CEGEP is generally the last program into which Quebec students enter that comprises mostly general education; thereafter, their paths start to differ significantly. As such, it’s best to have an idea of the path you want to pursue in university as you start to become an adult. Although we do not recommend chasing admission into certain programs for the sake of prestige, we have compiled a list of the 5 most competitive programs or types of universities to which CEGEP students can apply, in order to facilitate students’ introspection and planning by giving a rundown of the characteristics and requirements for each one.
Why these programs?
The five categories of programs we have chosen to cover may seem like fairly arbitrary choices at first, but there is an underlying logic. In the rest of Canada and in the United States, high school students must apply to study an undergraduate bachelor’s degree, and can only later move onto professional degree-granting schools like medical and law schools (with a few exceptions). On the other hand, CEGEP students can apply both to undergraduate programs offering traditional bachelor’s degrees (in Arts, Science, etc.), and to professional schools which grant bachelor’s degrees (e.g. LL.B.) or undergraduate doctorates (e.g. M.D.) allowing graduates to practice a profession, such as law, medicine or dentistry, which is regulated by a professional order and generally leads to the direct and relatively easy obtention of a job.
Because of this, we chose to cover only two categories of universities offering bachelor’s degrees: top colleges in the United States (e.g. Harvard, Stanford, MIT), and leading universities in the United Kingdom (e.g. Oxford, Cambridge). Although we do not heavily rely on rankings, they are indicative to the point to which universities in those two countries hold the lead in education worldwide, far outclassing the best Canadian universities like McGill and UofT, to the extent that students are highly unlikely to ever choose McGill over one of those universities for a bachelor’s degree if given the choice.
Additionally, we have chosen to include Quebec programs in Medicine, Dentistry and Law since they lead to a professional diploma much faster than studying abroad for an undergraduate degree, then going to professional school, would. At McGill, these three programs are the only ones requiring a CV, personal narrative/statement and interview for CEGEP students, which conveys how they are one cut above other professional programs (e.g. Physical Therapy). Additionally, they lead to relatively well-paid, stable, and respected careers.
At RScology, we consider Medicine to be the path of least resistance: students only need to be qualified, not extraordinary, to be admitted, and have a predetermined path which is easy to follow. Physicians have an enormous amount of sympathy capital from the general population: as the cliché goes, they are associated with “saving lives”. In 2016, family physicians had the 4th most respected profession in Quebec, with 94% of the population trusting them, with specialist physicians not far behind in 8th place and deserving the trust of 92% of the population. The job also pays well: as of 2014, physicians in Quebec earned an average of $265,000 per year, while certain specialties, such as radiology, averaged as much as $630,000 yearly.
The nature of medicine is not purely scientific: the “art” of medicine blends hard facts with the uncertainty of human interaction, which we will soon is reflected in admissions. The profession allows for an incredible variety in the nature and environment of day-to-day work, from large teaching hospitals to community hospitals and small clinics. The weekly workload varies depending on the specialty, but is generally around 50 to 60 hours per week. Contrary to popular perception, physician responsibilities extend far beyond just patient care, further including teaching, research, administrative tasks, paperwork, and management of practices.
There are four universities in Quebec with a medical school: McGill University, Université de Montréal (UdeM), Université Laval (UL), and Université de Sherbrooke (UdeS). That order roughly corresponds to their decreasing order of reputation; however, at RScology, we seek to deemphasize the idea that getting into, say, McGill is a significantly better outcome than any other university. While curricula and research opportunities vary, they all lead to the same Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) diploma, and residency programs do not give much of an advantage to graduates of their own medical schools, and it is possible to enter competitive specialties at any university from any of the four medical schools. Further, because medical certification is standardized and technically oriented, the difference in reputation between schools is lesser than in “softer” fields like law.
However, medical training is long and arduous. Depending on the university, students finish medical school 4 or 5 years after graduating from CEGEP, and then move onto a residency program anywhere in Canada or in the United States which lasts 2 to 6 years. For some residencies, physicians then complete a fellowship program of about 2 years.
Straight out of CEGEP, medical schools require an R-Score of at least 33 in practice, with 34-35+ being needed to have a solid shot. French universities consider only the student’s R-Score and interview score at a weight around 50%/50%, which makes it such that an R-Score above 36 practically guarantees admission. On the other hand, McGill considers the applicant’s R-Score, CV and PN before even granting an interview, and then decides admission based solely on the interview score. Unlike other program categories such as US colleges, it is not necessary to be a one-of-a-kind applicant by having absolutely unique CV activities on one’s application, even at McGill. Rather, it is more about conveying an interesting and thoughful persona through the CVPN and the interview. All medical schools use Multiple Mini-Interviews (MMIs), which mainly test for social and emotional intelligence.
Dentistry, as a profession, shares many parallels with medicine: it is similarly hard to gain admission to (though it is marginally easier), and is well-paid and relatively respected, though not to the extent of medicine. The lifestyle is generally more laid-back than for medicine, since it only requires 4-5 years of studying after CEGEP to practice general dentistry, and allows for working either in one’s own clinic (thus leveraging business skills) or someone else’s, usually with flexible and regular hours, in contrast to the on-call emergencies experienced by physicians.
There are three universities in Quebec with a dental school: McGill University, Université de Montréal (UdeM) and Université Laval (UL). McGill’s program combines a preparatory year composed of fundamental science and general education classes with 4 years of dental school. In contrast, UdeM’s program also lasts 5 years, but spreads out dental school over the entire period, omitting the preparatory year. In another variation, UL’s program consists of only 4 years of dental school with no preparatory year, saving a year compared to the other two schools.
At UdeM, admission is based 60% on R-Score and 40% on the TECT (an online version of the Multiple Mini Interviews). Similarly, UL considers both the R-Score and a traditional in-person interview. Although it is possible to get in with a lower R-Score, it is best to aim for an R-Score above 34. For UdeM and UL, it is also necessary to take the manual and dexterity portion of the Dental Admission Test (DAT); your score is not factored into the admission criteria per se, but a certain minimum is required to demonstrate manual proficiency. While passing this is straightforward, it adds a substantial financial barrier to applying to French dental schools, given that the test costs about $400.
On the other hand, McGill’s admission process for dental school has no dexterity-based requirements. In fact, it’s practically identical to its Med-P application process, granting interviews based on the applicant’s R-Score, CV and personal narrative, and basing admission solely on interview performance. However, McGill’s Dent-P program is always easier to get into than Med-P: any given candidate will be more likely to get an interview for Dent-P than Med-P, and to get into Dent-P than Med-P post-interview. As for Med-P, admission to McGill Dent-P will be contingent on social and emotional skills.
Due to its selectiveness, national and international reputation and holistic admission criteria which differentiate it from other Quebec law schools, McGill’s law program is the only one to make it on our list. This 3.5-year program is most likely the most versatile undergraduate degree available in Quebec, not only qualifying graduates to take the Bar exam in Quebec, Ontario and the State of New York, among others, thus putting them on the path to becoming licensed lawyers, but also providing one of the best pedigrees for unrelated careers in business, finance or politics. It leads to the obtention of two degrees, the Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) and the Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.), allowing for the practice of both common and civil law; this kind of integrated program is unique to McGill among Canadian law schools.
While many CEGEP students believe law to be a path of a similar nature to medicine, the comparison is highly misguided. If anything, other less prestigious paths like pharmacy or physiotherapy are more similar to medicine in terms of outcomes, particularly in their stability and job security. In Quebec as elsewhere in Canada, the job market in law is considered to be in historically bad shape. Additionally, while health professions deal with hard science and thus allow for measurable standards of competence that are linked to the guarantee of a job, practicing law is fundamentally more abstract and rooted in the understanding of human interaction. For this reason and others, becoming a lawyer is not a clearly set-out path, and will thus be better suited to those who want to have flexibility and leverage creativity in their professional development.
The admissions process is somewhat comparable to McGill’s faculties of Medicine and Dentistry, with a few differences. McGill Law admissions are based on five factors: R-Score, a free-form CV (as opposed to the Med-P and Dent-P standardized CV), a 2-page personal statement, 2 letters of reference from CEGEP teachers and an in-person interview (not granted to all applicants). Admission is holistic, meaning that all five factors must be of a certain caliber for acceptance to be granted, such that a good R-Score cannot be the sole guarantor of admission.
When compared to McGill Med-P/Dent-P, McGill Law may provide an advantage to students with higher R-Scores and be more difficult to access for those with lower R-Scores. This is not because McGill Law weighs the R-Score more heavily when deciding to grant an interview, but rather because while McGill Med-P/Dent-P grant admission based solely on the interview score after granting one, McGill Law admissions officers instead review the entire file again after an interview, inevitably leading to a lower interview performance threshold for acceptance with a higher R-Score than a lower one.
In what is perhaps the most selective and unlikely path for admission from CEGEP, a handful of students each year are admitted and decided to enroll in a narrow set of selective US colleges, the most emblematic of which are the Ivy League. In fact, not all the best US schools are part of the Ivy League; the absolute top tier of these colleges is often agreed to be the “HYPSM” tier (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and MIT), of which only the first 3 are Ivy League schools.
Determining which colleges are the most prestigious is very subjective, but it can surely be agreed that all eight Ivy League universities (Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Penn, Dartmouth, Brown, Cornell), a handful of other universities (Stanford, MIT, Caltech, Duke) and a number of small liberal arts colleges (Amherst, Williams, Pomona) are to be counted among them.
These colleges are characterized by three main characteristics. Firstly, they have large endowments mostly funded by donations ($2.8 million per student at Princeton as opposed to $39,000 per student at McGill, which is about 700 times less), and thus have incredibly vast resources to spend on their students. Whereas Canadian universities often actively try to cut costs, highly-endowed US colleges instead look for ways to spend more to benefit students: for instance, Harvard has a program which promotes having students invite their professors to dinner by paying for both of their meals at a restaurant, which would be unheard of in Canada.
Secondly, they generally have strong liberal arts and general education programs, encouraging students to not only master a discipline but also acquire a broad base of knowledge.
Thirdly, they allow students to be surrounded and supported by both students and faculty who are among the most intelligent and qualified in the world, with all the opportunities for personal and professional development that that implies. They also have fantastic career outcomes, with on-campus recruitment to big Wall Street and consulting firms, as well as high admission rates for graduate and professional schools (e.g. 82-90% admission rate to medical school for Princeton undergrads).
While these colleges are often assumed among the general public to be very expensive and thus reserved for the elite, this is far from the truth. Almost all of these selective colleges do not give any scholarships based on academic or athletic merit, and rather award financial aid solely based on need, through an analysis of parents and students’ financial information. In other words, getting in is the hard part, rather than paying for it. As an example, 20% of Harvard students have household incomes under US$65,000 and pay nothing for tuition, housing, food and personal expenses.
As previously mentioned, these universities are by far the most competitive in terms of their holistic process (the only exception is that the interview does not matter as much). They generally take into account, in rough descending order of importance, your grades (not R-Score), extracurricular activities, test scores on the SAT and/or ACT standardized tests and application essays, and to a lesser extent, letters of reference, interview performance and SAT subject tests.
While the standardized tests might seem like the biggest difference from Canadian university admissions, that is not actually the case. Rather, the difference is in the much higher level expected from each criterion. A few years ago, a Harvard admissions officer revealed that 80% of valedictorians who apply are rejected, which is a level of selectiveness far above that of Med-P or any other Quebec program.
Additionally, while being the best at established extracurricular activities (e.g. being student council president) will make you competitive for top Canadian programs, this is not sufficient for US programs, where the nature of your activities and/or essays must be close to unique among the entire applicant pool to be admitted. Successful applicants have often completed a game-changing “capstone” personal project, such as founding a not-for-profit organization, writing a successful novel, or winning a major international competition. These achievements do not need to be closely linked to the intended field of study of the applicant.
The rarest of the five paths of higher education in terms of the number of CEGEP students who enroll per year, top UK universities carry as much gravitas and boast similar educational quality to the best US colleges. Two UK universities, Oxford and Cambridge (collectively “Oxbridge”), are among the world’s best-known, and several other schools (University College London, Imperial College London and London School of Economics, to name a few) also sport a world-class reputation.
In addition to having rich histories (Oxford is the oldest university in the English-speaking world, with teaching dating back to 1096), these universities have some unique characteristics, such as the tutorial system. As opposed to US colleges, financial aid is generally not available for international students, and tuition often exceeds $20,000/year.
We will not provide as many details regarding admission to these universities as we have for the others, because they vary by specific university to a greater degree. However, one key observation is that while US colleges consider a broad range of accomplishments (for example, an award-winning short story written by an aspiring engineer), UK universities place almost no value on extracurricular activities unless they are directly tied to the specific program to which the student is applying. Academics, however, are equally important, as are letters of reference. In addition, while the interview is a tiny factor of admission at US colleges, it can often make or break a UK university application.
For the purposes of this article, which is meant to provide a rough overview of the options available, certain details of admission (e.g. whether the McGill Medicine MMI counts for 100%) are simplified. For more details, please read the category-specific article if one is available.
What we haven’t covered
Due to their personalized nature, some key points related to this article would be best discussed in a one-on-one meeting with you. Those parts include:
- How to choose which of these paths to focus on if your interests are diverse and don’t clearly point to a single one;
- How to plan one or several projects which will be original enough to set yourself apart among the pool of US college applicants;
- How to craft compelling applications that best play out not only your achievements but also your character and personal qualities.