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 opinions on specific applications or circumstances.
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Reviewing Results

After finishing the offers for the current cycle, we start to review the statistics to prepare material for the next (2016) cycle, including an update to the “probabilities table” like the one shown in a previous post and in our applicant information.  We have compiled the preliminary results from the 2015 cycle and these are shown below, where “Probability” is the percent of applicants with an admission average in the given grade range who received an offer to their first choice program.  These are raw admission averages, without any other bonus or factors.  The results show some surprising changes from what we have seen in the past and expected.   Continue reading

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Final Offers 2015

It’s been a while since I have had much time to get to this blog…very busy with courses, research projects, and admissions of course.

So we’ve finished the decisions and they are being processed.  As of today (May 4) the Ontario (Form  101) offers have been posted on Quest (and will be followed shortly by email and OUAC).  The out-of-province (Form 105) take a bit longer to process and will probably show up on Quest by the end of this week (May 8).  We are working on scholarship decisions, and those should be available next week I believe.

This year seemed to be particularly complicated.  A thousand more applicants (about 11,000 total), and very strong competition for Biomedical and Software especially.  The net result is that a lot of applicants got offers to their alternate choices, or not at all, even though they may have had very good grades.  It’s unfortunate, but we only have so many spaces to go around.

The next step is for those with offers to seriously think about whether Waterloo Engineering is the right place for them, before the deadline in early June.  There is one last open house on May 23 to get information to help with that decision.  I’ll try to post some thoughts about the alternate offers in the near future.

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Innovation Track Record

There was a recent article in the New York Times about the panic and anxiety surrounding applicants trying to get into the “elite” U.S. schools like Stanford and Harvard.  It contains this interesting little comment:

I also spoke with Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, one of the best-known providers of first-step seed money for tech start-ups. I asked him if any one school stood out in terms of students and graduates whose ideas took off. “Yes,” he responded, and I was sure of the name I’d hear next: Stanford. It’s his alma mater, though he left before he graduated, and it’s famous as a feeder of Silicon Valley success.

But this is what he said: “The University of Waterloo.” It’s a public school in the Canadian province of Ontario, and as of last summer, it was the source of eight proud ventures that Y Combinator had helped along. “To my chagrin,” Altman told me, “Stanford has not had a really great track record.”

Here is the link to the full article.

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Capstone Design Projects

March is the season for “Capstone Design Project” presentations at Waterloo Engineering.  These are events where groups of graduating students present and explain the design projects they have been working on for the past 8 to 12 months.  Working on a significant, open-ended design project is a feature in all engineering programs in Waterloo and across Canada, to my knowledge.  These “Design Symposia” are open to the public.

Where do the topics for these design projects come from?  There are 3 typical sources:  1) some professors provide an idea, likely related to their ongoing research projects; 2) companies approach us with ideas that they would like someone to work on; 3) the student groups come up with their own ideas.

For companies, this is an opportunity to have some ideas explored in more detail and for free (other than some time spent).  Many companies have some new ideas or side-projects that would be nice to do, but they don’t have the time or resources to follow-up on them right away.  Having a student group work on it can help them scope-out the idea and see if it is worthwhile to pursue more aggressively in the future.  For the students, they get more experience working on a real-world problem, possibly in an industry sector they want to learn more about.  This can be a nice addition to the experience they already gained during their co-op work terms.

Student groups that come up with their own idea are often the source of new innovations and start-up companies that they build after graduation.  At Waterloo, any novel idea that a student creates is owned by them.  The university supports innovation and entrepreneurship, but doesn’t attempt to take it over in any way.

For high school students who are thinking about pursuing engineering, these projects are a good way to get a feeling for what you can do in the different disciplines.  So check out these links for project titles or descriptions:

Management Engineering
Nanotechnology Engineering
Software Engineering
Civil, Environmental, Geological Engineering
Electrical & Computer Engineering
Mechatronics Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Chemical Engineering
Systems Design Engineering

A couple of programs are missing their project lists, but will probably be updated in the coming days.  See this link.

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First Rounds of Offers for 2015

We just finished processing our first round of offers for applicants who are Ontario high school students. These should be appearing via Quest, OUAC and email.  As usual, we made enough offers to fill up to 1/3 of our available spaces in each program (more specifically, those spaces reserved for Canadians and Permanent Residents).  These are applications where we have enough data and it’s clear that they are competitive, based on previous experience.  We’ll be processing some non-Ontario applicant offers in the next few weeks (these take a lot more effort to analyze and sort through).

Some universities give out a lot more earlier offers for Engineering, but that’s simply because they have a lot less competition for spaces and can just go ahead with whatever they have. Continue reading

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Update February 2015

Things are moving along nicely for our Engineering admissions.  The Ontario high school applications are submitted (a few continue to trickle in), and the out-of-province applications will be winding up and closing at the end of February.  Here are a few observations and comments:

  1. Overall application numbers look similar to last year, possibly a few percent higher.  I would anticipate competition levels for most programs to be similar to last year.
  2. Applications to our new Biomedical Engineering program jumped significantly to around 900.  Since there are only 50 spots available, we’re going to have a tough time deciding.  Interesting observation:  according to OUAC statistics, there are about 6.9 applicants per available space for medical schools in Ontario.  We have 18 applicants per available space for Biomedical Engineering!
  3. Our AIF readers are busy evaluating what has been submitted to date (some 6,000+).  AIFs not submitted by now may not get read in time to be considered for the first round of offers.  However, as long as it’s submitted by mid-March it will be OK for the final round of offers in May.
  4. We’re waiting for the Ontario school grades to be available and downloaded, and then we will do some offers in late February.  As usual, we generally aim to give away less than about 30% of the available spaces at that time.  The rest are held until May when the second semester grades are available.
  5. The applications from outside Ontario are being analyzed as fast as we can (it’s all “manual” work).  In early March we will take what information we have and do a few offers, but again most will come in May.
  6. We’re making plans for our March Break Open House.  A very worthwhile event, especially if you’ve never visited the Waterloo campus before.
Posted in Application Insights, Early Offers | 57 Comments

More senior thesis pet peeves


This is a very nice post about mistakes commonly found in engineering student writing, and I see the same issues described here. The inability to write clearly can be a career-limiting problem when they graduate.

Originally posted on Gas station without pumps:

I previously posted some Senior thesis pet peeves. Here is another list, triggered by another group of first drafts (in no particular order):

  • An abstract is not an introduction. Technically, an abstract isn’t really a part of a document, but a separate piece of writing that summarizes everything important in the document. Usually the abstract is written last, after everything in the thesis has been written, so that the most important stuff can be determined. Most readers will never read anything of a document but the abstract.
  • Every paragraph (in technical writing) should start with a topic sentence, and the remaining sentences in the paragraph should support and expand that topic sentence. If you drift away from the topic, start a new paragraph! The lack of coherent paragraphs is probably the most common writing problem I see in senior theses.
  • I don’t mark every error I see in student…

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