Welcome!

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.
 

Buyer Beware

One of the best features of Waterloo Engineering is that it is direct-entry.  Right from the first day you are in your chosen discipline, all the courses can be tailored to your interests, and all your classmates will be with you in the same classes for the next few years.  All of this makes for a nice social and educational environment.

One of the worst features of Waterloo Engineering is that it is direct-entry.  If you selected a program which doesn’t really match your interests or aptitude, you are somewhat stuck.  In theory you can switch to another engineering program, but in practice this is complicated and may require the loss of one year to re-start and catch up on certain key courses.  If the program you want is over-subscribed and highly competitive, transfers into it may never happen (which is often the case for Software Engineering lately).  Students in this situation will likely suffer a form of “buyer’s remorse”, that feeling of regret when you buy something expensive without really deeply considering all the aspects.

That’s why this time of the admission cycle is quite critical for prospective applicants, and they should be doing lots of investigation to inform themselves about different choices and options.  From our side, we know that applicants are in potential trouble if we get one of the following types of responses  when we ask them why they are interested in a certain engineering program:

  • it’s the most competitive one to get into
  • it just sounds cool
  • my father/mother/cousin/aunt/etc  said it would be good one for me
  • I heard that it’s the best one for getting a job
  • I like math and physics
  • I heard that it’s the highest paying field

None of those answers are “bad”, but if that’s the total extent of the reasons then there is an obvious lack of insight into the program, career opportunities, typical jobs and what they involve.  The only way to get those insights is to spend a few hours to do some research and look at some websites and videos.  Type something like “what do chemical engineers do” into Google and you’ll get loads of information to look at.

Meeting faculty & engineering students at events is another good opportunity to find out more, but you should do some research in advance so you can ask good questions and get better answers.  The Ontario Universities Fair is runs from  September 22-24 2017 and is one good opportunity, for those within travelling distance to Toronto.  Waterloo has their Fall open house on November 4 2017.  If you live far away from Waterloo, look for similar events at your local university or college.  Engineering programs have a lot of similar features across North America or even around the world, so visiting any of them is a good starting point in exploring down your choices.

Some of our most impressive applicants are the ones who clearly know what the program is about, and have some initial ideas about careers and things they would like to try in co-op employment.  Occasionally they have even looked at the upper year courses in the program and are looking forward to taking certain ones.  That requires some effort and thought, but in the end they are much more likely to excel than someone who doesn’t put much thought into picking a program.

Admissions 2018: How it’s going to work

An updated version of this popular post, with some revisions  for the upcoming September 2018 admissions cycle. 

Here is an overview on how the process works and the approximate timelines.  As usual, this is specific to Waterloo Engineering admissions; other programs and universities will have their own unique variations.  Also, make sure you look through our admissions webpages for exact deadlines and official requirements since this is just an unofficial, quick overview and I can’t cover every detail for every variety of applicant and situation. Continue reading

Waterloo does well in PitchBook entrepreneurial rankings

The following is re-posted from Waterloo’s Daily Bulletin website.  Interesting statistics for those who are interested in entrepreneurship.

Ranking season is upon us as organizations have begun publishing their annual listing of international universities.

The PitchBook 2017/2018 Universities Report is the latest to be released. PitchBook compiles a ranking of the world’s top 50 universities that produce venture capitalist-backed entrepreneurs.

This year, the University of Waterloo is ranked #20 in the world for the number of VC-banked entrepreneurs, and is the highest-ranked Canadian university, with the University of Toronto coming in at #31, McGill University at #32, the University of British Columbia at #49 and Queen’s University at #50. This measure ranks universities by most prolific producers of entrepreneurs with venture capital banking and includes companies that received a first round of venture funding between January 1, 2006 and August 18, 2017. Waterloo counted 390 entrepreneurs and 299 companies raising $7.06B. Waterloo’s rank remains unchanged from last year.

In the category of top universities for “unicorns,” or the number of entrepreneurs founding companies that are valued privately at $1B or more, Waterloo is tied for fourth place (and again, #1 in Canada), with only Stanford, Harvard, and Cornell ahead of us. Waterloo is tied with the University of California at Berkeley. Waterloo’s top unicorns included Wish, Pivotal Software, Kuadi Dache, Instacart, and Storm8. Waterloo moved to fourth place from sixth place last year.

In the category of top companies by capital raised, Waterloo is ranked #20 (1st in Canada), the same rank it achieved last year. Waterloo-connected companies listed in the ranking included Wish; Pivotal Software; Kuaidi Dache; Instacart; and Storm8.

Source: Tuesday, September 12, 2017 | Daily Bulletin | University of Waterloo

Chances for 2018

To start the new academic year and next admission cycle, the 2018 Admissions brochures for Engineering and other programs have recently been uploaded on the Waterloo website.  We continue to include a table showing admission probabilities (“chances”) for different programs and grade ranges (at the end of the brochure, and another online version is available here).  Many people find it useful for assessing  their chances at admission, and  then they can plan accordingly and have realistic expectations.   This is based on the 2017 results and as usual we caution that 2018 may be different, since it all depends on the number of applicants (which is unknown in advance and can fluctuate).

For convenience and readability in a table, we lump the grades into ranges.  Some people find the big jumps in probability between the different grade ranges to be difficult to understand or interpret, so I have been generating graphs that provide interpolations between the various grades in finer detail (see the end of the post for methodology, if interested).  As usual, the grades shown below are the raw, unadjusted averages of the Grade 12 required courses (or equivalents), not including any other factors such as scores for extracurriculars, work experience, or awards. Continue reading

So, about this Googler’s manifesto. – Yonatan Zunger – Medium

Anderson:  Ignoring the underlying controversy for the moment, I found these excellent two quotes about the nature of engineering work.  I would say it’s applicable to every engineering discipline, beyond just software.  Very useful concepts for high school students to understand if they are thinking about an engineering career.

Engineering is not the art of building devices; it’s the art of fixing problems. Devices are a means, not an end. Fixing problems means first of all understanding them — and since the whole purpose of the things we do is to fix problems in the outside world, problems involving people, that means that understanding people, and the ways in which they will interact with your system, is fundamental to every step of building a system.

—————

Essentially, engineering is all about cooperation, collaboration, and empathy for both your colleagues and your customers. If someone told you that engineering was a field where you could get away with not dealing with people or feelings, then I’m very sorry to tell you that you have been lied to. Solitary work is something that only happens at the most junior levels, and even then it’s only possible because someone senior to you — most likely your manager — has been putting in long hours to build up the social structures in your group that let you focus on code.

Source: So, about this Googler’s manifesto. – Yonatan Zunger – Medium

What U.S. Campus is Most Like Waterloo?

In a recent post about rankings, I showed that Waterloo often appears in the rankings alongside colleges like Penn State, Texas A&M, Purdue, UCLA, Michigan, etc.  So perhaps the next question is, “how does Waterloo look and feel compared to these or other colleges?”.  Rankings are one thing, but if you don’t like the environment then the ranking probably doesn’t matter.  By “look and feel”, I mean the general campus environment (architecture, space, etc.) and situation (urban, suburban, rural, etc.).  Waterloo is a fairly young university (just 60 years old this year), located within a medium sized city (population about 380,000 if you combine the twin cities of Waterloo and Kitchener), so how does that compare with those places? Continue reading

Rough waters turn to smooth sailing for student team

UWAST’s autonomous sailboat in action

Anderson:  I didn’t know we had a robotic sailing team!  I learn something new every day. 
Source: Rough waters turn to smooth sailing for student team | Engineering

By Nancy Harper

The University of Waterloo Autonomous Sailboat Team (UWAST) may be new to robotic sailing, but like every hardworking engineering team with one eye on the horizon, its goal is to win, not just compete.

That mindset served UWAST well in June at the 2017 International Robotic Sailing Regatta in Annapolis, Maryland.

UWAST team members Seamus Johnston, Richard Li and Jessen Liang are congratulated by event chairman Paul Miller (left).

With five main challenges over five days, UWAST members proved they were up to the task of facing seasoned veterans. The team finished sixth overall — not bad for a university that had entered this kind of international competition just once before in 2006.

Team leads Richard Li and Seamus Johnston were joined by Lily Liu, Jessen Liang, Jonathan Parsons, Chris Carnduff, Trevor Van Leeuwen, Dominic Faryna and Julian Howarth, plus faculty advisor Professor Jan Huissoon.

Representing the full spectrum of engineering – from mechatronics and mechanical, to electrical and chemical – members are optimistic they set the stage in Annapolis for future success. Continue reading

Water Testing: From Research to Kickstarter

One focus of my research group’s efforts over the past 10 years has been collaborative R&D with small and start-up companies.  They often have some very interesting ideas and needs, but lack the facilities and technical team to do the work in-house.  So this is a perfect opportunity for us to help them out with creating new businesses and for my students to get some “real-world” research experience with commercialization projects.

One major effort has been in the development of nanotechnology for rapid water quality testing, in particular for bacterial contamination.  Traditional laboratory methods require 3 to 7 days to complete, which is a rather long time to wait if you’re concerned about your water quality.  Through our collaborative R&D projects, we’ve developed a test method that can give an answer in a few minutes.  This rapid feedback allows people to make informed decisions about what to do next, whether to treat the water further, or send samples to a lab for more extensive testing, etc.

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Prototype ExactBlue water testing system.

One recent development is the creation of a more automated, smart-phone based system that’s suitable for regular consumer use.  A prototype model is shown in the photograph.  We’ve been testing the prototype devices with our nanotechnology-based reagent (which goes into the test tube), and doing validation and calibration work.  Everything is looking good and everyone has been pleased with the results.  It’s reliably and quickly detecting microbial contamination in our water samples, and there are some other water tests under development that will be able to use the same platform.

To get to the next stage, which is production of the first batch of devices for sale, the company has just launched a Kickstarter campaign.  Have a look at their Kickstarter website to see much more information about the technology and where they are headed.

Waterloo’s Ranking Neighbours

I (and many others) don’t put a lot of confidence in rankings as a useful tool for high school students in selecting universities, but people tend to look at them and debate nevertheless.  The problem is, there are so many rankings available with different criteria and methodologies.  How do you make any sense of it?

Recently, I was reading about a statistical analysis technique called nearest neighbour analysis, and it gave me the following idea.  Why not look at several ranking system results for Waterloo and see if there is any commonality in the universities that are ranked around the same level?  So, I looked at the most recent Engineering rankings from QS, Times Higher Education, US News, ARWU, and URAP, and focused on just universities in North America.  I looked at Waterloo’s position, and the next 10 ranked above and below.  The result is shown in the following table, where the number in parentheses is the global rank… Continue reading