Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities


236 pages
ISBN 1-55013-044-7
DDC 378






Illustrations by E. Hore
Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is an associate editor of the Canadian Book Review


Research for the Guide was based primarily on interviews by its author with students and administrators at Canada’s 48 anglophone and bilingual universities and affiliated colleges. Given its wide-ranging topic, it is not surprising that the Guide eschews the academic side of university life in favour of, in its author’s words, “subjects your family or guidance counselors are too embarrassed to talk about.” Besides bread-and-butter information (fees, admission standards, etc.), the prospective student is given the lowdown on the social climate of its various jock, party, and nose-to-the-grindstone schools, with forays into campus history, architecture, cuisine, politics, pubs, and — when applicable — scandals. The Guide, with its aggressively breezy tone, comes across as a kind of higher education dating service. Each institution is briskly matched with an “ideal” student profile, sometimes with questionable results: the “fat or ugly,” for example, are advised to steer clear of a certain Ontario glamour school.

Frum’s admittedly subjective approach does, however, make for some memorable portraits. A handful of campuses are downright horror shows. One western university is summed up with the words “numbingly boring,” while another takes first prize for being most hated by its student population. Other findings range from the curious (no showers after 11:00 p.m. in St. Francis Xavier dorms) to the disturbing (a Student Council defeating by a two-to-one margin a resolution supporting student organizations which work toward a peaceful abolition of apartheid in South Africa). Nonetheless, there are serious lapses in the abundance of information the book provides. While coverage of residences and off-campus accommodation is generally excellent, housing for married students, with or without families, is not considered. Other neglected areas include graduate programs, services for the handicapped (only two universities are cited as recipients of government funds for special facilities), and scholarships, loans, and bursaries.

This is no advocacy book but the wafer-thin chapter entitled “What’s Wrong with the System” does venture some recommendations for academic reform — raising both tuition and entrance standards and introducing a compulsory first-year curriculum. Such weighty issues aside, the Guide sticks determinedly to the lighter side of academia. Without question it’s a fun read and certainly more reliable than most university publicity, but there’s too much sizzle and not enough steak for the would-be student to make a truly well-informed decision.



Frum, Linda, “Linda Frum's Guide to Canadian Universities,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 19, 2024,