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U of T’s high-tech recruitment strategy is yielding more top-notch applicants

A growing number of Ontario high school students are making U of T their first choice for university, and university officials are crediting a new strategy for communicating with prospective students for the boost.

First-choice applications from Ontario high school students across all U of T first-entry programs have risen 15 per cent in the past three years – more than twice as fast as the provincial average. International applications to U of T have also shot up – by 40 per cent.

Among the very best applicants, the university has fared even better. While 15 per cent of all Ontario high school students apply to U of T, 22 per cent of graduates with an average of 95 or higher make U of T one of their top choices.

Jill Matus, vice-provost, students, says the improved results stem in part from a strategy that emphasizes U of T’s institutional strengths, harnesses new technologies and targets top achievers. “We’re less interested in the sheer volume of applications,” she says. “We want excellent students who are keen to engage with all that U of T has to offer.”

The university has traditionally relied on printed brochures such as the “viewbook” (a publication universities use for recruitment) to tell prospective students about U of T, but in recent years has invested heavily in an online interactive presence, and has begun using social media. Last year, Matus’s office created a web portal for potential students. By logging in with a university-provided password, U of T applicants can access information particular to their interests, including videos that explain student aid, how the admissions process works and how to select a residence. They can also see what other applicants are saying about U of T. More than 59,000 prospective students logged into the portal since it was introduced in January.

A complementary website, “Discover U of T,” provides a broader overview of the university and highlights U of T’s distinct advantages: its extracurricular and academic breadth; its highly accomplished alumni; and its location in a multicultural urban centre, with three distinct campuses.

These strengths are highlighted in both the Canadian and international editions of the viewbook, which last year included a nod to a new technological trend: augmented reality. The cover features a “quick response” code. When you hold up the cover in front of a computer’s webcam, the code launches a video of writer Malcolm Gladwell (BA 1984 TRIN). He speaks about his experience at U of T and how it influenced his way of researching problems and his journalistic style: “I think I got my approach in university,” he says.

The purpose of the augmented-reality experience was twofold, says Matus: to engage a well-known grad to demonstrate the value of a U of T degree; and to use new technology to pique students’ interest. “It helps put U of T at the forefront,” she says.

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