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College Admissions in America v. Canada
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November 11, 2010, 02:26 PM
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Here`s an article from the Toronto Star that got me wondering about something else:
Asian Students Suffering for Success

Long admired for raising academic superstars, parents of Asian background are coming under fire from their own community for pushing their children into university programs for which many have no real interest or talent and often quit in distress.

At a recent conference hosted by and for the [Greater Toronto Area’s] Asian community, Chinese-Canadian educators and professionals warned some 300 parents in Mandarin, Cantonese and English to stop giving their children no other choice than professional courses such as engineering, medicine, accounting or pharmacy — programs for which some are so ill-equipped and uninterested they drop out, fail, get suspended for cheating or suffer depression and acute anxiety.

This is the kind of article that you`d read in Los Angeles back in the 1970s: "Mellow Out, Chinese Dudes."

Since then, however, American parents in LA have largely decided that 1400 years of Chinese test prep (the first Chinese civil service exams were held in 605 A.D.) can`t be wrong, and have since switched their tunes to the Chinese one: getting into a fancy college is the most important thing ever.

But that Canadians are just now finally getting around to this raises a different question, one about differences between America and Canada. Granted, I don`t know very much about Canada. Most of the time I`ve spent in Canada was in Holiday Inn Crowne Plazas, but I can say that Canada looked a lot like America (or at least its Crowne Plazas did). The main difference I noticed on business trips in the 1990s was that everybody drove around during the day with their headlights on, like they were on their way to some national funeral. "Did Wayne Gretzky die?" I asked, but it just turned out to be a safety regulation.

Anyway, my point is that because America and Canada are so similar, it`s interesting when they differ, especially when they differ in something that we Americans assume is just an inevitability of 21st Century life, like College Admissions Mania. In 2010, Chinese immigrants in LA and Toronto apparently feel the same way about getting into college, but Americans and Canadians evidently don`t.

I just realized that I have no idea if Canadians get all worked up over getting into college the way Americans do.

If Canadians do, you sure don`t hear about it much. Off the top of my head, I can name all of four colleges in Canada (Simon Fraser, McGill, U. of Toronto, and U. of Western Ontario). I guess that Canadian colleges must not employ the vast number of publicists and promoters that American colleges do. For example, to pick small liberal arts college at random, Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA has an Admissions Staff of 13, while Grinnell College in Iowa (1600 students) has an Admissions staff of 19. They spend the first few months of the year reading applications, but most of the rest of the year promoting their respective colleges.

To an American by now, that just seems like the natural order of things. How can you have a modern civilization of Holiday Inn Crowne Plazas and automobile safety regulators without having a vast pyramid of increasingly exclusive colleges all expensively elbowing each other for the spotlight?

But, does it seem inevitable to a Canadian? The only thing I`ve ever read about college admissions in Canada was a Malcolm Gladwell article about his own extremely low-key experience getting into college, which made Canada in the 1980s sound like America in a Heinlein novel in the 1950s: You know, when it`s Labor Day Weekend and the 18-year-old hero of the book still hasn`t decided where he`s going to go to college: "I don`t know, I guess I`ll take the bus down to State U. on Tuesday and register for some classes."

So, if you know anything about college admissions in Canada, please let me know.