Do you wonder what should go in your university application package? The first place to look is your program’s web page on the institution’s website. Comprehensive research on the qualities that are considered to be desirable by your program’s admissions committee can prove to be very rewarding in the long run. To help with that, consider the Three Program Matrix to help you understand the type of candidate your program considers ideal.                                               

Most university programs send signals regarding the types of characteristics they appreciate in students. In that regard, university programs fall into one of three categories: Direct, Covert, and Well-Rounded.


These schools will highlight straightforward character traits that you can use to structure your application. Ideally, you would want to insert experiences that directly demonstrate the qualities sought by the program.

Example #1 – University of Toronto Engineering School’s admissions page explicitly states it would be most interested in candidates who have demonstrated leadership and dedication. If you are a high school applicant, this may include leading a student club in your school or excelling in a sport or hobby that requires persistent practice.

Example #2 – Ryerson University’s Bachelor of Commerce in Business Management program explicitly states that it only selects students based on grades. Thus, students with academic achievements are weighed more heavily than extracurricular experience, so focus on academics.


While these schools will avoid overtly mentioning any desirable characteristics, you could still uncover them through some research. For instance, you can discover that your program is aggressively marketing a particular initiative or department (something like an incubator for start-ups or a new program major), or you could research the types of activities that the program considers to be a “highlight.” This will help you infer the qualities that the school will expect from candidates.

Example #1 – The admissions page of the BBA program at Wilfrid Laurier University does not explicitly define the type of candidates it finds desirable. However, the program highlights mostly focus on participation in various case competitions within the program. Thus, it is possible to infer that the program seeks students who possess characteristics that will allow them to do well in such competitions. This means applicants may want to demonstrate that they are able to work well in groups and that they have participated in high school-level competitions, such as DECA.


This category of schools, and the one most candidates struggle with, contains schools looking for the proverbial “well-rounded student.” The program will often mention many characteristics that are considered desirable, or will simply state that it is looking for students who are well-rounded, complete, or someone who can be “the leader of tomorrow.”

Example #1 – Both the BBA program at York University’s Schulich School of Business and the Engineering program at the University of Waterloo mention that they seek candidates who are “well-rounded.”

When dealing with a “well-rounded” type of requirement, many candidates write very little about a lot, hoping to cover every single character trait that could potentially interest the admissions committee. Is this correct? Not necessarily. Well-rounded is not synonymous with “I am the best at everything.” Instead, consider the Tree Approach.

The Tree Approach

Begin by promoting a storyline—this will be your tree trunk. This happens when you understand the set of accomplishments/experiences that are objectively most impressive and genuine about your application. Following that, expand your personality using other, more nuanced life experiences. These are the tree’s branches.

So, for example, if the strongest part of your application is your commitment to social causes, this will become the tree trunk in your application. The core of your application will help the reader understand your desire to improve the quality of life of certain groups in your community and will demonstrate the specific things you have done to accomplish that goal. However, weave in other experiences to demonstrate that you are a multi-faceted individual with the ability to excel in different areas of life, especially areas that your program considers desirable. Therefore, while your main narrative will focus on your community work, you will also describe accomplishments that portray different elements of your personality, such as your academic excellence as demonstrated by your A+ in Math, or your solid teamwork, which is portrayed by your passion towards volleyball. The key here is not to fall into either one of the two extremes—at one end, creating a superficial laundry list of activities that make you “well-rounded,” and at the other end, not letting a single type of activity or passion completely define you as a person.


About the author: Roni Zveiris is the Founder of MyReducation. He has spent almost a decade in the post-secondary education system, as a student, Teaching Assistant, and Sessional Instructional Assistant. He earned a JD from the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law and an MBA from the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.