Choosing Your Engineering Program 2

With application deadlines approaching, some people will be struggling with the decision of which engineering program to apply to.  I had a post on this topic last year, and here are some additional thoughts.  As a reminder, Waterloo engineering has direct entry to a specific engineering discipline, so you have to pick one of our 13 programs for your application choice.  For those who don’t know where to start, last year I recommended our Quiz for some initial choices, and I still recommend it.  However, it doesn’t currently include our new Biomedical Engineering program, so you have to keep that in mind.

With our quiz results or other ideas in mind, you should do some serious research to see which program catches your interest the best.  There are plenty of online things to look at, and Google or Bing will help you find it.  One that I recently remembered is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics site.  It has some interesting information on the nature of various engineering jobs.  Be careful on putting too much faith in their projections and forecasts however.

Some other ideas:

  • Students at Waterloo will be more engaged with their program and classmates if they are relatively sure and committed to their program.  If after doing some serious research and thought about different programs you still can’t decide at all, then certainly consider a university with a general engineering entrance program.  Then you can postpone deciding for a little while.  There are lots around Ontario, including Queen’s, McMaster, and Western, for example.  Other universities offer direct entry as well as an undecided/undeclared option, including Ryerson, Guelph, Windsor and York, for example.  Toronto has the “TrackOne” program which is a general first year.  Toronto’s Engineering Science is sort of a general first year too, since it looks like about 33% of the students move into other disciplines in 2nd year.
  • In spite of what I say in the above point, you don’t have to be 100% sure about your choice.  It’s normal to be somewhat uncertain.  But you should have some level of comfort and knowledge about the program you’ve picked, and why you are picking it.
  • There are potentially bad reasons to pick a program, including:  1) it’s the most competitive for admission; 2) family/friends say it’s the “best”; 3) some website says it’s the best paid, or has the best career prospects.  These are bad reasons, especially if your interests and aptitude don’t align with the choice.  Imagine sitting in classes where everyone else is keen on the material and projects,  and you’re not.  It’s probably not going to go well.  Every year we get a few of these cases.  Sometimes we can help them switch programs, but sometimes it goes so badly that they have to leave the university.  We would prefer to avoid this problem as much as possible.
  • Always remember that career paths can be very flexible, and choosing a specific discipline does not lock you into a specific career for the rest of your life.  Many engineering graduates eventually go into management careers, where the discipline-specific technical knowledge is less important anyways.
  • There is a lot of overlap between various disciplines, so it is not critical that you pick the “right” one.  If you pick one that you feel some affinity for, you’ll probably be fine no matter how your interests may shift over the coming years.  You should expect (and want) to continue learning new things throughout your career.
  • There is no such thing as the “best” program.


Asking For Help

During first year engineering, a number of students will come to realize that they are struggling in one or more courses.  This will be shocking and confusing to them, because they have probably never experienced it before.  They have probably never had to ask for help before either.  It is never our intention to “weed out” a bunch of students (that would be a waste of our time and resources), so we try to provide a lot of avenues for student support, especially in that crucial first year.  Students just need to take the initiative and seek out the help that is available (since we often can’t tell who is struggling until it’s too late).  Here is a brief overview of various ways to access help. Continue reading

Visiting Our Campus

Choosing a university and program is an important task, and one useful tool is a visit to campus, if possible.  As my colleague Prof. Stubley has said, you should pick a campus where you can see yourself belonging; you’re more likely to be successful there.  So coming to campus and looking around, and meeting some faculty, staff, and students will help determine if you get that feeling or not.  We have a variety of ways and times for visiting.

Continue reading

Why Do We Care About High School English?

Although Grade 12 English (or something equivalent) is one of our admission requirements, we sometimes get applicants who question what it’s good for, and why should it hurt their chances of admission if they got low marks in that subject.  After all, engineering is just about physics, calculus, problem-solving, writing code, designing bridges and other hardware, …, isn’t it? Continue reading

Looking at Admission Essays

I came across these examples of admissions essays at Johns Hopkins University a while ago:

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.

Chances for 2014

The 2014 Admissions brochures for Engineering and other programs have recently been uploaded.  Last year, for the first time, we included a table showing admission probabilities (“chances”) for different programs and grade ranges.  It seemed to be well-received and many people found it to be useful, so we revised and updated a new one for 2014.  Below is a copy of it (sorry about the image quality).  This is based on the 2013 results and as usual we caution that 2014 may be different, since it all depends on the competition level (which is unknown in advance). Continue reading

Twitter founder Jack Dorsey to speak at University of Waterloo

Here is an interesting development, for those on-campus in September.

Jack Dorsey

WATERLOO, Ont. (Wednesday, August 14, 2013) – Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter and one of the youngest tech executives in Silicon Valley, will address students and local entrepreneurs at the University of Waterloo this fall.

Dorsey, who launched his second successful startup, Square, in Canada last year will tell a 675-strong audience about entrepreneurship and how Square created a culture that inspires anyone to be an entrepreneur and leader.

The 36-year old will also meet some students and entrepreneurs at a private lunch to discuss entrepreneurship and see firsthand the quality of Waterloo students.

“Jack Dorsey started a new communications movement when he launched Twitter and changed the world for millions of people. He’s continued to blaze the technology trail with Square, which is starting to transform how we make payments. ” said Pearl Sullivan, dean of engineering at Waterloo. “Waterloo is recognized as a leader in technology and innovation. We are very honoured that Jack Dorsey is making our University the first stop on his Canadian visit. We live and breathe entrepreneurialism here at Wat

via Twitter founder Jack Dorsey to speak at University of Waterloo | Waterloo News.

Pre-University Homework

For those who just finished high school and are starting university in September, here is some homework to complete over the summer.  It’s specifically for those starting Waterloo Engineering, but might be useful for other programs and universities too.  It’s not compulsory, and you won’t get any marks for it.  But if you do it, you’ll find yourself ahead of the class and much less stressed in September/October and beyond. Continue reading

Considering an Alternate Offer

When people apply to Waterloo Engineering, they apply to the program of most interest but can also identify a second and third choice on their AIF.  That way, if they are not quite competitive for the 1st choice, we can still consider them for one of the other two.  We assume that the choices are ranked in descending order of preference, so we try to get the 2nd choice if possible, then the 3rd.  This year, about 300 people got one of these alternate offers to their 2nd or 3rd choice (a typical number each year).  Some people are quite happy with their alternate offer.  Others, not so much.  Those holding an alternate offer will have to decide what to do with it, so here are a few questions that commonly come up. Continue reading

Our New 3D Printer

Our new 3D printer, a Fortus 360mc rapid prototyping machine, was officially launched today in our Engineering 5 building.  I haven’t actually seen it, but there is a website link that describes what it is and how it works.  I will certainly have a look in the near future, because I can already think of a few custom parts I could make for my research projects.  I just need to teach myself AutoCAD first.

Apparently the 3D printing costs are some of the cheapest available, and anyone can submit a job, whether faculty, staff, or students.  Some of the student design teams have already been using it, and I bet it will be popular with a lot of student research and design projects.