What’s the Cut-Off?

Around this time of year, “What’s the cut-off?” is probably the most common question we get about admission to our engineering programs.  A very reasonable question, and one that helps potential applicants know their chances for admission.  Unfortunately, it’s a question we can’t really answer.  Not because we’re secretive or trying to be coy, it’s just a question without a direct answer for a number of  reasons.

First, there is sometimes a misconception that we set a specific required average in advance and then use that as our “cut-off”.  In fact,  the grades required to gain admission are all based on competition.  We simply take the “best” applicants until the program spaces are filled.  So the “cut-off” will depend on the number of spaces, number of applicants, and the grades of those applicants.  The number of spaces is relatively constant, but the other two can vary from year to year.  So there is no “cut-off” number we can quote with certainty in advance.

Second, our admission decisions are not based solely on grades.  The term “cut-off” implies some target grade, above which you’ll be admitted and below which you will not.  But we also factor in the Admission Information Form score, and an adjustment factor (as described in a previous post), and these will move people around in the ranking.  So, an applicant with a 89% average might be rejected, while an applicant with a 86% might be admitted because of these other factors.  We could say the “cut-off” was 86%, but this would give false hope to the 89% applicant who would expect to be admitted for sure.

Our practice in recent years has been to say “individual selection from the mid-80s”, for example (for some programs, while others are “low 80s” or “high 80s”).  This is meant to suggest that if you have grades in the mid 80s, you have some reasonable chance for admission, although no guarantees.   It also means that grades in the low 80s might be a long-shot, but sometimes it works out.  You never know in advance how the competition for spaces might turn out.  Of course, if you have grades well above the mid-80s, your chances increase substantially.

This year, our Engineering Admissions brochure takes a different approach.  It’s a bit more quantitative and probabilistic.  Perhaps applicants will like it better (engineering applicants tend to be more quantitative people), but we’ll see what the feedback is like.  In this brochure, we show for example that if your average is in the 85 to 90% range and you’re applying for computer engineering, you have a 50% chance of receiving an offer (based on last year’s results).  It’s still not a “cut-off” number, but at least it gives applicants a better understanding their chances.  If anyone has any better ideas about how to present this sort of information, we’d be happy to hear them!

12 thoughts on “What’s the Cut-Off?

  1. This is actually a very nice way to show out chances compared to the “Individual selection from Mid 80s” I feel a bit more confident but will not slack off regardless 🙂

  2. Is it true or just rumour that Waterloo requires its math prereqs to be at least 85? Will be awful for me considering i have low to mid 90s in chem, english and physics and low 80 in advanced functions 😦

    • No, Engineering’s minimum course grades are 70% (for the Canadian high school systems). As long as all the required courses are 70%+, then only the average matters. Other programs outside of Engineering (such as Mathematics) may have different requirements.

  3. Pingback: Chance Yourself | A Professor in Waterloo Engineering

  4. I appreciate how the engineering brochure gives the chances of being selected for a specific program. This gives the students a more realistic look at where they stand with their marks 🙂

  5. Hello Professor,

    My question is what was last year’s cutoff (meaning what was the lowest average that got accepted) for programs such as mechanical and civil engineering. Surely you would know that and that would give me a good idea of where I stand in the application pool.

    Thank you for your time

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