Best Private Schools: Upper Canada College

Caifu Magazine | by Alan Forsythe

20171220 Education 50

For starters, there is no debating the standard of education at any private school is superior to North American public schools, so it is no mystery why parents would want to avoid sending their children to public schools.

But the best private schools can afford to be selective. While entry is not as difficult as top universities, spaces in their classrooms are in high demand.

CAIFU talked with David McBride, vice president of Enrollment Management at perhaps Canada’s most selective private school, Upper Canada College in Toronto, about what it takes to gain entry and to be successful at their school.

“We work hard to be among the best. To start with we look at a student’s SST (Secondary School Admissions Test) for grades seven and up,” said McBride. Standardized test scores are important, but at the end of the day we’re looking at kids who bring a diversity of talent.”

Upper Canada College, he explained, at its boys-only institution has students from 24 countries among its 89 boarding students. The rest (approximately 600) are day students, who represent at total of 41 countries. The school offers an International Baccalaureate to those who successfully graduate grade 12.

“The International Baccalaureate is the academic gold standard. It’s recognized around the world, so of course academics are an important criteria for us when considering admissions,” said McBride. “We look at the last year and current year of study for a prospective student, and of course good grades across the board are required, but as I say, it’s about diversity, we want a well-rounded student who contributes to our school community.”

Upper Canada’s Admissions Process

McBride cautioned parents there is no surefire combination of sports, arts and academics. Each boy is judged individually and demonstrated genuine passion for a subject or activity is preferable to an impressive resume.

“Some parents think there’s a magic bullet; they think they can program kids, but there is no magic bullet. There is some over-programing of kids today, and I don’t think it’s healthy.”

McBride gave example of building this year’s grade nine class, which had 18 spots to fill.

“We interview the parents first, then the boy. The parents will tell us, he does this, and this, and this. Then we talk to boy about all of the activities he’s involved in, and usually he admits his parents make him do it. Even if he doesn’t, we see through that. What we want to see is commitment to something, what do they stick to? What’s something they do that they really want to do?”

“Right now we have a boy from China who’s passionate about Chinese opera,” McBride continued. “I interviewed him in Shanghai, and he sang for me. We don’t have an opera, but it was amazing. Now he sings every year at our Christmas dinner. The first time he got a standing ovation, that’s one of the things we have here, respect for diversity of interest. And for me it was a defining thing. I’ve been here six years, but that was a great moment.”

Learning Beyond the Classroom
McBride said it is important for students to try a lot of subjects and extracurricular activities to find their passion. He notes that Upper Canada College offers a great deal of opportunity to their students.
“We have 18 organized sports, nine bands, a Model United Nations and an arts program that encompasses (besides music) film, drama and fine arts,” McBride said. “I’ve offered to buy pieces from students in fine arts; we see some impressive work.”
“For drama we work with a girl’s private school in Toronto,” he continued. “We have a strong film program, and students take advantage of being in a major urban setting and often get their films shown at festivals. Our bands play all across North America; the arts are very prominent at our school.”

“Sports also play a role in creating a well-rounded student,” McBride added. Being active in at least one sport is mandatory at Upper Canada College.

Hockey is at the top of the list for many students who come to study in Canada. The school’s team in one of the best high school teams in the country.

“Most of the players on the hockey team are from Toronto or Montreal,” McBride noted. “We have one Russian.”

“But it’s not all hockey,” he continued. We have [American] football, and there is a boy from Brazil playing on the varsity football team, and he never played [American] football before coming here. We also have a cricket team. Boys from South Africa and Pakistan tend to dominate there. But as I say, we have 18 sports, there is something for everyone. Everybody can find his place here and develop his passion.”

Connections for Life

The outcome for students who gain admission to Upper Canada College is a 100 percent university placement rate.

“We have a university councillor who helps families through process as they near graduation. But also, as an IB school it pushes kids to think big picture, not so much subject by subject but as a whole and make those connections in academics.”

“In year 11, boys write a 4,000 word research paper,” McBride explained. “To me it’s fascinating that kids in high school are writing major papers, often times longer than what they will write in university.”

McBride said students who attend Upper Canada College also benefit from a strong alumni network.

For example, he explained that students are exposed to mentorships they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. Such as a boy who was admitted to a medical program at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario last year.

“It helped to for him to have a mentorship from an Old Boy who is now a doctor, who we paired him up with.”

McBride stressed the relationships boys develop at Upper Canada College are perhaps its greatest asset.

“As kids move on that’s important, those connections made here last for life.”