Our Engineering Programs

Over the years, I’ve come to know something about all the engineering programs at Waterloo.  Here is a short list of things that I like about each discipline.  These, of course, are my views based on my personal interests.  Others will have a completely different set of opinions and interests.  Follow the links for more general explanations.

  • Biomedical Engineering:  our newest program (launched in 2014), and turning out to be extremely popular with applicants.  It’s a nice mix of biochemistry, biomechanics, and electrical engineering aspects, delivered through our Systems Design department (see below for that program).  I think that this mix of material is fairly unique in Canada.
  • Chemical Engineering:  my own discipline and favourite.  I’ve been fascinated by chemistry since elementary school.  This evolved into an interest in chemical engineering, because it combines applied chemistry with large-scale processes, materials conversion, energy flows, big equipment, design and construction, etc.  I also like the fact that chemical engineers work in almost every industry.  The downside is that the public rarely understands what we do, since it’s often more “behind the scenes” than other disciplines.
  • Civil Engineering:  as a kid, who doesn’t like building bridges and buildings out of popsicle sticks and Lego?  At the beach, I also liked trying to build erosion protection for my sand castles, so the waves wouldn’t wreck them.  I think I would have definitely liked the whole infrastructure design and construction field, if I didn’t like chemistry better.  The Light Rail Transit and building construction currently going on in Waterloo is interesting to watch.
  • Computer Engineering:  this field did not formally exist when I was young, but I can see the attraction in programming (which I’ve done in various forms over the years), and IC chip design looks interesting, although somewhat mysterious to me.
  • Electrical Engineering:  growing up in rural areas without cable TV, I can appreciate the challenges in antenna design for telecommunications.  Power generation and high voltage transmission has always seemed interesting too.
  • Environmental Engineering:  much of my research work has been in water treatment and air pollution control, so clearly there is an overlap with this discipline.  I like the mix of chemistry, biology, and aspects of Civil Engineering that are included in this program, which is quite strong in the area of water treatment.
  • Geological Engineering:  I see lots of interesting things in this program.  The possibility of travel to exotic locations, anticipating and/or dealing with the effects of landslides and earthquakes, working with the mining industry (where they use explosives!), foundation design for skyscrapers.  The students in this program also go on class trips; I think Peru was once a destination, if I remember correctly!
  • Management Engineering:  I’ve liked the mathematics of optimization ever since I took a graduate course in that area.  This discipline has a nice focus in that area, which can be applied to a wide range of industries with large-scale, complex and integrated systems (e.g. transportation, medical, finance, telecommunications, petrochemical).
  • Mechanical Engineering:  this discipline has certain overlaps with chemical engineering too, such as materials, thermodynamics, and energy.  They get into more of the “nuts and bolts” aspects of equipment design, including pressure vessels, engines and drivetrains of various sorts, and that is certainly interesting to me.
  • Mechatronics Engineering:  building a robot (I’m thinking C3PO or a T-800 Terminator) would be cool!  I haven’t seen any around campus, so I don’t think our program has made it to that stage yet.  But there are lots of other interesting electro-mechanical systems that they do design and build, including a student team with an autonomous helicopter.
  • Nanotechnology Engineering:  the materials aspect in this program overlaps with Chemical Engineering to some extent,  and  I have some research ongoing in the biosynthesis of silver nanoparticles.  This program also has  content related to semiconductors and nanoelectronics, which is interesting but a bit more obscure (to me at least).  The program also has a strong biomedical and biomaterials component, which I find interesting.
  • Software Engineering:  I’m a complete amateur as far as programming goes, compared to the people in this program, but I can see the attraction.  I think it’s much easier to be entrepreneurial in the software field, as not much investment is required (other than a computer of some sort, and lots of your own time).  (In comparison, to develop a new process in chemical processing can require multi-million dollar capital investment, just for a small-scale proof of concept!)
  • Systems Design Engineering:  always one of the most difficult disciplines to explain, in part because it’s so varied.  I’ve seen interesting stuff (research and student projects) related to software, medical imaging, ergonomics, sports equipment design, robotics, biomedical equipment, etc. (I’m sure I’ve left out a lot).  The sort of program where you can explore a lot of areas, which is great for people who are curious about everything (which includes me).
  • Architecture:  this is part of our Faculty of Engineering, although located in a different city (Cambridge).  I don’t have anything to do with their admissions process, which is partly based on marks but also heavily based on interview performance and demonstration of creativity.  Personally I’m interested in Art Deco architecture, and some of the works by Frank Lloyd Wright.

71 thoughts on “Our Engineering Programs

  1. Pingback: Admissions 2013: How it’s going to work | A Professor in Waterloo Engineering

  2. My son attends Carleton for engineering and has failed his first mechanics course. Do you offer a summer school course in year 1 mechanics?


  3. Pingback: Why uWaterloo & Which Engineering Program? | Engineering Girls at University of Waterloo

  4. Hi professor,
    I was wondering why do System Design engineering student have such different courses. By different, I mean easier.
    I am in Mech eng and both of my friends are in SYDE. By comparing my courses and assignments, I notice that Mech Eng courses are more challenging.
    Also, SYDE students claim that they can easily steal our Mech Eng and other engineering coop jobs.
    So how does it make sense that students in a slightly easier program get the same job as students in Mech Eng or other engineering programs.

    • I’ve never seen any evidence that some programs are “easier” than others. There may be differences in what topics they emphasize, but by the end of the term the grades and failure rates are pretty much similar across all programs. Anybody can apply for any job. It’s a matter of convincing an employer that you’re the best fit, so I don’t see SYDE students having any particular advantage over anyone else.

  5. Hi Professor,
    I want to apply to Waterloo’s Software Engineering program.
    I don’t have a lot of extra-curriculars nor do I have a lot of programming experience.
    However, I am in the IB programme with approximately a 95% grade 12 average.

    I am very concerned that my limited programming experience will prevent me from being a competitive applicant.

    Do I stand a competitive chance with the growing competition?

    • You need some minimum level of programming experience to survive the first term in Software Engineering, so I wouldn’t know until your file is reviewed. You definitely don’t want to be the worst programmer in the class starting out, which is why we recommend Computer Engineering with a Software Engineering Option for those without experience.

  6. Hi Professor,

    I took grade 11 computer course when I was in grade 10, I learned python language, visual basic and joined computer club, Is it considered that I have minimum level of programming experience?


  7. Hi Professor,

    Is it possible to graduate Electrical Engineering with options in both Software and Computer engineering? I am asking because those options share most of the same courses, and in doing one it would be easy to complete the other. Thank you.

  8. Hello, I was wondering if you had any clue on how many people get into nanotechnology engineering each year and/or the number of people that apply to it.

    Thank you!

  9. What is the difference between getting an acceptance to Honours Chemical Engineering Co-op and just Chemical Engineering Co-op. Does UWaterloo only give out “Honours” program during acceptance time, or is it based upon how strong your marks are in high school that you are given an “Honours” degree? I know that for Honours degrees the student needs to maintain a certain average throughout the program, can you also tell me what that average is?

    • All of Waterloo’s engineering degrees are “Honours” degrees, so that is what everyone is admitted into. I believe that all Canadian engineering programs are “Honours”, which means that they are 4 academic years long, and have stricter passing grades than non-honours programs. Students at Waterloo need to achieve a 60% average each term to continue in the program (basically, although there are bunch of other complicated criteria too).

  10. Just another question, with regards to scholarships. If I ended up with at least a 94% average with about a 3-4 out of 5 mark AIF (predicted). What would be the expected minimum value of scholarships given to me by the Faculty of Engineering? I am going to keep working hard to get that 95+ average by midterms, but I would just like an understanding of how much I need to work to get a $5000-$10000 scholarship.

  11. Hey Mr. Anderson,

    The worst thing happened today. As you may know, Waterloo’s Canadian Computing Competition was held today and like anyone who wants to go into software engineering, I decided to write it. After the three hours were up, I successfully completed all 5 problems and was about to drag them on to my teacher’s USB when long story short, they were deleted and an hour later deemed as impossible to recover by the school technician. I have been following your blog for quite a while now and I’m just here to ask a couple questions regarding what happened. What impact will this have on my chance of acceptance (I have a 96% avg with good ECs)? How can I explain this on my AIF (in regard to the score for this contest) if I can at all? Does this hurt my chances of a scholarship by a lot? And, what else do you recommend I do? I’m extremely disappointed seeing as I basically went from a 100 to a 0 but I know things like this happen and unfortunately I was on the receiving end.

    Please write back, thank you.

  12. Thanks a lot for answering my previous queries Professor, I haven’t had this reliable of a response on any other site. Just another quick question. I have got an acceptance to the Chemical Engineering Co-op program with a 94.3% prerequisite average and a decent AIF (as mentioned above). Just out of curiosity, if I applied to Software Engineering, would I possible make the cut? (I also have significant coding experience in Turing and Java).

  13. Hello professor I was wondering if they looked at all aifs and then made a decision after March 21 or do they fill up the seats as they go?

  14. Thanks professor! I realy appreciate this blog it helps a lot! Therefore they read all of the aifs before making the final decisions?

  15. I’m really nervous to get into SYDE. How many spots are left? What do you think the average acceptance range will be for May admissions?

    Thanks so much!

  16. Thanks so much for the help prof! A question regarding SYDE if you would be able to help:

    I’m not really sure what I want to do but I know it will involve business and technology. Would you say that SYDE keeps a door open to a career in finance/management?

    Can I minor in Econ or business?

    and is the workload really >50hrs a week?

    Thanks so much!

    • Graduates from any engineering programs go into finance/management, if that’s where their interests lie. SYDE is no better nor worse for that career path, in my opinion. Econ minors are possible, but require extra work and courses. We don’t have business minors. Yes, all engineering programs are 35+ hours of classes per week in first year, plus homework (10 to 20 hours per week).

  17. I have an offer for Chemical Engineering and just received a $2000 scholarship based on my average of 98%. When do you make decisions about the other entrance scholarships you have available? Are these based on final marks for semester 2?

  18. Is the architecture program under Engineering faculty? If it is, how is the competition for the undergraduate architecture program for Canadian citizens living outside Canada?

  19. I’m not sure if you did a post on this already but I was wondering what admission process is like for international students especially because the school system in other countries are different. Will the same final average requirements be required? If not, how are the averages considered?

    • We deal with dozens of different international school systems, and have various ways of estimating admission averages. There are too many to try to cover, but in general to have a reasonable chance of admission you should be in the top 20% of the grades, whatever the system.

  20. Hello
    I am in grade 11
    Do grade 11 school grades affect my chances of going into computer engineering or software engineering in Waterloo
    Thank you

      • Hi professor. Sorry for the disturbance, but I didn’t quite understand what Waterloo checks. Some people told me that they look at both the grade 11 and 12 marks, but other people told me that grade 12 marks are what they check. A lot of them told me that there are specific rounds (I’m talking about Software Engineering and Computer Engineering), and that in the first round, they look at the grade 11 and 12 marks, including the AIF, and in the second round, they look at the grade 12 marks including the AIF. I’m not sure what is right or wrong.

        Also, I didn’t do well in grade 11 due to some serious family problems. Due to those issues, I failed physics, and I’m taking it in Summer school. But now that the issues were cleared off, I’m expecting a 90+ in my first semester of grade 12 (I have Advanced Functions, Physics and Chemistry). So my question is, if I get a 90+ in grade 12 physics, will they look at that mark, or will they look at my grade 11 mark?
        Thank you so much for taking your time to read this post!

  21. When are the decisions made regarding admission to graduate Engg courses, especially Mechanical Engineering? My son has applied as an International student for Masters in Mechanical Engg in Waterloo.


  22. Could you please let me know about the fee structure for Computer Science and engineering and Electrical engineering for international students for the academic year of 2016?
    Is french language compulsory or only english?

  23. Hello, Professor! I wanted to know if studying Cambridge’s O’Level ICT and A’Level AICT would help me get into/help me with Software Engineering or studying Cambridge’s O&A’Level Computer Science would have been better. This really confuses me since people say that Computer Science involves programming and ICT/AICT don’t.

    • In my opinion the ICT and AICT curricula are interesting but not very useful for programming experience. They are more focused on how computers, applications and networks work. The Computer Science curriculum is much better.

  24. Professor,

    My daughter has applied for environmental engineering this year. I was working how many spots are available for this course and whether it is as competitive as other types of engineering?

  25. Hello Professor,

    I have been reading through your posts and finding them extremely helpful!
    I am deciding on which engineering program to apply to and I have several questions.

    1. For chemical engineer, is it possible/common for undergrad students to work in food and cosmetics industry? Are those industries good choices for chemical engineering students?
    2. For systems design, do students face the problem that because they do not focus on one specific engineering major, they are not competitive enough compared to other engineering students when finding jobs?

    Thank you so much for all the valuable tips and information that you have shared!

    • 1. Yes we regularly have students working in the food industry and consumer products (including cosmetics) industries. Any industry where materials are transformed into products is where you will find chemical engineers.
      2. No, Systems Design students don’t have any particular problems finding jobs and they work in a wide range of companies.

  26. Hello Professor!

    Just wondering if an international student (India) would make the cut for an early admission to Computer Engineering/Management Engineering with a 94-95% average and a good AIF?

    Also does ranking Waterloo as my OUAC choice #1 make any significant impact?


  27. Hello Professor,

    I am currently planning to apply to Software Engineering and had a minor question.
    Why does the alternative course choice on the AIF have to be of the other engineering courses? I thought of taking Computer Science as an alternative at first because of the similarities between the two majors before learning that the alternate must be another engineering major as well.


    • Admissions to other non-Engineering programs like Computer Science are handled by other admissions offices, and they have different criteria. So it’s better to be considered directly by them in parallel and independently from Engineering.

      • Thanks a lot for the response, I have another yet rather silly question: is it possible to apply for the same major again if we don’t make it for early acceptance. Say I don’t make the early round, is it still possible for me to get into the standard round of offers?

        Thanks again for the input,


      • Your application is in the running until we finish all offers in May. Unlike US schools, we don’t have an official “early decision” application process. People just apply, we make some early decisions in February/March using the available information, then finish up the majority in May.

  28. Hello Prof,

    Just one more question: in your opinion, what would be the worse scenario? A student with amateur programming skills going into Software Engineering/Computer Science or A student with some programming skills but very little hardware knowledge going into Computer Engineering? Basically what seems to be more detrimental to a student’s success in the respective programs? A lack in programming knowledge or hardware knowledge?

    Thank you again

    • Some programming experience is required for Software Engineering (but not CS). Hardware knowledge is not required for any program, and not expected. You’ll learn about hardware in our programs.

  29. Hello,

    I have 2 questions regarding the AIF:
    1. Is it still mandatory that software students must read a book on programming and include it in their application?
    2. When the AIF has been evaluated, I’m aware it is out of 5 but does that go directly to our average when we apply. (ex. I apply with a 92% average and score a 3/5 on the AIF, do i end up with a 95% average?) and how much is the video interview worth in regards to the AIF?

    • 1. Software applicants must explain about their programming experience. There are no book requirements.
      2. Yes, the AIF score is added to the average. The weight of the interview is not yet determined for 2018.


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