Campus Visit Notes: University of British Columbia (Canada)

College:  University of British Columbia

Location: Vancouver, BC Canada

Type of Institution: Research university

Size: 41,000 undergraduates. 50,000+ including graduate students

Admissions Advice: UBC, like most Canadian universities, has a very numbers-centric admissions process. They focus mostly on GPA, standardized test scores, and rigor of a student’s high school curriculum. Admission requirements and standards vary from major to major, so it is crucial that students research those requirements before applying.

Most popular majors: Biology, Psychology, English, Commerce (Business)

Words to describe students I met: Cosmopolitan, independent, diverse, outdoorsy, self-motivated

Unique academic aspects: My excellent tour guide was very open about the average class sizes and the struggles to keep students engaged in their education in such large lectures. The average class size for freshman is 150 students, which is of course broken down into smaller tutorial/lab sections led by teaching assistants. To help track attendance and engagement in the large classes, professors use “i-clickers”. They can display questions or polls on the big screen and students then click in a response which is aggregated and displayed on the screen in a bar chart. This can often help guide the direction of the lecture and is a great way of keeping track of who is in class and who doesn’t show throughout the course.

University of British Columbia also has an excellent reputation for its co-operative education (co-op) programs. Students across all disciplines, including humanities, can do research or internships during their undergraduate experience for academic credit and for pay. This is much more common in Canadian schools in general, but is catching on a bit more in the US, particularly for STEM students.

Unique social/cultural aspects: UBC is a true melting pot of cultures and backgrounds. More than 21% of the students on the Vancouver campus are from abroad, and those from Canada represent many diverse cultural identities. It is a really remarkable place and great for students who want that international flair but don’t want to travel far.

I was also pleased to learn that on-campus housing is guaranteed for freshman year, and there are beds for 11,000 students on campus. I toured some of the dorms and met with two different resident assistants. They are serious about building community on campus and helping students to connect to each other (and to the university itself) during that first year.

Colleges that seem similar:  University of California-Berkeley, University of Washington – Seattle, University of California- Los Angeles,  other Canadian universities

Concerns about this college: University of British Columbia is a true research university. The college is proud of its research funding, projects, and the companies that have spun off from these academic ventures. However, I was surprised to learn that UBC still only receives half of what the University of Washington receives in research dollars each year and has nearly double the student population. This leaves me with some concerns about how this funding trickles down to undergraduates or how accessible these opportunities are for students in general.

Overall impressions: I enjoyed my visit to this campus, which is one of the largest universities I have ever visited (aside from Arizona State & Ohio State). UBC’s location perched along the waterfront is truly beautiful, and it is still close enough for students to enjoy the downtown Vancouver city life about a 20 minute bus ride away. As with any large university, it takes a student with maturity and independence to do well on this campus and to not get lost in the mix. And it is a fantastic option for budget-conscious families as the total cost of attendance for international students is around $36,000 USD per year.


Campus Visit Notes: Quest University

College:  Quest University –

Location: Squamish, British Columbia (Canada)

Type of Institution: Private liberal arts college

Size: 700 students, undergraduate only

Admissions Advice: Quest University is all about fit. While they are seeking students who can handle a rigorous curriculum and have excelled in the classroom, they are also focusing on more inherent qualities and characteristics such as intellectual curiosity, motivation, and creativity. Quest requires an original piece of work in addition to a more traditional application. Students can submit artwork, films, science projects, written work, or even videos of themselves participating in favorite hobby.

Most popular majors: Well, there is only one! Every student graduates with a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences degree (BA&Sc).

Words to describe students I met: international, outdoorsy, hippie, cultured, alternative, intelligent, genuinely curious about the world, unique, self-motivated

Unique academic aspects: Quest University uses a Block Plan where students take one class at a time for a fairly intense 3.5 weeks total. There are 8 blocks per academic year and once one block is completed, students get a five-day weekend to explore the natural beauty of the Squamish area. I happened to visit during a block break and many students were off-campus skiing at Whistler or were enjoying city life in Vancouver, a short 45-minute drive from Quest.

The first two years of the curriculum focus on Foundation courses across a wide range of disciplines, while the second two years are self-designed around a student’s “Question”. With the support of a faculty member, students design their last two years of study to explore a topic of interest in great detail and complete a culminating project, thesis, research paper or other keystone piece in an attempt to answer that question. Some example topics include:

  • “How do we push our limits?” – An exploration of psychology and exercise physiology. Student is studying hormone levels in athletes during exercise. She is also simultaneously preparing for a physical therapy graduate program in the U.S.
  • “What is the best way to educate a child?” – A student dives into educational psychology and teaching methods. Part of this project involved working in four different types of classroom settings: Montessori, public school, Waldorf and private school.
  • “What is the role of empathy in medicine?” Student designed a survey and interviewed community members and healthcare leaders, coming up with a profile healthcare in her community.

Unique social/cultural aspects: Quest students are very unique and diverse, making this tiny college seem much larger and actually very reflective of the global community. About 50% of students are from Canada, 35% from the United States, and 15% from other countries throughout the world. Students are driven and many services and resources on campus are student-run, such as the communal garden and apiary.

Colleges that seem similar: There aren’t many quite like Quest! Colorado College uses the Block Plan and has some cultural overlap, while Evergreen State College and Western Washington’s Fairhaven College have some similarities to Quest as well.

Concerns about this college: Obviously with a college so small and so unique, students need to be sure before they enroll that this is a good academic and social fit for them. Quest tries to ensure fit by interviewing all potential students for admission, but there still are students who transfer out seeking a more traditional university experience.

Overall impressions:  This is probably one of the coolest colleges I have ever visited (and I’m currently at over 130 college campus visits). Though I picked an absolutely horrible rainy winter day for my visit, I still thoroughly enjoyed the beauty of the Squamish area and the charming little campus. The admissions staff and tour guides are beyond welcoming, and I am confident entering students would benefit from this support throughout their four years.

*Note: Thanks to Brad @ Quest for providing me with the sunny day photo above!