As an aspiring crime novelist, Aggy McKay knew full well what she wanted to get out of Queen’s University’s Seven Eight Enrichment Days (SEEDS) this year.
The program, designed to give Grade 7 and 8 students a taste of university life, appealed to the 13-year-old’s career aspirations, and led to her taking courses in both writing and pathology.
But while the two courses, spread over spring and summer, helped to reinforce her ultimate dream of becoming a writer, the Kingston native was caught somewhat off-guard by university life at her hometown campus.
“[The classes] were a lot more in depth than the lessons at school because they were just about one topic,” she says. “The first day we couldn’t find the right room, so it was a bit of a maze. I took away from that to always know where you’re going in university.”
Currently attending Module Vanier School in Kingston, Aggy hasn’t yet decided where she wants to attend university, though she has a few years to make up her mind.
In its 32nd year of existence, the Queen’s enrichment studies unit started the program to provide opportunities for local students. Offering both residence and commuter options, with differing price points, the program offers academic instruction and a chance to experience extracurricular activities, both on-campus and around Kingston. The university also offers a program for Grade 8 to 12 students called Summer Enrichment Experience @ Queen’s (SEEQ).
“The goal of the program is to introduce students to the wide variety of options that are available to them after their high-school career,” says Tracey Mallen, manager of the enrichment studies unit. “It’s an opportunity for them to use resources, perform experiments in different learning spaces that wouldn’t be available to them in their regular home schools.”
With small class sizes of between 24-30 participants, and instruction from Queen’s faculty, students and local experts, students get between three and five days of insight into postsecondary academics, depending on the age of the students.
In addition, program staff members are all Queen’s undergraduates who are happy to act as mentors to the high-school students, giving them an accurate depiction of university life and the many faculties available.
“We offer what we call a complete university experience,” Ms. Mallen says.
Other universities are also investing in programming aimed at future undergraduates.
At the University of British Columbia, the Future Global Leaders course has grown from 33 high-school students four years ago to almost 800 this year.
The original intention of the program was as an international course, and to begin with, the students came mostly from Japan. Now the program aims for a third of its enrolment from Canada, a third from China and then a third from other countries, a component that has reached more than 40 countries this year.
Don Black, the director of community programs for UBC’s extended learning department, says most of the students are 16, and are ready to start to consider what and where they want to study during university.
“For many it’s the first time they’ve been away from their parents for an extended period of time,” he says. “We use the tagline, ‘Your future starts here,’ and it’s actually true, because at 16 you’re starting to think about university.”
Students in the course choose from 28 academic courses, and there are English courses for students whose language skills aren’t quite good enough to participate in the academic program.
The choices are wide and varied, with subjects such as “A Global Approach to City Making,” and “Forensic Anthropology: Identifying The Dead,” to more basic courses such as “Preparing for University Success.”
Much like at Queen’s, a combination of faculty and affiliated instructors lead the classes.
“Some of the professors are quite remarkable, actually,” Mr. Black says. “We’ve got one prof in there, who’s probably one of the Top 10 political scientists in the world, teaching 16-year-olds.”
One of the important facets of the Future Global Leaders program is not just to get students to think about university and subject choices, but to get them to think about life beyond the campus.
UBC offers courses that discuss topics such as civil society, volunteerism, indigenous awareness and climate change.
“We try to give that academic experience in the classroom,” Mr. Black says, "and give some thought to what life is going to look like after university and what your role and contribution is in that space, as well.”
In its second year, McGill University’s Summer Academy is in high demand and is designed to appeal to students who are thinking about choosing the second-oldest university in Canada. The 104 spots available for this year’s two-week course were fully booked in less than 15 minutes.
Jennifer Peterman, senior manager of global undergraduate recruitment and admissions, says one of the purposes behind the course is to dispel any stereotypes, particularly among international students.
“A lot of students think because we’re in Montreal you have to be French and that it’s minus 30 all the time here,” she says.
While the academic side is broken into a neuroscience-based course or a social sciences-based course around humanitarian crisis and international co-operation, McGill offers a series of workshops based around building an admissions application or how to use a university library.
And though the academic side is important, increasingly those running the course are realizing that there is room for growth.
“This is a great experience to highlight that transition between high school and university,” Ms. Peterman says. It allows students to test: “Can I live on my own, can I live with a roommate?”
Thirty per cent of the academy’s student body comes from abroad. This year’s academy program featured students from 19 countries, including Ecuador, South Korea and France.
“So it’s a really good sampling,” Ms. Peterman says, “like a microcosm of what it’s like to come to McGill.”