What is Pre-University in Canada & How Does it Work?
It’s sort of a cliched rite of passage to warn outgoing high school students about how challenging university is. “Buckle up, because university math might as well be taught in Greek,” some might say. And while that’s clearly an over-exaggeration meant to scare incoming frosh, there’s some grain of truth in it.
University education represents a sizeable leap forward in terms of complexity and specialization. The concepts taught in a university course – whether it’s English, science, mathematics, poly-sci, etc. – are necessarily advanced. The whole premise of a university education is that it plunges you further and further into the depths of human knowledge. By the time you reach your Ph.D. (if that’s your ultimate goal), you might be only one of a handful of people in the world who know what you know.
But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. As a high school student (or guardian to a high school student), all you need to know right now is that university education takes some preparation. And to prepare, it’s best practice to bridge the gap between high school academics and university with “pre-university” studies.
The term is relatively open-ended, meaning different things to different people. In this blog post, we cover different pre-university strategies, including formal pre-U college diplomas, U- and M-level online courses in Ontario, and CEGEP alternatives for Quebec students.
What Is Pre-University in Canada?
It depends on who you ask.
OCAS (Ontario Colleges) lists three options for pre-university: university exploration programs, university preparation programs, and bridging programs. These are programs offered by colleges that require an existing OSSD (secondary school diploma), and award a certificate or separate diploma upon completion. They’re intended to bridge the metaphorical gap between high school and university; they give outgoing high school seniors some buffer time to deepen their skills before entering a tough program. You can find a standard example on this St. Lawrence College “GAS Diploma” page.
Various universities may also offer what they call “pre-university courses,” directed at high school students who want to get a head start preparing for their grand entrance. Take this University of British Columbia (UBC) page as an example, which describes its “pre-university program for high school students ages 15–18.”
Then there’s Quebec, an outlier among provinces. We’ll cover Quebec in detail below, but essentially “pre-university” here refers to compulsory two-year programs that students must take before applying to university.
Finally, pre-university courses may simply refer to the U- and M-level courses offered by an accredited high school. U-level refers to “university level,” while M-level refers to “content that is relevant for both university and college programs,” per the TDSB. These courses are designed to “Provide students with knowledge and skills needed to meet entrance requirements for specific university and college programs.” As part of our comprehensive commitment to the online learning graduation requirement in Ontario, OES offers various U- and M-level courses for prospective university students.
Pre-University Programs Through a Post-Secondary Institution
There are a few reasons you might choose a formal pre-university program through a Canadian college.
Students who are keen to join a university program but feel they may lack the foundational language skills sufficient to excel in an English language university setting might opt for a “university exploration program.” These programs are relatively common among ESL/EAL students.
Students who don’t quite meet course requirements for university or feel they need to ease themselves into post-secondary education might choose a “university preparation course.” These programs let students dip their toes in the water, so to speak, rather than diving in head-first.
Finally, “bridging programs” are typically pertinent to prospective nursing students. They prepare students for a university-level Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) by introducing them to nursing-specific topics and a deeper focus on science.
All of these college-led programs require a high school diploma. They all require a grade 12 English credit, alongside other program-specific course requirements. That said, if you are interested in a pre-university program at a post-secondary institution but lack the required high school courses, consider OES. Our flexible, fast and convenient courses let you complete the necessary requirements while you tend to life’s other obligations.
And if you’re unsure what program to apply for, check out our helpful guide on how to choose the right university or college.
Pre-University at an Online School: U-Level Courses and M-Level Courses
Some students know they want to go to university after high school. Understandably, they want to fast-track their eligibility, acceptance and enrollment so they can hit the ground running once grade 12 finishes.
For these students, pre-university college programs might not make sense. Instead, these students can prepare for university by taking U- and M-level courses at an accredited online high school as part of their senior year. (Eager students might even work ahead to grade 12 U/M courses in prior years!)
As mentioned, U- and M-level courses introduce students to the skills, theoretical frameworks and applications they will encounter in a university course. Moreover, university admissions officers tend to favour these courses on transcripts, awarding them more weight than alternative course types.
At OES, we offer several U- and M-level courses for grade 12 students:
- SPH4U (Physics – Grade 12 – University): Take a rousing peek into some of the lofty theoretical concepts you can expect from university physics, from quantum mechanics to special relativity.
- ENG4U (English – Grade 12 – University): Analyze a challenging mixture of literary, graphic and multimedia texts, and focus on honing your creative and professional writing skills.
- MCV4U (Calculus and Vectors – Grade 12 – University) Tackle polynomial, sinusoidal, exponential, rational, and radical functions ahead of those intimidating university math courses.
- SBI4U (Biology – Grade 12 – University): Deepen your understanding of biological processes that rear their head in several life science fields in university.
- SNC4M (Science – Grade 12 – University/College): Refine your scientific investigation skills in this course intended to strengthen your understanding of concepts key to several post-secondary courses.
- BBB4M (International Business – Grade 12 – University/College): Get to business by learning about the global economy, international markets and effective business management before earning your BCom.
- And More…
Explore the “Our Courses” tab on the OES homepage to access course descriptions and outlines for all of our university preparation courses. If you have any questions, consult our FAQ page or reach out to us directly. Likewise, consider booking a free consultation with one of our expert academic advisors; then, join us for a one-on-one online workshop to decide what courses, post-secondary programs and careers you should consider.
The Outlier in Canada: Quebec, the CEGEP and Its Online Alternative
Lastly, no discussion of “pre-university in Canada” would be complete without explaining Quebec’s unique educational circumstances.
In Quebec, unlike the rest of Canada, high school ends with grade 11. Students wishing to attend university must complete a compulsory “pre-university” program or equivalent program to fill the gap between high school and university. For many Quebecois students, this means slogging through a CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel; translated as “General and Vocational College”) to make up the requisite credits. These CEGEP programs are two years long, containing courses equivalent to grade 12 elsewhere in the country, as well as courses equivalent to U- and M-level university prep courses.
But CEGEP isn’t the only option for university-bound Quebec students – and it certainly isn’t the most convenient. OES offers an accredited pre-university program for Quebec students that takes one year instead of two. Through the program, students can complete six pre-university courses with OES (Grade 12 U or M courses), 40 hours of community involvement and either an Ontario Literacy Course or Exam.
As with all our offerings, these courses are entirely flexible, self-paced and remote. You establish the load (part-time or full-time), dictate the tempo and complete your studies from wherever you are – whether it’s in Quebec, Ontario or abroad. We’ve built it to be agile enough to fit around your existing school or work schedules so you can start university faster and better prepared.
The Benefits of Preparing for University
Whichever path you take – whether it’s a college pre-university program, M and U courses online, or a dedicated CEGEP alternative program – you are going to start your university career on the right foot. Pre-university education allows you to:
- Stand out on your transcripts as you apply to various Canadian universities
- Familiarize yourself with the specific concepts you’ll encounter in a university classroom
- And hone the critical and investigative skills you’ll need to excel in a theoretical education
Specifically, readying yourself for university by taking online courses can be particularly fruitful. Taking OES’ online U and M courses or CEGEP alternative program has further benefits:
- Our courses prepare students for the future of education by familiarizing them with online communication, digital education platforms, etc. Ten years ago, tech fluency was an asset at universities; now, it’s practically a requirement.
- Our self-paced courses instill valuable soft skills like effective time management and self-motivation. These soft skills serve students well in their post-secondary careers as they learn to structure their own time and manage their own sense of motivation without a high school teacher nearby to tell them what to do.
- Our flexible courses allow students to take necessary prerequisites and university prep courses as they do other things. While taking OES courses, you can allocate time for university applications, work and/or volunteer experience (which looks great on an application), upgrade courses (to improve the marks on your transcript), and more. These are opportunities not traditionally afforded to students at a brick-and-mortar school.
- You can complete OES courses as quickly as you want. If you need to complete a pre-university course on a tight turnaround, our innovatively structured self-paced courses allow you to do so.
- We offer layers of support for our students. You will receive one-on-one support from expert instructors to ensure you grasp each unit’s finer points. And if you have questions at an odd hour, you can access our 24/7 online tutoring support. These robust support systems help ensure that your grades adequately reflect your capabilities and motivation – setting the stage for what is hopefully a winning transcript that will land you admission to your dream university.
If you have your sights set on a competitive university program, we hope that you will consider OES as a means to achieve your goals.
Preparing for the Preparation: Getting Ready for Pre-University Courses
Lastly, let’s discuss how you can get ready for your pre-university courses. We understand that it may sound silly to prepare for a preparation, but bear with us. Even pre-university courses meant to bridge the gap in expectations can feel like a considerable leap forward for high school students in terms of difficulty and demandingness. Being prepared nets you the best possible chance of success.
Before you start your U/M grade 12 courses or CEGEP alternative, consider the following:
- Flex your time management skills: rigorous courses require time and attention. To use your time effectively, plot your unit studies, exams and assignments onto a long-term schedule to stay on pace. Then, work on your short-term time management methods to reduce procrastination.
- Adopt strategies to avoid burnout: balance your online studies and mental health by a) leaving wiggle room in your schedule for rest and leisure activities, b) taking care of your basic needs, like sleep, diet and physical activity, and c) consulting with professionals if stress begins affecting your overall mood or concentration.
- Craft goals: goal-setting can help you stay motivated throughout challenging pre-university courses. Your goals can be high-level (“I want an 85% or higher in this course”) or granular (“I will ask my instructors for help every time I don’t understand something”). It’s entirely up to you to decide.
Hopefully, this guide to pre university programs in Canada has helped you feel more confident about your future academic career. Always remember that you have options. There’s more than one way to enter a university. If you try your hardest, take the time you need, and display resiliency in the face of setbacks, you should land in a program you enjoy.
The Benefits of Online Learning vs Classroom Learning: What's Right for You