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Alberta Universities Relax Admissions, Deadlines For Fort McMurray Students

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MACEWAN UNIVERSITY
MacEwan University in Edmonton Canada | Mitch Diamond via Getty Images
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Post-secondary institutions across Alberta are doing their utmost to make life easier for high school graduates impacted by the wildfires in Fort McMurray.

Universities say they've relaxed admissions criteria and extended deadlines for those students hoping to start post-secondary school in September.

The wildfires that prompted a mass evacuation of the town and caused millions of dollars in damage put a stop to high school classes across the city and initially left students in doubt as to how they could complete required exams and finish final courses.

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The remains of a house destroyed by wildfire is seen in the Timberlea neighborhood of Fort McMurray. (Photo: Darryl Dyck/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Students say they're grateful that those hurdles have been addressed, but still lament the fact they'll be missing out on typical high school graduation rituals.

Proms have been cancelled and parties rescheduled, and official graduation ceremonies have been rebooked for the end of August when some students will have already left town.

Kaylin Lynett has experienced both the benefits and drawbacks of the circumstances imposed by the Fort McMurray fires.

Relief at having her early acceptance to the University of Alberta confirmed without the need to write normally mandatory diploma exams has been tempered by social media posts of other friends trying on prom gowns and celebrating the start of a new chapter alongside their high school friends.

"I never realized how much I wanted a grad until I didn't get a grad,'' the 17-year-old said in a telephone interview. "Just the fancy dresses and them with all their friends making funny poses and things like that.''

"I never realized how much I wanted a grad until I didn't get a grad."

Missing out on grad traditions seemed like the least of Lynett's problems when she and her family were forced to flee the flames engulfing the city in early May.

Her acceptance to the bilingual business program at University of Alberta had come through, but Lynett said she was nervous that it could be revoked if she failed to complete a diploma exam required of all Alberta high school students and finish her high school course work.

Accordingly, she registered at a high school in Red Deer, at least an hour away from where her family members were staying.

Her luck changed less than a week after the fire broke out, however, when Alberta Education announced that students from Fort McMurray high schools were exempt from taking the tests.

Six post-secondaries offer support

The next day, the six post-secondary institutions in the Edmonton area announced their intention to smooth the path for students impacted by the fire.

Concordia University of Edmonton, King's University, MacEwan University, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Norquest College and the University of Alberta all acknowledged the difficulty the fire could present for prospective students and said they were committed to offering what support they could.

University of Alberta registrar Lisa Collins said the 250 applicants from the area became a high priority and their cases were handled individually rather than according to standard protocols.

"The principle that we work from is that we do everything that we can to reduce anxiety and to ensure that students aren't penalized for circumstances that are beyond their control,'' she said.

Final marks were accepted based on course work completed to date and were not based at on diploma exams, which usually account for 30 per cent of a final grade, she said.

Flexible deadlines

The university also agreed to be flexible about deadlines by which schools or students could submit final transcripts, Collins said, recognizing that documents would be hard to come by while buildings were closed in the wake of the fire.

Lynett said the change in policy allowed her to shift her focus from exams to course work. She enrolled in a distance education program, which made its services free for Fort McMurray students, to ensure that she completed the calculus course work that would allow her to stay competitive next year.

Madison Dirk didn't have that luxury, as she was still waiting for acceptances when the fire broke out.

Unwilling to wait for the official wheels to turn, she took it upon herself to contact the three out-of-province universities she had applied to to alert them to her situation and emailed them a report containing her interim marks.

Dirk was relieved when the acceptances began flooding in, and now plans to study nursing at the University of Ottawa in the fall.

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Trucks drive through Fort McMurray on June 3, a month after the wildfire entered the city. (Photo: Cole Burston/Getty)

She said many of her friends have opted not to follow suit, preferring instead to stay close to home and help their families recover from the devastation of the blaze.

Before they leave for university, however, both Dirk and Lynett have their sights set on Aug. 26 when their rescheduled graduations will take place.

The lustre has partially gone out of the occasion for Dirk, who bought a dress months ago, secured a date, and had planned a huge party to celebrate the occasion.

She said missing out on a typical graduation pales in comparison to other losses sustained in the community, but added she can't help a twinge of disappointment.

"In the grand scheme of things, when I'm 80 years old I'm not going to be like, 'wow, my grad was awesome,''' she said. "There's going to be a lot of other things I'm going to go through, but right now it's something that all of us were really excited for.''

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