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.

February News and Plans

Just a short update on progress for our 2016 admissions.

  • Applications are still coming in (until March 1), but it’s looking like we will have between 1,000 and 2,000 more than last year, so admissions will be a bit more competitive than last year.
  • Plans are in progress for our open house on March 19.
  • As described in the overview of the process, the Admission Information Form (AIF) reading is in full progress and we’re getting ready for the first round of offers.  We will accept AIFs until March 18.  Any submitted after February 5 might not be reviewed in time to have any impact on the first round of offers, but they will have their full consideration for the big round of offers in May.
  • For the first round, some offers for Ontario applicants (Form 101) will come out in late February.  Some for other applicants (Form 105) will probably come out in early March.  We can’t give specific dates, it depends on how things go.
  • With the increasing applications, I’m thinking that we will be fairly conservative with the first round and maybe only give away about 25% of the spaces.  It’s easier to be thorough and fair to everyone if we hold back most of the offer decisions until early May.  Most of the applications we consider in February will be deferred until May for a final decision, when we can see the whole picture.

Mentions in the News

There were a couple of unexpected mentions of Waterloo on the international stage recently.  In the first one, our Prime Minister Trudeau used Waterloo as an example of Canadian creativity and innovation, at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland.  A video clip from that part of his speech is below.  The Prime Minister points to our high intellectual standards, focus on entrepreneurship, and diversity.  (I should clarify that when he says that 50% of our graduate engineering students are international, he’s referring to our Masters and PhD students.  As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, we have only a bit less than 15% of our available undergraduate spaces available for visa students.)

In his speech, the Prime Minister refers to Sam Altman, President of Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley startup funder and mentoring program.  Here is a video interview he did to explain why he is so interested in Waterloo students.

In another mention, British actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson mentions the HeForShe IMPACT Scholarships Waterloo launched last year, in support of increasing math and engineering gender balance.

Overall, it’s always nice for universities to attract attention for good reasons.


English Proficiency Requirements

For applicants whose first language is not English we have a set of proficiency requirements.  Details are on this website (English Language Requirements), but in summary we are looking for TOEFL scores of 90 and higher, or IELTS scores of 7.0 or better (see that website for other sub-score and test requirements).  For Engineering admissions, we’ve been pretty strict about the scores and regularly reject people who don’t meet them (no matter what their other grades are like).  This is because our co-op work experience starts right away in first year, so we need students to be as fluent as possible so that they can have interviews, get jobs and have a successful work term with the employer.  There is no time to try to learn better English as you start our program.

Some universities have programs that you can sign up for to improve English proficiency.  We don’t, but in the last couple of years we have been testing a couple of special programs, called BASE and iBASE .  You can’t actually apply directly for these programs, they are by invitation only, and are for applicants to our engineering programs who have excellent academic credentials but come up short on the English proficiency tests.  So for these applicants, if they successfully complete the BASE or iBASE program they will be automatically enrolled in the engineering program they were aiming for.  Let’s look at these programs in a bit more detail. Continue reading

Admission Information Forms in Progress

This week we checked and saw that over 1,700 people had already submitted their “AIF”, so we’ll be starting to send them out to the reviewers.  For those who haven’t started yet, I’ve updated our suggestions and information about the Admission Information Form.  Nothing much has changed from past years, but I’ve just clarified a few minor things.  You must submit the AIF to even be considered for an offer to Engineering.

One source of confusion in past years was the deadline and how we communicated it.  So this year the official deadline for submitting the AIF for Engineering is March 18, 2016, and it will not be extended.  However, if you are hoping to be considered for our early round of offers it must be submitted by February 5, 2016.  If it’s not submitted by then, we will automatically put your application into the large final round in early May.  (As usual, if you submit your AIF but don’t get an offer in the early round, you will still be considered again in May.)

Entrance Scholarships

For applicants to Waterloo Engineering, we have a selection of scholarships that range from ones based on only the admission marks (Merit and President’s Awards) to others that are based on both marks and extracurricular information.  For making these awards, we use the Admission Information Form (AIF) evaluation, so no other application is required for most of the internal Waterloo scholarships.  People seem to like that we keep it simple this way.

There is one exception to this, for one of our major awards:  the Suncor Energy Emerging Leaders Award, worth up to $10,000 for applicants to Chemical, Civil, Environmental or Mechanical Engineering.  From the awards website:  “These scholarships are funded by a generous donation from Suncor in recognition of the outstanding programs at the University of Waterloo and to meet the needs of the Canadian oil and gas industry through trained human resources capable of playing a leadership role in the sector.”

Aside from the money, this is quite a nice scholarship because it also includes other events and mentorship opportunities, such as an annual banquet on campus and possible work term employment.  Suncor is a major player in the Canadian energy sector, both petroleum and renewable energy.

The exception about this award is that a separate application is required.  In the past, this was a form to be filled out and submitted to us, but new this year is an online video interview process hosted by Kira Talent.  You can see more information about the interview system from this link.  The nice thing is that it can be done at a time that is convenient for you, and the interview is stored for later review by us.

We think that the interview will allow applicants for this scholarship to put forward a better case than the dry old paper form allowed.  So I would definitely encourage applicants to Chemical, Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering to give it a try and see if they can win this significant award.  Deadline for this year is March 18 2016.

A few other comments about scholarships in general:

  • There are no “full-ride” scholarships offered through Waterloo Engineering.  The $10,000 level is about the highest they go, although you may be able to find higher ones from external foundations using a scholarship database.
  • These entrance awards are not available to transfer applicants, only for those attending a post-secondary institution for the first time.
  • Waterloo is relatively young (established in 1957) and doesn’t have huge endowments for scholarships, so the amounts are relatively modest.  You might receive higher scholarship offers from other institutions, but remember that the paid co-op work experience can make up any difference, and then some.



December 2015 Update

Things have been quite busy for me lately with admissions, teaching, and research activities.  I’ve heard (although I haven’t seen any specific data yet) that our application numbers are up between 10 and 20% again so far this year.  Looks like it’s shaping up to to be another very busy admissions cycle, and to complicate matters we’re a bit short on staff.  We will have to sort that out in early 2016.

A common question we get is about how many spaces there are in various programs, so here is a summary of what we’re using for the 2016 classes:

Number of Available Spaces
Biomedical  55 (an increase of 5 from last year)
Chemical   140
Civil   125
Computer + Electrical  360 (combined)
Environmental  70
Geological  30
Mechanical  210
Mechatronics  175  (an increase of 5)
Management  65
Nanotechnology   115
Software  125
Systems Design  90

Another common question is how many applicants there are.  This is a bit complicated and somewhat variable, so I’ll just break it down by number of applicants per available space in a more generic way.  This is based on the applicant choice on the OUAC application, not including second & third choices specified on the AIF.

Number of Applicants Per Space
Biomedical:  about 17
Chemical, Civil, Computer + Electrical, Mechanical, Software:  8 to 9
Environmental, Geological, Management, Mechatronics, Nanotechnology, Systems Design:  4 to 5

If you compare these numbers with the Chances post, you might notice something interesting.  Some of our more competitive programs (e.g. Mechatronics) don’t actually have as many applicants as some of the lesser competitive ones (e.g. Civil).  The message from this:  it’s not necessarily how many applicants there are, but it also depends on what their marks are like.  Software and Civil have similar numbers of applicants per space, but obviously a lot of the Software applicants also have quite high marks, so the competitive grades are higher.

This may be interesting, but for an applicant it’s not all that important.  As always, we encourage people to apply to what most interests them, and just hope for the best.

Global Employability Rankings

I’ve noted in past postings about rankings that I’m somewhat sceptical about their meaning or importance, especially for undergraduate admissions.  But QS recently released a ranking that might be a bit more applicable, their new “Graduate Employability Ranking” for universities.  Prospective students and parents are usually quite interested about what employment prospects a degree will lead towards, so perhaps this is useful in some way.  According to this ranking, Waterloo is #25 in  the world, just a bit below Michigan and Chicago, and a bit ahead of Caltech and Georgia Tech, for example.

Looking at the methodology, we see that it is substantially based on an employer reputation survey, but there are other factors such as “partnerships with employers” and “alumni outcomes”.  It’s not clear exactly what these mean, but they seem like promising quantitative indicators.

Focusing on Canada, the rankings are:  Waterloo (25), McGill (36), UBC (48), Alberta (81-90), McMaster, Montreal & Queen’s (101-150), Calgary (151-200).  Conspicuous by its absence is Toronto (and some others), which I presume means that they chose not to participate for some reason.  The other thing to keep in mind is that these are overall rankings, not specific to any one discipline like engineering.  Different schools have different mixes of discipline enrolments, so it’s difficult to know how this may affect the rankings.

So, for what it’s worth, another university ranking to look at.



Admission Myths and Misconceptions

There are always a few myths and misunderstandings we encounter when talking to applicants.  Here are a few of the most common ones.  As usual, these items are specific to Waterloo Engineering, and other programs or universities may be different.

  1. Waterloo should be ranked #1 on the OUAC application to be seriously considered.  No, it really doesn’t matter at all to us how you rank us.  We’ve sent offers to people who ranked us as #15 or 20 in past years (why do people apply to that many places!?).  The ranking is just used for statistical and predictive purposes.  Our philosophy is that if you applied and paid the fees, you deserve serious consideration like everyone else.
  2. You need a 95% average to get an offer.  That would help, of course, but most of our programs do have lots of people admitted with averages less than 95%.
  3. We have a quota for female admissions.  Wrong.  We (and the engineering profession in general) certainly encourage female interest and participation in engineering, but gender is not used for admission decisions.  In my opinion that would violate the spirit of human rights legislation.
  4. We have a quota for Ontario residents.  No, there are no reserved spaces for Ontario applicants.  Our spaces are open for Canadians and Permanent Residents of Canada, no matter where they are coming from.
  5. We have a quota for non-Canadians.  Actually this is true, not a myth.  We have only about 210 spaces in Engineering for “visa students”, and the rest (about 1,350) are reserved for Canadians (or Permanent Residents).
  6. Visa students are taking away spaces from Canadians.  No, not at Waterloo.  Those 210 spaces are not government-funded, so if we didn’t fill them with visa students, then they wouldn’t be available to anyone at all.  Visa students are charged much higher tuition fees to make up for the fact that there is no government funding to support those spaces and associated costs.
  7. People can apply for early admission.  No, there is no early admission application process.  People just apply, and we might decide to send a few of them offers in March (which is “early” for us).  Most offers go out in May.
  8. People apply with their “top 6” grades.  No, you just apply and we receive all your grades electronically (from Ontario schools, universities, and CEGEP), or you arrange for your transcript to be sent to us.  There is no need (or ability) to select certain grades for us.  We will pick out what we want.
  9. The admission average is based on the “top 6” grades.  For us, “top 6” is somewhat of a misnomer.  For Ontario applicants, the admission average is based on the 5 required Grade 12 courses plus the highest other 4U/M course.  It’s possible that those 5 required courses are not your “top” grades.  Also, a number of other school systems don’t have 6 courses in the admission requirements, so “top 6” doesn’t apply to them.
  10. The timing of when you submit your application can affect your chances.  No, our systems are set up to ensure everyone has a fair review and chance at admission by the time the final set of offers come out in May.  As long as you meet the deadlines and submit the required stuff, your application will be given equal consideration like all the others.

Engineering breaking ground today for new building

Exciting news about the start of construction for our new building, as well as support for automotive research and education, design, and entrepreneurship.

The University of Waterloo breaks ground today on Engineering 7, an $88-million building that will feature some of the best engineering research and teaching facilities in the world.The ground-breaking event will take place on Thursday November 12, at 1:30 pm at Engineering 5 on the University’s east campus.The new Engineering 7 (E7) facility will feature an additive manufacturing—or 3D printing—laboratory and an indoor flight arena for testing autonomous and robotic vehicles.It will also accommodate growth from Waterloo’s new biomedical engineering program and the expansion of the Faculty of Engineering’s highly popular mechatronics engineering program. It will house the Faculty’s new teaching innovation, the multidisciplinary Engineering Ideas Clinic™, where undergraduate students will integrate classroom theory with hands-on learning as they design, build, test and refine ideas.Part of the funding for E7 will come from the Educating the Engineer of the Future campaign, a $70-million fundraising effort that will help the Faculty of Engineering achieve its goal to become a world-class engineering school.Earlier this week, GM Canada announced $1 million in funding to support the Educating the Engineer of the Future campaign. This support will fund a Research Chair in advanced materials while also sponsoring Waterloo Engineering’s Capstone Design projects involving software development, which is key to GM Canada’s work on “the connected car.”E7 will also become the new home for the Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre. It will have dedicated study and social spaces for students, lecture halls and entrepreneurial support areas, along with areas for student teams to prototype their Capstone Design projects.

Source: Thursday, November 12, 2015 | Daily Bulletin