How badly does York University want Isabel Ng-Lai as a student? A York recruiter drove to her Scarborough high school this week to hand the Grade 12 super-star a juicy four-year $24,000 scholarship face to face.
With her principal and teacher giving high-fives and taking photos, Isabel also got the promise of a single room in the residence of her choice, a fistful of business cards with the direct lines of York officials and a red York sweatshirt, which the teen with the 93.5 per cent average zipped on right there in the guidance office of Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School.
“I’m really excited; this shows how much the university actually cares; the person-to-person touch is a great idea,” said the 19-year-old, who has been courted by universities as much for starting a charity that has raised $7,000 for a school in India, as she has for top marks in courses that include calculus.
In truth, Isabel has already accepted York’s offer to a spot in its prestigious Schulich School of Business. But visiting blue-chip candidates at their high school to present scholarships is one way York has upped its game in the race for top students.
“There’s no question it’s getting more competitive, with the shrinking demographic of high school students and community colleges taking more of the pool,” said recruitment director Ken Withers. “Every university is probably calling these top students and saying nice things, so a personal visit means the student now has met someone face-to-face they know they can call.”
The University of Waterloo has professors write letters — with pen and paper, not email — to top applicants to their faculties, noted Tina Roberts, director of undergraduate recruitment, who said this personal touch pays off.
“Society has become very brand-conscious and students expect much more customer service from universities — from application apps for their smartphones to special lounges for parents.”
While many universities sweeten their scholarship pot, Ryerson University and the University of Western Ontario are among those who court high-achievers with the promise of an exclusive inner circle “where membership has its privileges — mentoring, advising, invitations to networking events with the president,” said Ryerson spokesperson Ruth Abbott.
“It’s not just about the big lump sum,” added Charmaine Hack, Ryerson’s director of admissions and recruitment. “But every university wants to attract the top students, and that starts now.”
How some schools woo students:
• University of Waterloo holds a special event in May for students to whom it has made offers, with the slogan “You’re In!” on T-shirts, stickers and even cupcakes. Some 5,000 students and parents show up; half are still undecided.
• Brock University stuffed confetti into its offers of admission last year.
• College Boreale in Sudbury sent its offers in the form of a packing box this year that says, in French: “Get packing; you’re going to college!” Last year it sent the letters on T-shirts, a marketing trick that won an international award.
• Western has doubled the number of lofty scholarships offered to top students and beefed up their dollar value as well, said vice-provost John Doerksen. It also lets the very top students draw up their own timetable with extra courses and mentors. “It’s about more than just money; it’s about offering enriched learning experience.”
Fanshawe College offered a contest to students who accepted an offer by February, with the prize of free tuition and residence, school supplies, a gym membership and a free date night at the fancy campus restaurant.