Updated version of a past post for the 2017 admission cycle, as there have been a few small changes.
The Admission Information Form, or AIF, is the primary vehicle for applicants to tell us about themselves. Our admission decisions are mainly based on grades, but the AIF information can help us distinguish between people who have similar grades, and we award up to 5 points onto the admission average for outstanding applicants. Let’s go through the various parts of the AIF and see what is involved.
First, and most important: if you apply to Waterloo Engineering and don’t submit an AIF, you will probably not get an offer, even if you have a 99.9% high school average and meet all the other requirements. Your friends or relatives may claim that they received an offer in past years without the AIF, and this may be true, but those days are over. Improvements in our online submission system, and increasing competition for spaces, make it essential that we have that information before we make an admission decision. Also, the AIF is a significant factor in scholarship decisions, so it has potential monetary value too!
So, what’s in the AIF and what should you write in it? Here are the major sections/questions that are asked (not necessarily in this order):
When you apply to Waterloo Engineering, you apply online through OUAC to the program of most interest. On the AIF, we give you the opportunity to identify one alternate choice from among our engineering programs (excluding Architecture). Biomedical and Software Engineering are not available as alternates either, since they’re so competitive for admission (i.e. no one will be denied for some other program and get into these instead).
How do these work? If the program you applied to (your 1st choice) is too competitive and you don’t get an offer, we will automatically put you into the competitions for your alternate choice. So, this is very important. If you don’t put down an alternate choice, and you don’t get an offer to your 1st choice, you are out of luck. We won’t consider you for anything else, since we will assume that was the only program you are really considering. If you put down the same program for the alternate, it is the same as not identifying any alternate choice. Maybe it shows that you are keen for that program, but it doesn’t really help you at all.
Another important point about alternates: admissions to Computer and Electrical engineering programs are considered as one big pool. So don’t use electrical as an alternate to computer, nor computer as an alternate to electrical. They are essentially the same for admission purposes, so if you don’t get into one you certainly won’t get into the other.
Also, the alternate choices are only considered if you don’t get your 1st choice offer. You will not get several offers from Engineering to pick from, just the one offer. If you applied to other programs at Waterloo but outside of Engineering (e.g. something in Mathematics or Science), those are completely separate and independent OUAC applications and you might get other offers from them.
You have up to 900 characters (not words!) to explain why you are interested in Waterloo, in general. Later, you can explain why you are interested in Engineering. What to write? Well, honesty is a good approach. Don’t bother making up something that you think will make us feel good about ourselves. It’s painfully obvious when we read it, and doesn’t really help your application. Just tell us what attracted you to apply to Waterloo. We’re just interested in finding out more about you and your motivations, as well as your writing skills. If you are applying to several different faculties at Waterloo (for example, Engineering and Science), just use something generic. You don’t have to explain “Why Waterloo?” for each program (you can explain about engineering further down the form).
Here is a table where you can describe (using brief titles) what you do outside of class time. List anything you think is relevant and tells us something about you and your interests or abilities. This could be sports, hobbies, music, volunteer activities, whatever. We’re not looking for anything in particular, just an overview of what you like to do. Important: you should indicate (using the provided spaces) when these activities took place, and how much time commitment was involved (Hours/week, and weeks/year). If you’re not sure about the precise dates and hours, just make your best estimate. If the activity is ongoing and likely to continue in the future, you can use August 31 of this year as the end date, rather than leaving it blank. If you leave the timeline details out, the reviewers have a more difficult time interpreting the activities and may discount them.
There is also a small text space where you can briefly elaborate on your activities, if there are specific things you want us to understand. I would highly recommend that you briefly summarize the most significant thing you want us to notice in this space and why? This is your chance to highlight what you feel is most important to you.
The extracurriculars section covers the Grades 10, 11, and 12 time period. We don’t really care what you did prior to that, although we understand that you may have been doing certain things (like sports or hobbies) for much longer. If you are an applicant that has been out of school for 1 or more years, feel free to adapt it to the most recent 3 years, not necessarily Grades 10, 11 and 12.
In this table, you can list any summer or part-time jobs or volunteer positions (paid or unpaid) you have held. Here, list anything like a job that you will put on your resume for co-op job applications. Again, make sure you put in an estimate for the hours and start/end dates so the reviewers can fully understand the situation and level of commitment.
Here you can list any awards you might have received, either for academic achievements or other things (volunteering, sports, music competitions, etc.). Indicate the year the award was received, and the size of the competition or class (or a rough estimate). Don’t bother listing awards you got before high school or more than 3 or 4 years ago. We are only interested in recent history. If you have a long list, it might be better to delete the minor ones (like best mark in your Grade 10 History class), and focus on ones that are more significant (more competitive, regional, provincial, national level, etc.). You don’t want the significant ones to get lost in a long list of minor things; you want to make sure you stand out at a glance.
You can use this text box to describe any significant personal challenges you have recently faced and that may have affected your academic or extracurricular performance. Most applicants leave this blank, which is what we would expect. This section is only visible to me and a select few others, so if you need to use it don’t be concerned about confidentiality/privacy. We will contact you if we feel we need more information or documentation.
Institutions Attended (not on Quest), and Post-secondary Education
These sections are for listing or describing any high schools, colleges or universities that you have previously attended, especially if they are not appearing in Quest (our online information system where you submit the AIF). Most applicants will have nothing to put in here. But if you have attended college or university previously, make sure it is clear to us or serious complications can arise.
More space where you can elaborate on anything you think is important for us to know about your background. Like the “Circumstances” box above, access to this information is restricted so personal or confidential things could be mentioned. Many people don’t fill this out, but this is another opportunity to highlight any particular points that you think are relevant to admissions and make you stand out.
In this section are tables where you can list your current and previous year’s courses and grades. We do not use these grades for admission decisions, so don’t worry if your current grades change after submitting the AIF. It is important however, because we do use this information to cross-check the other data we get from transcripts. For example, sometimes it’s not clear from a transcript if the right prerequisites have been taken or are in progress. In that case, we use the AIF to help us figure out the situation without having to contact you or the school for more information.
For courses that are in progress or upcoming in the next semester, just report your most recent grade or “IP” if there are no grades yet. You can also list the estimated date when the course will be finished. Again, this doesn’t have to exact or updated again later. It just helps to give us an overview of what is going on at this point in time.
Don’t worry about putting in the correct course code or exact name. Generic descriptions are OK too, like “chemistry”, rather than SCH4U (for an Ontario applicant).
Also, we want to know if any courses were taken at night school, summer school, online, or were repeated. There are text boxes where you can explain why these courses were taken in non-conventional ways. It is important to use these boxes, if applicable, to help us understand your situation. Again, this information helps us understand transcripts and what was going on.
For repeated courses: we will usually use the grade from the first attempt, or possibly use the higher repeated grade but apply a penalty for repeating a course, unless there were extenuating circumstances. So, tell us honestly why you repeated and we will decide what to do. If necessary, we may contact you for more information or documentation.
Do not try to hide the fact that you repeated courses. We have other ways to find out, and we will take a dim view of those who do not acknowledge and explain it in the text box. If it seems that a course was repeated and there is a lack of acknowledgement or detail, we usually assume the worst and reject the application.
Engineering Interest and Goals
Here is the part where you can describe why you are interested in engineering, and perhaps the specific discipline you have chosen as your first choice. Many people describe how they became interested in engineering, others describe what they hope to do in their future career. This is your chance to convince the reader that you know what you are getting into, and why.
The old “Reading Interests” section has been replaced as of 2017 with the following section.
More About Your Goals
This is some additional space to discuss more about your reasons and goals for your education. In the “Engineering Interests and Goals” section you might discuss how you became interested in engineering, and then in this section perhaps describe your longer-term interests and career goals. Again, there is no particular ‘right answer’, we’re just trying to get more information on where you think you might be headed, and how Waterloo Engineering will fit into that plan, even if your long-term plan is not to do engineering.
Our Software Engineering program requires applicants to have some experience with programming, so applicants to Software must fill this out. New starting 2017: we would like all applicants to fill this out, even if it is just to say that you have no experience. It won’t directly affect admission decisions for programs other than Software, but the information is useful to help us understand the applicant pool and individual abilities.
There are several boxes where you can add or amend information after you submit the AIF. Realistically, do not plan or rely on using these! We will try to scan these for critical information, but generally they won’t get considered in your AIF score. So make sure your original AIF submission is carefully done, so that you don’t need to use any amendments.
The AIF will be reviewed and points awarded by the Admissions team and others. Being concise, and using the text boxes to highlight your most significant achievements, abilities, or career goals, is a good thing to do. Think of it like a resumé for an employer, where you want to make sure you stand out and the employer gets the most important points right away.
If you applied through OUAC to several programs at Waterloo, there will still only be one AIF to fill out. Some sections are common to all programs, other sections will appear that are specific to your application (Engineering and Mathematics have special sections, for example).
Make sure to proofread everything. The readers are not impressed with poor grammar, missing punctuation, lack of capitalization, use of texting shortcuts, etc. The reviewers are professionals, and expect to see professional-level presentation and communication skills.
Accuracy: obviously, we can’t check every statement in every AIF. But we do random fact checking, especially for high scoring AIFs and may contact applicants for further proof or documentation. Fraudulent statements in the AIF may result in the revocation of an offer, even well after an applicant has started their engineering program (wouldn’t that be an unpleasant surprise!).
Finally: carefully read the instructions and make sure that you submit the finished version of your AIF (not just “save” individual parts). Every year, a few applicants fill it out but don’t actually push the “submit” buttons, and so it doesn’t get considered.