I manage the University of Waterloo’s Engineering undergraduate admission process, which has become one of the most competitive in Canada.  So, I’ve created this blog to help applicants and their friends and families understand more about how the admissions process works from an insider’s perspective.  I’ll offer news and insights throughout the year as we work through the next admissions cycle.  I’ll also comment on interesting items related to engineering research, education, and teaching from time to time.  Click the “Follow” button to the right to keep up to date on admission developments and information.  Comments are welcomed, but I can’t give detailed opinions on your specific circumstances or chances; please contact the university for expert advice.

Chances for 2017

The 2017 Admissions brochures for Engineering and other programs have recently been uploaded.  We have continued to include a table showing admission probabilities (“chances”) for different programs and grade ranges.  Many people find it useful for getting a realistic impression of their chances at admission, and  then they can plan accordingly.   The online version of this table can be found here.  This is based on the 2016 results and as usual we caution that 2017 may be different, since it all depends on the competition level (which is unknown in advance).

One difference this year:  I’m going to break the chances data up into two categories, “Visa” (or study permit) applicants, and “Canadians and Permanent Residents” applicants.  The tables mentioned above lump everyone together, but looking back at  the last year or two it seems like it may be too pessimistic for Canadians and overly-optimistic for Visa applicants, as we’ll see below. Continue reading

Heading to Houston

New this year, NACAC (National Association for College Admission Counseling) is hosting three college fairs dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).  The first one is in Houston, Texas on Sunday September 25 2016 (for details click here).  We’ll be attending to represent Waterloo Engineering and the other STEM programs.  I see from the exhibitor list that our friends from the Universities of Toronto and Calgary are attending too, so there will be a bit of a Canadian contingent.

Why visit the U.S. and promote our programs?  It’s true that we only have about 200 spaces in Engineering for non-Canadians, and several thousand applicants for those spaces, so the competition for admission is fierce.  But we’re interested in having a diversity of applicants and finding the best from around the world.  Also, over 1,000 of our student co-op work terms (i.e. paid internships) each year are now in U.S. companies.  So it seems to make sense to start reaching out to potential applicants there using these NACAC STEM fairs as a starting point.

We look forward to meeting anyone from around the Houston area at the fair.  Also, if there are interested people there who can’t attend the fair we’ll be available the following day, Monday September 26, for personal or small group meetings.  Just email us at assoc.dir.admissions.eng@uwaterloo.ca to get details and set up an appointment.


Waterloo Unlimited

The University of Waterloo has a number of enrichment programs and activities with a wide variety of topic and disciplines.  A full list is available online at this site, ranging from finance to chemistry to kinesiology and mathematics.  Engineering operates the very popular Engineering Science Quest, a summer program for students grades 1 through 9.  Most universities seem to offer a variety of summer programs for elementary and secondary school students.

One program at Waterloo that’s a bit more unique is  “Waterloo Unlimited“.  I like the concept of it for a number of reasons including:

  • It’s not a summer program, it takes place during November (for Grade 12), March (for Grade 11) and May (for Grade 10).  The experience is more like being a university student, rather than just attending a summer camp.
  • It’s not focused on one thing like math or physics, but includes a bit of everything.  But it’s not just a mishmash of various stuff, it revolves around a theme.  For example, the Grade 12 program has a theme of “research”.  The sample program shows that it could include psychology, mechanical engineering, kinesiology, cryptography, environment, and nanotechnology (for example).   The Grade 11 program revolves around “design”.
  • We know that really innovative and creative people can integrate material and concepts from across many disciplines, and can see the connections between diverse areas.  So Waterloo Unlimited tries to emphasize this trans-disciplinary thinking.
  • Entrance to the program is by competitive application (due by October 7th for the November 2016 Grade 12 program), and it’s limited to about 45 students.  So it’s going to be a good group with similar but diverse interests.
  • My colleague Prof. Ed Jernigan from Systems Design Engineering developed Waterloo Unlimited  (and was very active in Shad Valley too), and there are quite a few other faculty from across the university involved in delivering the different aspects of the program.  It’s clear to me that the program has very good quality.

For good students in Grades 10, 11 or 12 who are trying to sort out their future path, this sort of program could be very helpful in opening their eyes to the wide variety of ideas, areas, interests and possibilities.  I highly recommend that people take a look and see if it interests them.

What Happens to Grades

It’s the start of a new academic year and lots of new students are beginning their transition from secondary school to university.  That transition can be challenging for a variety of reasons, including being away from home, new community, different teaching styles, etc.  For some students, a big source of stress comes about half-way into the term when they start to see their grades and realize that they are quite different from what they were used to in high school.  I think that our instructors are generally quite up-front about what to expect, i.e. that grades will typically drop about 15 to 20 percentage points from high school, but I suspect that a lot of students assume that will happen to someone else and not them.  So let’s look at some data from a past year that compares high school grades (admission averages) with averages at the end of first year engineering, for the same group of students.   Continue reading

Is Fort McMurray’s water supply contaminated by the wildfire? | Waterloo Stories

(Note:  an interesting story about my Civil Engineering colleague’s work with water supply and treatment.  Not something you would immediately think about when it comes to wildfires, but clearly a big issue.)

As residents try to resume their lives more than a month after a ferocious wildfire forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray, crucial questions about its impact on their water supply still have no clear answers. It’s why Monica Emelko, a University of Waterloo expert in water quality and water treatment, left for the devastated Alberta city last week after spending countless hours on the phone with government officials since the crisis escalated in early May.

Source: Is Fort McMurray’s water supply contaminated by the wildfire? | Waterloo Stories

Getting Ready to Learn

For some new university students, one of the most shocking and troublesome problems they encounter is the realization that they don’t actually know how to learn.  The strategies they used in high school no longer work well enough to succeed in a fast-paced and challenging university program.  Rote learning and memorizing solution methods for problems will generally not work any more, and a deeper level of understanding is required.  In some cases students can’t adapt fast enough and end up having to repeat courses or a term, or perhaps leave the university entirely.

That’s why I like and recommend this Coursera course, “Learning How to Learn”.    It’s from the University of California, San Diego and taught by an engineering professor, Barbara Oakley (and others).  I haven’t taken the course, but have seen quite a few parts of it a while ago.    For anyone starting university in September, this would be a worthwhile investment of your time, and will help identify good learning and study habits to use.   It’s probably good for high school students too, who are looking to do better.  (I think it’s free, or at least it used to be.)

The concepts the course covers are not revolutionary or unusual.  Most of our faculty would recommend the same things to first year students:  get enough sleep and keep a normal schedule; go to class; don’t procrastinate; set up a study schedule; engage all your senses in the material (seeing, hearing, doing/practicing, articulating); don’t get bogged down too long on one problem, etc.  But the course is nice because it presents the science and neurology behind these recommendations, and why they are important for learning and actually understanding the concepts more deeply.  Also, I thought is was nicely presented, interesting, and not difficult to follow.