Canada's young get campus bug early

October 18, 2002

Thirteen-year-old Maddie Gordon first thought of going to university when she was ten. She is not the only one. The fingers flipping through university ranking magazines are getting smaller as Canadians choose university education at an increasingly early age.

Most 14-year-olds have already decided that university life is for them. But children as young as nine dream of campus life, according to figures from the Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

The figures reveal that 47.5 per cent of ten to 14-year-olds have decided they will go to university, while 14.7 per cent of children aged nine or younger have come to the same conclusion.

Maddie, a grade-nine student from Kingston, Ontario, was at an ice hockey tournament when some of the coaches told her about the impressive sports programmes at certain US colleges. "I was excited because I really love hockey," she said.

Since then, she has given her future more thought and now wants to be a paediatrician and study at the University of Alberta.

Her friends Meghan Gordon (no relation) and Lauren Hogeboom, both 14, also have university in mind. Meghan, who says she loves kids, wants to study early childhood education, perhaps at a college. Her mother does not want her to study in Peterborough, a couple of hours away. With typical adolescent defiance, she is determined to go there. Lauren wants to study nursing at McGill University. Her sister's friend and her father have spoken highly of the institution and she has checked its status in Maclean 's annual rankings.

Canadian children may be feeling increased pressure to choose their university at a young age. Rising enrolments and a double cohort of students from Ontario, which is phasing out grade 13 this year, have raised the average entrance grade by 3 per cent. Many parents, worried about guaranteeing a premium place, are getting their kids to focus on their futures early.

Some of those providing guidance at high school are trying to change that, drawing students' attention to other paths that may be more appropriate to their skills, such as college or vocational education.

Phil Hedges, president of the Ontario School Counsellors' Association, said: "I worry a lot more about those kids in grade nine who have a clear path than those who say 'I don't know what I want to do'."

He said some students would be pressured by their parents to make an early decision that was not founded on sound reasons.

Although she feels the pressure from her mother to pursue science, Lauren said she has been given a lot of free range to explore. "She says it's up to me what I want to do." With her first day of university still four years away, she has been thinking that she may switch from nursing to industrial design.

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