The beginning of June is an exciting time for Grade 12 students in Ontario. The first of the month marks the final day they are able to accept an offer to a university program and the beginning of the end of high school starts to feel real.
For future Marauders, June 1 is also the deadline for applying to residence. Students with academic averages above a certain point, 83.33 per cent for the 2017-18 school year, are guaranteed a spot in on-campus accommodation for their first year. Those with averages below this point are also welcome to apply. They are not assured a place in residence and may spend a large portion of the summer before beginning university in housing limbo: unsure of whether or not to sign a lease or take a gamble that they will make it to the top of the residence waiting list.
There are several reasons why this is a poor, outdated system, but many of these shortcomings are intertwined.
In order for these initiatives to have some gravitas on campus, the university needs to acknowledge, right from the beginning of a student’s first year, that they are worth more to McMaster as an institution than a student number and a grade point average.
As instances of mental illness and stress levels related to academics continue to rise, slogans about how students are more than their academic performance appear in support spaces from online communities to campus services. Multiple McMaster Students Union services, including the Student Health Education Centre and MSU Spark, lead initiatives that encourage students to have a balanced lifestyle that includes schoolwork, but not at the exclusion of everything else.
Currently, McMaster sends the opposite message for the arts faculties, Humanities and Social Sciences, along with Biotechnology and Process Automation. These are the only first year programs that admit students with academic averages below the 83.33 required for guaranteed residence. Other programs have acceptance averages around the residence cutoff, but none are clearly below that point.
For reference, Humanities and Social Sciences require a 75 per cent average. Process Automation and Biotechnology each require a 78. These are completely respectable averages that students need to work hard to achieve.
By granting these students admission, but not guaranteeing them residence, the university sends the message that it values these students, but not as much as someone with a slightly higher GPA. For arts students, this message coupled with the newly opened L.R. Wilson Hall and the revamping of the Faculty of Humanities brand sends a confusing message to incoming students about how much McMaster actually cares about what they have to offer the campus community.
This system of “who’s-in-who’s-out” of residence can be equally uncomfortable for those relatively few first-year students from these programs who do end up in on-campus housing. I lived in Les Prince Hall in my first year, and I think I can name almost all the other arts students in my building. In a building of almost 400 students, there were that few of us. It was one of the reasons I was never comfortable in residence, and if I could do my first year over knowing that I would be one of so few Humanities I students in my residence, I would likely have considered other options more carefully.
Basing a first year’s projected university success on their high school marks is about as relevant to their deservingness of a residence space as household income.
The structures of high school and university education are different. Students who flourished in high school may burn out in university, while those with less impressive averages may flourish in the post-secondary environment. Basing a first year’s projected university success on their high school marks is about as relevant to their deservingness of a residence space as household income.
The irksome thing about McMaster’s current residence admission policy is how easy it is to fix. Currently, McMaster cannot guarantee every interested student a spot in residence; something the university is working on with the construction of the Living Learning Centre and other residence initiatives.
Until then, instead of having an entire system based on high school GPA, all incoming first years interested in residence could be entered in a lottery for residence space. If the university wanted to continue some kind of “reward” for students with higher averages, they could be guaranteed their first or second choice room style.
High school students should be rewarded for the hard work they put into their final year of studies prior to post-secondary education. But none should feel like their admission to McMaster has less merit than someone else’s.