for quick recall.
- Read and accept the terms and conditions, and you’re off to the races!
Once you’ve created an account, you’ll be prompted to enter access codes provided by your school. These codes are critical for transferring your transcripts to various universities. If you don’t have access codes, contact your guidance counsellor.
How About Payments and Fees?
University applications require processing, review and assessment, all of which require human labour. Like everyone who commits time and effort, the people facilitating the process deserve fair compensation. This is all to say that university applications cost money.
The base application fee for OUAC is $150 and gives you three program choices. For example, on a base application fee, you can apply to English at McMaster, English at York, and Drama at Windsor. Each additional choice is $50. There’s no limit to the number of choices you can make (provided you pay the extra fees). However, you will be limited to three program choices at a single university (i.e., you can’t apply to accounting, drama, biochemistry and English at UofT).
OUAC accepts major credit cards as payment, as well as online banking forms from Canadian banks and credit unions. International students can use OUAC’s Western Business Solutions GlobalPay to transfer money from international banks. The process is relatively straightforward. If you are a student reading this, consult with a parent or guardian as you navigate this step of the process.
What Is My OUAC Number? Where Do I Find It?
One of the most popular internet search queries among students this time of year is “where to find OUAC reference number.” It makes sense. With all of these numbers flying around – pins, access codes, etc. – keeping track of each number’s purpose and whereabouts can be a challenge!
Once you’ve submitted your online application complete with payment, OUAC sends you a ten-digit reference number beginning with the current year. Whereas the username is for your own login convenience, your reference number is the official form of identification used by OUAC.
You should find your reference number in that initial email OUAC sends when you submit your application. Alternatively, you can track down your reference number by logging in and steering to the left navigation menu. Students applying to “101” undergrad programs (i.e., all high school students) can also ask their guidance counsellor for their OUAC reference number.
When Is OUAC Due? Deadlines and OUAC Important Dates
A year ago, we at OES published an article on OUAC deadlines that contained bonus advice on selecting a university program. If you have the time and inclination, we recommend leafing through the post.
But we understand it’s a busy time of year, so let’s tackle the important questions, like when is the OUAC deadline, when is the OUAC deadline and what are OUAC important dates? Per OUAC’s “101 Important Dates” calendar for 2023:
- January 12th is the deadline for Ontario students to complete their OUAC applications
- The OUAC takes applications after January 12th, but these applications are still subject to specific university deadlines.
- By January 19th, those first batches of applications begin trickling into university systems.
- February 23rd marks the target date for Ontario universities to receive available 4U/M course final grades and current full-year 4U/M grades.
- May 29th is the “The latest date all high school applicants who submitted their application by the January application deadline can expect a response from an Ontario university.”
- June 1st is the earliest date a student may be required to respond to an acceptance with a commitment.
- And July 13th is OUAC’s target date for sending all remaining final grades to universities.
For precise verbiage and a complete calendar of OUAC dates, here’s the link to the “101 Important Dates” page.
How Long Does OUAC Take to Process? And How Long Do Universities Take to Process the Applications?
Understandably, the waiting period for acceptance is a time of furious Googling for Ontario students – as they nervously refresh their inboxes, second-guess their ordered choices, and mull over final decisions. Queries like “how long does OUAC take,” “how to accept university offer OUAC” and “what happens if you accept an offer on OUAC?” rank close to the top for OUAC-related online searches. In the following sections, we attempt to navigate this nail-biting waiting period.
In general, the OUAC itself takes one to three business days to process your application. Chosen universities obviously take longer to process and decide on an application. Normally, you’ll receive an email of receipt from a university (stating that they have your application in your pile) reasonably soon after you apply. However, OUAC recommends contacting universities directly if they have yet to confirm receipt after two to three weeks.
How Long Will Students Wait for University Acceptance?
As for your acceptance, that may take some time – nervous, nail-biting time. Universities may offer early conditional acceptance once they receive your second-semester midterm grades in late April. Otherwise, students can expect to have an answer by late May. In either case, you won’t be expected to provide an answer until early June.
How Does OUAC Early Acceptance Work?
As mentioned, a university may issue “early conditional acceptance.” It’s all there in the name. This is an early form of acceptance aimed at securing you as a student (i.e., they like what they see!). But it’s also conditional; universities make these offers on incomplete transcripts, so they need to know that you’ll round out the semester with the same academic calibre. If your grades take a steep nosedive after second-semester midterms, they can reserve the right to rescind the offer.
If you don’t receive an early conditional acceptance, don’t sweat it! A university sends the majority of its acceptance offers after this early phase. Especially in years of high submission rates, a university may only send a scant few early offers. Just because a university doesn’t send early acceptance, doesn’t mean they aren’t actively courting you as a student!
If you want information on mid-term and final report cards, transcripts and student records for OUAC guidance, visit OES’s “Guidance” page linked directly above.
How Do You Accept an Offer on OUAC? And What Happens If You Accept One?
There’s a common misconception that acceptance is a set-in-stone process. It isn’t. You aren’t signing your life away on a contract because you accepted the first offer you received. You’re just being sensible. You’re playing the game.
Per the OUAC’s “Responding to an Offer of Admission” resource, “Accepting an offer of admission from 1 university will not affect the evaluation of your application by your other university choices. However, you may have only 1 offer acceptance on file at a time. You must first cancel your previously accepted offer before you can accept another offer.”
In other words, you can cancel your first acceptance if a better one comes along. Likewise, you can still flip-flop on your choices (indecisiveness is normal with these kinds of significant decisions), but it may require contacting the university directly. OUAC recommends contacting the university admissions office if you wish to accept an offer that you previously cancelled.
What Does Alternate Offer Mean On OUAC?
A university may issue an “alternative offer,” which means that they are not accepting a student for their chosen program, but still wish to offer acceptance in another program.
Universities themselves aren’t the only organizations that need to manage supply and demand; sub-organizations like departments and programs also have to allocate students to a finite number of spots. For instance, McMaster might be interested in you as a student, but they just can’t fit you into their ultra-competitive Bachelor of Health Sciences program. In these instances, they will attempt to court you for an alternative program.
What Is Supplementary Fee On OUAC?
Atop your base OUAC fee of $150, you might see a “supplemental program fee.” Certain programs set supplementary fees to cover the internal costs of the faculty admission process. For instance, U of T’s architecture program levies an additional $45 fee for processing, while Waterloo’s engineering program exacts an additional $53.25 fee.
If you choose a program with a supplemental fee, you will pay the (non-refundable) extra cost alongside your OUAC application.
Can I Contact OUAC with Questions or Concerns?
Applying to various universities through OUAC can be a complicated process, and you find you have questions unanswered by this article. If you’re scratching your head at a deadline or miffed about a payment, you can always reach out to the organization with OUAC questions. Here’s how to contact OUAC: visit the contact page of their website (linked) and choose from several communication methods, like instant message, text, email and phone.