7 ways to get into university without a high school diploma

(Not an Ontario homeschooler? You can still find out how to get into university without a high school diploma in Canada)

Without a high school diploma, homeschoolers can apply and gain admission to university in Ontario: (see all the official policies here)

1. as a mature student (generally requires waiting until age 21). See sample definition of mature student from York University.

2. with the presentation of standardized test scores (general achievement tests such as the SAT or ACT; subject-specific tests such as SAT Subject Tests, Advanced Placement exams) but not the GED. The GED is designed to provide evidence of an education generally equivalent to that of a high school education, and is commonly accepted in the work force in lieu of a high school diploma. But, it is not accepted by Ontario universities as a suitable academic assessment for the nature of university-level studies and unfortunately carries with it the stigma of being a “high school drop out.”

3. with a year of university courses received from an open university (with an open entrance policy) such as Athabasca UniversityThompson Rivers University Open Learning (formerly BC Open University) or the University of Guelph.  These universities do not require a high school diploma as a prerequisite for enrolling in courses. After the equivalent of a year’s worth of courses from one of these institutions, a student is considered to be a “university transfer” student (see sample definition of transfer student from York University), and may transfer to a conventional university on the basis of the university marks as opposed to high school marks.

4. as a transfer applicant from a junior college. (Note: Ontario does not have junior colleges, but some provinces do.) These colleges may be easier to get into as a home schooler, and then prior high school completion (or lack thereof) is often unimportant to the university. Another note: although there are some programs in Ontario that allow transfer from a community college into a university, initial admission to the community college may be just as difficult if not more difficult as direct admission to the university. Our community college system is further behind our university system in terms of home schooling policies, so some home schoolers have much more difficulty getting into community colleges than they do getting into universities! While this is a viable method in other provinces, or when switching to Ontario from another province, it is not a popular Ontario strategy.

5. with a portfolio including home made transcripts, samples of work etc. This portfolio should, if possible, include standardized tests, letters/evaluated work from tutors or other outside sources as universities don’t always take transcripts from mom and dad! But even if you don’t have any “official” work to show them, there is currently one university in Ontario who administers their own testing/interview for homeschoolers and does not require proof of an academic background.

6. with the “Top Six” (unique to Ontario). Some Ontario universities will allow students to present just their senior year (i.e. six grade 12 credits, chosen according to program-specific prerequisites, through an accredited school, including virtual and correspondence schools) without requiring the entire 30 credits of the full diploma. (Note: students do not receive a high school diploma, but do qualify for university admission.)

7. with a little smooth talking! Who knows what can happen if you just walk in with a good attitude and ask? Making connections in admissions departments or with professors can open doors.

Still worried about getting in to university without a high school diploma? These final thoughts should put the issue in perspective:

  • University admissions are generally governed by policy, not law. Everyone has a story of a friend of a friend of a friend who knew of a 10/11/12-year-old taking classes at a university. Do you think this wunderkind had a high school diploma? Rules can and will be broken if the university sees you as a desirable addition to their school. Instead of stressing to conform to traditional university admission requirements, students may very well be better off spending that time and energy making themselves stand out and showcasing what they have to offer the university.
  • It’s never too late to go to university. Anyone who sat through university classes with “mature students” (i.e. older students who had actually read the lecture material and were interested in discussing said material in class) knew, even if only in the back of their minds, that these adults were really getting something out of the university experience. What’s wrong with waiting to head off to university until you know what you really want to get out of it? Admission requirements are generally much more open for adults than students directly out of high school.
  • Learning is more important than schooling. You don’t need to “(waste) $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library.” If you’re not concerned about traditional high school as a vehicle of socialization, then why would you suddenly care about the socialization at the university level? Intellectual peers can be easily found through online communities (both social and academic) and can enrich a self-directed program of study. (See The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business for an example of a self-directed MBA program.)

Note: Not all methods listed above are accepted by every institution, and policies do change. Please consult each individual university for the most recent, official word!

For info on how homeschoolers can get into college or university without a high school diploma in . . .

  • British Columbia (BC, Canada) – Chris Corrigan, an unschooling parent, was at one time compiling a similar list of options specific to BC. One option Chris mentions is writing the BC provincial examination without completing the whole diploma. This is not an option for Ontario since we don’t have provincial exams, but mirrors the sentiments of the “Top Six” option. (Note: page is no longer on Chris’ website.  I’ve linked to a page from “The Way Back Machine” to so you can see what used to be there.)
  • Alberta (AB, Canada) – Education Unlimited hosts this list of Alberta post-secondary institutions
  • . . . other provinces will be added as resources are found!
Want to tell some folks about this post?

Ontario University Programs not requiring ENG4U for Admission

The vast majority of Ontario universities require ENG4U to be included in your Top Six admissions average if English is your first language.  But, there are 3 general exceptions to this rule:

  1. The program is general enough that it has no stated prerequisites: any six 12U credits will do.  There are [Editor’s note: at the time this post was written] only four programs like this in Ontario, all at Carleton: Music, Humanities, Social Work and Public Affairs and Policy Management.
  2. A 12U English course is required, but it need not be specifically ENG4U. There are [Editor’s note: at the time this post was written] two Ontario Universities that are flexible as to which course can fulfill the 4U English requirement: Wilfred Laurier will accept ENG4U, ETS4U or EWC4 and Ryerson will accept any 12U English course for many (but not all) of its programs.
  3. A handful of mathematics/science/engineering based programs have so many other pre-requisites because of the demands of these programs that ENG4U is not required, although it may be strongly recommended.  These programs are listed below.  Brock, Carleton, Lakehead and Waterloo all have programs like this. [Editor’s note: at the time this post was written]

If a school or program is not listed below, then ENG4U is a requirement, even for its most general humanities program and its most demanding science program. Your best strategy is to take ENG4U to give you access to all other programs.

But, if you don’t have ENG4U, you can still apply to a select few Ontario university programs. You may wish to consider applying to an Open University instead to have a wider selection of programs to choose from.  Then, after a year of study, you can decide whether to stay at the Open University or whether to request to transfer into a bricks-and-mortar Ontario university.

Note: the following information was taken from an Admissions Guidelines and Programs of Study PDF provided by OUInfo for the 2011-2012 academic year. Programs and prerequisites may have changed in subsequent years.  Please consult Ontario Universities Info each year for the current academic information.

Brock University

Biomedical Sciences: MHF4U or MCV4U; SCH4U; two from: SBI4U, SPH4U, SES4U, a second 4U math or ENG4U. Strongly recommended subjects: ENG4U.

Biophysics: MHF4U or MCV4U; SCH4U; two from: SBI4U, SPH4U, SES4U, a second 4U math or ENG4U. Strongly recommended subjects: ENG4U, SPH4U.

Biotechnology: MHF4U or MCV4U; SCH4U; two from: SBI4U, SPH4U, SES4U, a second 4U math or ENG4U. Strongly recommended subjects: ENG4U.

Chemistry: MHF4U or MCV4U; SCH4U; two from: SBI4U, SPH4U, SES4U, a second 4U math or ENG4U. Strongly recommended subjects: ENG4U and a second 4U math.

Earth Sciences: MHF4U or MCV4U; SCH4U; two from: SBI4U, SPH4U, SES4U, a second 4U math or ENG4U. Strongly recommended subjects: ENG4U.

Environmental Geosciences: MHF4U or MCV4U; SCH4U; two from: SBI4U, SPH4U, SES4U, a second 4U math or ENG4U. Strongly recommended subject: ENG4U.

Mathematics: MHF4U and MCV4U. Strongly recommended subject: ENG4U

Neuroscience: MHF4U or MCV4U; SCH4U; two from: SBI4U, SPH4U, SES4U, a second 4U math or ENG4U. Strongly recommended subject: ENG4U

Physical Geography: MHF4U or MCV4U; one from SBI4U, SPH4U,SCH4U, or SES4U. Strongly recommended subject: ENG4U

Physics: MHF4U or MCV4U; SCH4U; two from: SBI4U, SPH4U, SES4U, a second 4U math or ENG4U. Strongly recommended subject: ENG4U.

General Science: SCH4U; MHF4U or MCV4U. Strongly recommended subject: ENG4U

Carleton University

Computer Science: all programs: MHF4U or MCV4U, plus five best 4U/M courses

Engineering: all programs: MHF4U, SCH4U, SPH4U; one of MCV4U, SBI4U or SES4U; plus two best 4U/M courses. MCV4U strongly recommended. ENG4U recommended

Humanities: Best six 4U/M courses (with Biology option: SCH4U, plus best five 4U/M courses)

Industrial Design: MHF4U, SPH4U, plus four best 4U/M courses. MCV4U is strongly recommended

Mathematics: MHF4U and MCV4U, plus four best 4U/M courses.

Biostatistics: MHF4U, MCV4U, SBI4U and SCH4U, plus two best 4U/M courses

Music: Six best 4U/M courses. ENG4U recommended

Public Affairs and Policy Management: Six best 4U/M courses. ENG4U recommended

Science: MHF4U; two of MCV4U, SBI4U, SCH4U, SES4U, or SPH4U; plus three best 4U or 4M courses. MCV4U strongly recommended. For Physics, SPH4U is strongly recommended

Honours in Biochemistry, Bioinformatics, Biology, Biotechnology, Chemistry, Computational Biochemistry, Computational Biology, Food Science and Nutrition, Nanoscience, Neuroscience and Psychology: MHF4U and two of SBI4U, SCH4U, SES4U or SPH4U, plus three best 4U/M courses. MCV4U strongly recommended. (For Combined Honours programs in Chemistry and Computer Science: SCH4U andMCV4U are strongly recommended. For Honours Psychology, ENG4U is recommended.)

Honours in Earth Science, Environmental Science, Geography, Integrated Science and Combined Honours in Biology and Physics,and Chemistry and Physics: MHF4U or MCV4U; two of SBI4U, SCH4U, SES4U, or SPH4U; plus three best 4U/M courses. (For Honours Environmental Science, SBI4U and SCH4U are recommended.)

Honours in Physics, Applied Physics and Combined Honours in Mathematics and Physics: MHF4U and MCV4U; one of SPH4U, SBI4U,SCH4U or SES4U; plus three best 4U/M courses. For all programs in Physics, SPH4U is strongly recommended.

Social Work: Best six 4U/M courses. ENG4U strongly recommended

Lakehead University

Applied Science Common Year (one year upgrading for Faculty of Engineering): Six 4U/M credits; 3U/M math required, Grade 10 Academic or Applied Science is required

Engineering: MHF4U, SPH4U, SCH4U, ENG3U

Ryerson University

All Ryerson programs require a 4U English course, but many programs do not require ENG4U specifically; other English courses may be used instead.

University of Waterloo

Health Studies: SBI4U, SCH4U, plus four additional 4U/M courses. Recommended: MHF4U, ENG4U

Kinesiology: MHF4U, SCH4U, one of SBI4U or SPH4U, plus a minimum of three additional 4U/M courses.

Wilfred Laurier University

Note: all programs require one Grade 12 English course: ENG4U, ETS4U or EWC4

Want to tell some folks about this post?

Ontario Universities’ Alternative Admissions Policies

There are several ways to apply to university: as a traditional high school graduate, as a mature student and as a “homeschooler.”


According to Ontario universities, a homeschooler is a student who has not earned a high school diploma because they have undertaken a program of self-study or enrolled in a program that does not lead to a provincial high school diploma.

Not everyone who follows an alternative high school experience will identify with the label “homeschooler,” just as many self-described homeschoolers are actually following accredited curriculum studies and may even earn a high school diploma.

But if you have been doing self-study at home, enrolled at a non-accredited private school or program, following a well-known curriculum program that does not lead to a government diploma, or learning through travel and experiences, you can apply to university under the category of homeschooler. This includes students who have attended schools in younger grades but decided to leave at the high school level for a non-traditional high school experience.


A homeschooler (any student who choses a high school education path that does not lead to a provincial high school diploma) will apply to Ontario universities through the OUAC website, just like every other applicant.  But the admissions criteria will vary from university to university.

Many universities will have two different admission paths so you can choose the admission criteria that is most appropriate for your situation.  Others admit strictly on a case-by-case basis, so contacting the university a year or two before you plan to apply is key to ensure you can take any tests prepare any documentation they will require.


  1. Your application may be judged on more than just marks alone – Homeschoolers often have the opportunity to showcase other strengths, skills and experiences.
  2. Get to know an admissions counselor – Regular applicants might never make personal contact with the school through the entire admissions process. Homeschoolers often have to clarify admission details and discuss their personal situation, making a personal connection in the process. This often gives you a better insight into the schools you’re considering and seeing how they handle your application can give you a preview of how you would be treated as a student there.
  3. You can choose your own high school experience – If your local high school doesn’t offer the kind of education you want, you can create your own experience:
  • take online classes (formal or informal)
  • study from books, mentors and other resource material
  • travel or participate in unique programs
  • fit your high school academics around your schedule while pursuing competitive or professional activities such as acting, athletic training or music performance


Yes, homeschooling is legal in all Canadian provinces, but each province has its own requirement for notifying the government of your intention and its own set educational requirements that homeschoolers must respect while pursuing a high school education outside of an accredited school.


Remember, homeschoolers do not earn a high school diploma. So it is important to decide whether you need a high school diploma before deciding to homeschool for high school.

Many Canadian universities accept homeschoolers, but some do not. Of the universities that do accept homeschoolers, some universities may restrict the programs or scholarships you can apply to if they have trouble evaluating your prerequisites.

Community colleges may require a high school diploma, depending on the province.  (Ontario colleges, for example, do require a high school diploma unless the student waits until he or she is old enough to apply as a mature student.)

Want to tell some folks about this post?

Canadian University Advanced Placement (AP) Policies

The Advanced Placement (AP) exams can be used both in university admissions and often for earning university credits before you even arrive on campus. Many Canadian universities give credit for high scores on these exams. Some institutions will use AP exam results in lieu of senior high school courses for determining university admission.

Visit the College Board website’s AP page or my list of Ontario universities to see AP credit policies by university.

Want to tell some folks about this post?

University Without High School

Maclean’s article University Without High School gives a highly positive and interesting review of the ideas in the book College Without High School by Blake Boles.

If you are high school age and want to attend university but don’t feel like a traditional high school education is what you want, Continue reading “University Without High School”

Want to tell some folks about this post?