Looking at Admission Essays

I came across these examples of admissions essays at Johns Hopkins University a while ago:  http://apply.jhu.edu/apply/essays.html

They are interesting, engaging, witty, nicely written.  But frankly, I’m glad we don’t make our applicants submit essays.  I think I much prefer our Admission Information Form.  Much more brief, to the point, quicker to read  (sort of what an engineering report should be).

I know from other reading that there are various concerns with these college admission essays.  How much of it is the work of the applicant, versus parents or admissions consultants?  Was it purchased or plagiarised from somewhere? (There is a Turnitin for Admissions service that some universities use to check for that.) Does a good essay translate into a good engineering student?  Lots of questions, and not so many answers.

Some of our applicants complain about having to fill out our AIF.  I suspect that they would like submitting an essay even less.

13 thoughts on “Looking at Admission Essays

  1. I’m not sure whether it is a new thing but someone who applied to University of Toronto and University of Waterloo for Engineering this year said that UofT also asks for a contact name and phone number for extra-curriculars listed. While I would assume this allows them to check whether the information is true, I think it would cause the student to think twice about exaggerating their involvement to make their AIF look better. Does Waterloo ever check the information or have they considered doing this?

    • We do random checks on admitted students during the fall term, especially those for whom the AIF was a significant factor in admission or scholarships. We are just looking at a few this week, co-incidentally. If there is a serious discrepancy we would pursue it as an admissions offence (and I believe that our standard penalty is expulsion from the university). I haven’t run across any cases in engineering in recent years.

      Expulsion would be far worse than having your application denied, because it stays on your permanent record. That should cause students to think more than twice 🙂

      • Hi professor, I was just wondering if the same checking process applies to all of the faculties within Waterloo. Particularly, the AFM program. Do they do random checks in the fall term as well?

  2. You have made some valid points here. However there is no evidence either way that an essay or the AIF format that Waterloo adopts will clearly test how in your own words whether a candidate will “translate into a good engineering student”. AIF will probably save the administration time and as we all know even a university is a business. No student should be intimidated by an essay or the prospect of writing one. If there is any indication of the dire straits that our current secondary education is in, then theoretically they should at least have been trained to write a proper essay. An essay forces a student to take writing, and communication seriously. It forces them to articulate, which is useful even in Engineering circles. At this stage, there is no right or wrong approach to this except to note that any type of evaluation conducted should be consistent and thorough. Every engineering school can benefit from students who have a balance of both bright ideas and the ability to articulate them.

  3. hi sir. is it possible to have word document of the AIF posted rather than go on Quest. I’d like to get started on it instead of waiting to apply through Quest as I wish to do a thorough job on it. Also, when can we start applying to Waterloo. I’m only free during winter break and would like to get my applications to all universities done by the first few days of the break. i am in ib and my marks have not been converted yet, they get converted after my january mock exams. right now my raw marks are 93 Advanced Func, 77 Physics, 75 Chemistry, 85 English, and 93 Economics. I know this average is very low, but i am predicted a 6 in physics converting to 90-96 and 5 in chemistry which is flat 80%. With my converted marks my average will be at least 90%, so would you know that I am in IB so my marks are low so my application wouldn’t be immediately tossed aside? I’m sacred to apply in December because I might not be considered because my average is too low and it may seem unlikely to bring my marks up, but the reality is that they convert to relatively high Ontario marks. Also, in IB, we do a lot of extra things which we are forced –> CAS, Extended Essay, and Theory of Knowledge. This sort of adds more pressure on us, but does Waterloo see this and realize the amount of harrd work an IB student must put to achieve the same thing as an academic student?

    • No we don’t have a Word document version, although all the contents are described in this post. You can apply as soon as you get your PIN information from your school (I’m assuming you’re in an Ontario high school). I would suggest you apply right away and then you can start working on the AIF directly on Quest (you can work on it and save the various sections as long as you want, and only submit it when you’re satisfied). Don’t worry about your grades, we don’t even start looking at what the school uploads until mid to late February. Yes, we are well aware of IB, grade conversions, and curriculum differences, and will take that into account.

  4. is there a certain maximum number of spots for mechatronics engineering? i was hearing that required averages significantly went up last year. of course u cant tell where i would be last year, but it would be great if u can comment on whether i seemed like a competitive applicant with these criteria last year for mechatronics.

    89% top 6 average
    AIF pretty good at least 1/5.

      • That is absolutely true. You never know what to do other than try your best, which is what I’m doing. I know that Waterloo has coop, but is there anyway to fund our education once we get into the program. Like during first year in engineering, are there any scholarships for like second year which we can apply to. The thing is the only one I’d probably get if I get in if I bring my average to 90% is the entrance president’s one, but I’d like to compete for more scholarships when in uni. I want to be able to compete for funding in uni rather than just in high school. The only scholarship I ever hear are about the ones you apply to during senior year of high school. Some example names would be great of the scholarships

  5. I just want to know, how much weight do the university of Waterloo give to AIF. Is it really that important? I’m not really worried about writing an essay. But, you see, I haven’t really done much Extra-curriculum activities like other students. I have just been to one club for 3 years and another club for a year. And I’m also thinking to join a sports team next semester. So I’m kind of thinking to expand my EC points in some way. So do you think I can put one of my volunteering as one of the EC? Thanks in Advance, professor, and thanks also for dedicating your time for students like us.

    • The AIF can add up to 5% points onto your average, but if your marks are high then it doesn’t make much difference for admission. Most people have only a small number of activities, so I wouldn’t worry about it.


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