Queens Commerce: How to Get In 2013

Queen’s Commerce is one of Canada’s most prestigious undergraduate business programs, but admissions isn’t easy. Here’s how to get in…

PLEASE NOTE: This is an outdated article.For more support, check out the transformative 1-year leadership program I developed, called the Global Leadership Academy, which helps develop students into extraordinary leaders (many of whom win scholarships and get admitted to top organizations and schools). For support on the 2016/17 application, we recommend contacting the folks at AdmissionsConsulting.ca. Or read the latest Queen’s Commerce Application – How to Get In for 2017.

The classes are challenging, the tuition is high – at least by Canadian standards – but the Queen’s Commerce undergraduate business program is the most prestigious of its kind in Canada, and it will give you one heck of a university experience. Each year, the program gets over 5,000 applications from students across the country and around the world. But only 450 students ultimately get accepted into the program – a 9% acceptance rate – making it one of the most competitive programs in the world to get into. Just to give you an idea about how competitive it truly is: Harvard Business School’s MBA program had an acceptance rate of 11% in 2010.

So how does one get admission into into Queen’s Commerce?

To answer that question, we’ll help you understand specifically how the application process works and exactly what type of candidate the admissions committee is looking for. There are three parts to your application, (1) your marks, (2) the Personal Statement of Experience (PSE), and (3) the supplementary essay.


(1) your marks

Here’s how it works, folks. Because QC received 5,000+ applications, they need some sort of an immediate, objective filtering system to eliminate those candidates who just aren’t well-suited for the program. This is where the ‘cut off’ comes into play. The cut off is simply the lowest average of those candidates who made it through the initial filtering process.

Let’s say the admissions comm read 1,000 applications each year, what they will do is simply sort the applications from highest to lowest average, and only view the top 1,000 apps. The cutoff in this instance would be whatever the average is of the 1,000th applicant, which would be the lowest average out of the bunch. Typically they say it’s around 87%, but your best bet is to go one or two percentage points above that – just to be sure.

So now that you’ve met the first requirement, what’s next?


(2) the Personal Statement of Experience (PSE)

Debunking the Myth

A common misunderstanding amongst high schoolers is that Queen’s Commerce gives preferential treatment to those with averages significantly above the cutoff. To a certain extent this is true, but time and time again you here about high school students with crazy high averages (95%+) getting accepted to Ivey, Schulich, Rotman, and every other school in Canada – but getting rejected from Queen’s Commerce.  The reason is because, for the most part, your marks only matter once you’ve hit the cut off. After that, it’s 100% PSE / essays.

You know how we gave the example above of how Queen’s will read the top 1,000 applications sorter by average? Well guess where they start – at the top, with the highest average. That’s why you hear of some people with 95%+ averages getting early acceptance. It doesn’t have anything to do with their average (other than the fact they made the cut off), it’s just that the admissions comm simply started looking at the PSEs / essays with those averages.

This is straight from their website: “Leaders require more than just high marks to motivate, persuade, and excite. That is why at Queen’s School of Business, where our mission is to develop the leaders of tomorrow, we select students for the Bachelor of Commerce Program on the basis of both their academic record and their record of extracurricular achievements.”

So if you’re spending all your time improving your average from 96% to 97%, and if you don’t focus any effort on building a competitive Personal Statement of Experience (PSE), then you simply won’t get in.

Our admissions consulting service will give you very specific advice on strategies and techniques for getting above the cut off, and other important ‘inside’ tips about things like choosing classes for your application. Please send us an email if you’re interested – we have quite an impressive success rate with our students.


Building your Personal Statement of Experience (PSE)

The PSE has four questions. We’ll go through them one by one:

1.    List any Award or Distinction that you have earned in the last 4 years. Please indicate if each is a High School, Community or Other Award/Distinction and briefly explain in the space provided (maximum 90 characters with spaces). Please also include the year the Award/Distinction was received.

We work with a lot of students in our admissions consulting service who struggle on this question. There are only so many ‘awards’ or ‘distinctions’ out there, and they usually go to a very select group of people. If you’ve won any awards in the last four years – that’s great. We highly suggest you choose the ones from the past two years, even if the one from four years ago was much stronger. Trust me.

For those of you who aren’t award-winning students, our advice is to get creative. Literally everyone and their brother are going to use the ‘highest mark in insert class name here’ distinction. This will not separate you from your competition. Remember, because you made the cutoff, everyone has high grades – use a distinction that will distinguish yourself! Are you an advanced open water scuba diver with 100+ dives around the world? Are you a life guard with the highest level of certification? These may be things your competition has, but the admissions comm won’t know it, because they choose to highlight other personal attributes on their application. Stand out!!!


2.    Identify any extracurricular activities and the total number of hours you devoted (expect to devote) to each. Please include the positions held and whether each is a High School, Community or Other activity (maximum 90 characters with spaces). Activities are valued equally and may include, but are not limited to, the arts, athletics, hobbies, volunteerism, and religious, social, farm and/or household responsibilities.

The last sentence here is important: “Activities are valued equally and may include, but are not limited to, the arts, athletics, hobbies, volunteerism, and religious, social, farm and/or household responsibilities.” In a sense, they don’t care where the activity is taking place, they only care about what your responsibilities were, and more importantly, what you accomplished i.e. did you go above and beyond those responsibilities?

In our admissions consulting service, we share with candidates a very specific list of attributes / qualities / experiences QC is looking for. But in general, it’s two things: (1) a demonstrated interest in the field of business and (2) exemplary leadership capacity. So focus your extracurricular activities on those two areas. Do you trade stocks or have your own investment portfolio? Did you start an entrepreneurship club at your high school? Are you the captain of your basketball team? Did you raise $1,000 for charity through a school event? Use those types of examples. Avoid using activities where you are just a member… leadership is what counts the most.


3.    List any full- or part-time paid or unpaid employment you have had in the last 4 years (maximum 50 characters with spaces). Please indicate the approximate number of hours you worked each week and the number of year(s) you held the job.

The admissions committee isn’t necessarily looking for you to have internship experience at an investment bank, but they want to see you at least have a bit of work ethic and you’ve spent your summers actually doing something productive. Like I said, it doesn’t have to be glamorous – if you push carts at the grocery store, that’s fine. Just make sure to tell them how awesome of a job you did.


4.    In an essay of 300 words, or fewer (approximately 1950 characters with spaces), write about your goals for your time at Queen’s University and beyond. Your answer will be evaluated for content and writing style.

This is an incredibly important essay to knock out of the park. And it’s a good question for your own benefits, so sit down and take a solid amount of time to think of what you REALLY want out of an educational experience like QC.

This is also an area for the admissions committee to see what you really know about the program / the university. So do your research. Maybe even split your essay by year: “In first year, I want to grasp a broad understanding of business, reach the Dean’s list, and get involved in Queen’s Conference on International Business as a frosh rep… in third year I want to go on exchange to Singapore Management University because I’m very interested in doing business in the Asia-Pacific region, etc.”

Go to comsoc.queensu.ca and choose a couple committees or conferences you’d like to get involved in. Remember, be AMBITIOUS and STAND OUT. The other applicants are the best in Canada, so make sure you are distinguishing yourself from the rest.


(3) the supplementary essays

PLEASE NOTE: There have been slight changes to the supplementary essays in this year’s application. Please read our article Queen’s Commerce: How to Get in, Vol. 2 for commentary and analysis on the topic.

1.    In 300 words (1950 characters with spaces), or fewer, briefly describe one time when you acted as a leader of a team or group, and another time when you acted as a member of a team or group. Tell us what you have learned about yourself in both roles—as a leader and as a team member

At QC – like the business world – they do an incredible amount of work among groups. So it’s obvious why they’d want to attract people to the program who can lead and can also be led. But more importantly, they want people who are self-aware. The most important bit of the question is again the last sentence: “Tell us what you have learned about yourself in both roles—as a leader and as a team member.” They want to know you’re AWARE of the type of leader / team member you are. Know yourself!

Ultimately, it’s hard for me to specifically recommend what to write here – there are just too many options. The best thing to do is to send us your essays and we’ll review and improve them to suit the standards that the admissions comm are looking for.


2.    In 300 words (1950 characters with spaces), or fewer, please describe the steps you have taken to ensure that Commerce/Business is an appropriate field of study and potential career for you.

The whole point of this question is to make sure candidates are actually interested in the field of business. I think in the past, they’ve seen offerees accept their admittance into the program because it’s such a competitive school, rather than because it naturally aligns with their interests. I know more than a few people who have graduated from QC (or left in the middle) because business simply wasn’t something they wanted to do. Do your due diligence and your research to make sure you want a career in business. Do you want to work in marketing? What type of role? A brand manager? Or do you want to work as a management consultant? Why?

Get out there and try things out. Contact a few family friends who work in the field you think interests you and have a chat with them, or job shadow them for a week. Read the Vault guides about careers. Talk to alumni. Do your research – because ultimately this is your life, and the program you choose is potentially the most important decision you’ll ever make, so make sure it’s right. Queen’s is just helping you make the right decision for yourself, and to make sure you’re a suitable candidate for the program.


Joel Nicholson

Joel Nicholson

Joel Nicholson is the Co-founder and Managing Director of CampusRankings—Canada's #1 platform for student rankings, reviews, and admissions support. He writes about topics relating to education, or food reviews on Yelp.

Jude says:

I wanted to know if the PSE questions have also changed. Thanks.

Christ says:

Thank you so much for this, but technically, for 2013, the second essay question for commerce is incorrect:
2. The greatest lessons in life tend to come from challenging experiences. In 300 words or fewer (approximately 1950 characters with spaces), please tell us about a challenging experience you have faced and what you have learned from it.

Joel Nicholson Joel Nicholson says:

Hi there, I’ve published a ‘Volume 2’ version with commentary on the new supplementary essays. Here’s the link.