Applications to Ontario universities rise for fall 2021, preliminary figures show

Applications to Ontario universities, for fall 2021, have risen over the previous one-year period, with a noticeable increase in the number of applicants not coming from high schools, according to preliminary figures.

It's not secondary school students fuelling the rise, according to the OUAC

Heather Lane, executive director of the Ontario Universities Application Center, says it can only speculate why there is an increase in the 'non-secondary' school category. 'We don't know if that's because there's more people out of work because of COVID.' (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Applications to Ontario universities, for fall 2021, have risen by tens of thousands over the previous one-year period, according to preliminary figures.

From April 2020 to April 2021, the total number of applications is 701,853, according to the Ontario University Application Centre (OUAC) in Guelph.

There's a noticeable increase in the number of applications by people not coming right out of high school, by 20,000, double the number in 2012. 

The centre separates the applicants into two categories and includes this breakdown.

  • Secondary: A total of 479,422 ready to graduate from high school, an increase of about 11,000 from the one-year period starting in April 2019.
  • Non-secondary: A total of 222,431 mature students, transfers from colleges or other provinces, and international students.

Heather Lane, executive director of the OUAC, couldn't give a precise reason for the increase in applications.

"We don't know if that's because there's more people out of work because of COVID and they're deciding, 'Well, if I can't get a job, I might as well go and upgrade my skills and a degree,'" said Lane.

"Eventually we're going to come out of the other end of this, and you don't want to be sitting waiting for that."

The 'secondary' statistics show the number of students graduating from an Ontario high school who have applied to university by the April 2021 deadline. The non-secondary stat includes mature students, transfers from college, or other provinces and international students. (Submitted by

Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo also has taken notice of the applications rise.

COVID-19 doesn't seem to be deterrent

Kelly Gallagher-Mackay, a liberal arts assistant professor, said she thought the emphasis on online learning because of COVID-19 might prompt people to turn away from university.

"We're seeing an increase in both students going straight out of secondary school and into post-secondary, and more significantly, a big jump in the number of students who are going into university who've already been in the work world or doing something else," said Gallagher-Mackay.

She's not sure why that's the case, but asks: "Is it because the economy is so bad that people see the need to reskill, or is it because this is a real opportunity or people recognize the need for sort of, I would say, a flexible set of skills to be prepared for whatever comes ahead?"

In February, both Laurier and the University of Waterloo reported an increase in people applying for grad school, including to pursue a master's degree or PhD.

The University of Waterloo reported applications were up 17 per cent, compared to the average received in the last three years.

The final number of applications for fall classes will be released in June, when students confirm which post-secondary school they'll be attending.

CBC K-W reached out to the Ontario College Application Service for a comment on their enrolment statistics, but hadn't receive a response as of publication.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?