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.

Final Round for 2016

An updated posting…

The final set of offers are getting posted to our online Quest system, and then to the OUAC application centre (there is a day or two delay between the two).  At this moment, a lot of the Ontario school applicant offers (Form 101) have been posted.  The Form 105 offers (for outside Ontario) are being processed.  The university hopes to have the majority of decisions posted by the end of next week (May 13).  Because there are thousands of decisions to process (in addition to just Engineering), it can take a while for it all to finish.

A suggestion about communications…if you’re an applicant waiting on a decision, the best thing to do is to monitor your Quest account and your email until you see the outcome.  It is not a good idea to phone or email the university at this point, as the staff don’t have any information to offer until the decisions are finished being posted.  We know it’s difficult to wait, but phone and email won’t get a result any faster.

As a quick summary for this year, we had just under 12,000 applicants for about 1,550 spaces, or around 7.5 applicants per space.  It’s actually a bit more complicated than that.  There were about 6 applicants per space reserved for Canadians and Permanent Residents, and almost 17 applicants per space for the 200 spots reserved for visa students, so that competition is quite a bit tougher.

Overall, with our space limitations and the number of applicants, we will be turning away over 2,500 applicants with a 90%+ admission average.


What’s New for April 2016

Things have been unusually busy lately, with coursework, research projects, student supervision, and admissions (of course).  So, this blog will suffer somewhat and my ability to respond to comments is limited.  But here’s what is new or coming up shortly:

  1. We recently said farewell to our Associate Director of Admissions, Ally Morrow.  An opportunity suddenly came up which was an excellent fit for her personal and career goals, and she is now the Assistant Director for MBA Marketing and Recruitment at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.  Some of our Engineering graduates might encounter her if they want to pursue MBA degrees later.
  2. We are wrapping up the last of the AIF reviewing, for the ones that were submitted by the March 18 deadline.
  3. For the next few weeks we will be finishing up the review of transcripts and documents sent in for non-Ontario applicants.
  4. Once we receive the grades for the Ontario high school second semester (in late April) we’ll start the final round of offers.  The exact dates are uncertain, but offers will likely flow in the first week of May, together with our scholarship decisions too.

It looks like this year we received about 12,000 applications to engineering (not including our Architecture program), so that’s up about 1,500 from last year.  I anticipate that we will have lots of hard decisions to make in this final round of offers.

Capstone Design Projects 2016

It’s that time of year when senior, final-year students complete and present their “capstone design projects”.  These are group design projects, usually based on industry problems or student innovation ideas.  The projects are meant to be completely open-ended (i.e. there is no obvious, single, correct solution) and require students to pull together concepts from a variety of topics they have learned over the years.  The projects are not assigned, it is up to the student groups to come up with ideas, either on their own or through faculty or industry connections.  This is where co-op education really helps, because most of our students already have pretty good ideas based on what they have seen in their 2 years of work experience during university.

The design project results are presented in “Design Symposia” for each program, and there is a website which lists the dates in mid to late March.  These are open to the public, so anyone can drop by and see what’s up.  By clicking on each program, you can also find a brief description about each project.  For example, here is a list of projects in my department, Chemical Engineering.  I highly recommend that high school applicants and future prospects take a look at all these program listings.  These are the best source of information on all the different types of things that students can do, and the wide range may surprise you.  For example, many people think that Chemical Engineering is just about oil & gas, but when you look at the list you’ll see electric vehicle batteries, rooftop greenhouse design, biodegradable orthopedic implants, and controlled release antibiotics, among many other things.  Anything that involves materials and energy transformations is a possible chemical engineering project.

I like looking at the Management Engineering projects too.  These projects nicely emphasize that Management Engineering is not a business program (a frequent misconception with some applicants), but it is an engineering program full of math, statistical and data analysis, and optimization.  The project on “Reducing Distribution Costs for Canadian Blood Services” looks quite interesting to me (stochastic modelling is always interesting!).

I haven’t had a chance to look through all the different programs and their projects yet, but I’m sure a few will soon end up as start-up companies, if they haven’t already.  These capstone design projects have probably been the biggest single source of Waterloo start-ups in the last decade, I suspect.  There are now quite a few sources of financial support and design awards for the most innovative of these projects, as listed on the webpage, together with the support offered through the Velocity entrepreneurship and Conrad BET Centre programs, and others.

Round 1 2016

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve finished our first round of engineering offers, and they should be all posted on Quest by now.  As mentioned in other places, we aimed to fill around 25% of our spaces at this point, and the rest of the offers will be processed in early May.  In the meantime, we’re waiting for the Ontario second semester grades to come in April, and we continue processing the transcripts and documents sent in by the other applicants (Form 105 applicants).

With the increase in application numbers, things seemed  a bit more competitive again this year.  But it will be impossible to quantify that until everything is over in May, so I can’t really comment any further.

So for those who recently got an offer, congratulations.  Make sure you think carefully about the program, and whether Waterloo is a good fit for you.  Maybe try to attend our open house on March 19, or come for a visit some other day.

For the 10,000+ people who didn’t get an offer, make sure your AIF (and any other required documents) are submitted, and just sit tight.  We’ll have the rest of the decisions in early May. (note, for the AIF make sure it’s “submitted” and not just “saved” on Quest.)

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.