A Tip for Success

When I started at the University of Waterloo, like many students, I struggled at first to figure out how to study effectively.  I realized after my midterm exams that a few things needed to change if I was going to be successful in Waterloo Engineering.  I setup a study schedule and I started working in the Davis Centre (DC) library a bit more often.  However, the thing that probably helped me the most was a series of study books that provided me with the practice problems I needed.  This series of books, known as the Schaum’s Outlines, helped me survive difficult courses such as Calculus, Physics, and Circuits.  Apparently, I was not alone.  A few years ago during a discussion with Pearl Sullivan, the Dean of Engineering, she mentioned that she also used these books to study for difficult courses.

Today, as I was visiting the campus for Engineering 101, I noticed that the W Store has a sale on these books.  All of them appear to be 25% off.  If you are an incoming student or the parent of an incoming student reading this blog, I suggest you take a brief look at these books in our bookstore in South Campus Hall (SCH).  They are not expensive.  Most of the books sell for approximately $25.  This is a small price to pay if it helps you get through a difficult course.  Below is a photo of the bookstore with these books on display:

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Also, I should point out that it was great to see so many enthusiastic incoming students.  When I last heard, 691 incoming students were in attendance for Engineering 101 and I am sure a few more showed up after I checked the official count.  I will be participating in the panel discussion for ECE students at the afternoon tutorial session in E7 4053.  Feel free to drop by and ask me your questions.

For those who want to know what it was like at Engineering 101, here is a photo taken from off-stage of the crowd listening to Pearl Sullivan given her introduction:

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There wasn’t an empty seat in the venue.  Thank you and welcome to Waterloo Engineering!

Engineering 101

Engineering 101 is a day of activities specifically designed to help incoming undergraduate students succeed in Waterloo Engineering.  Students and their families will have an opportunity to discuss any questions they may have with current students, staff, and faculty.  There are sessions designed specifically for students and sessions designed specifically for their families.  Come check out our beautiful campus!

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For Students…

For students, the day will start with a warm welcome from Pearl Sullivan, the Dean of Engineering and students representatives of the Engineering Society.  In the morning, students will have an opportunity to participate in a first university lecture on Calculus and then learn about the co-op process.  Lunch will provide students with an opportunity to network with fellow students.  In the afternoon, students will have an opportunity to participate in a first tutorial on Calculus and then speak with a panel of university representatives on all aspects of university life.  The day will end with an address by David Nairn, the Director of First-Year Engineering.

For Parents…

For parents, the day will start with a warm welcome from Pearl Sullivan, the Dean of Engineering and students representatives of the Engineering Society In the morning, parents will learn about how to support students as they transition from high school life to university life.  Lunch will provide parents with an opportunity to relax.  In the afternoon, parents will have an opportunity to have questions answered by a panel of university staff and upper-year students on topics such as academics, career preparation, social activities, and anything else.  The day will end with an address by David Nairn, the Director of First Year Engineering.

Drop In Activities

The Faculty of Engineering has scheduled a number of drop-in activities throughout the day to help students take care of important tasks:

  1. If you would like to register with AccessAbility Services for support and accommodation, plan on visiting their office at Needles Hall (NH) 1401.  Remember to bring any documentation you may have regarding previous accommodations or previous medical assessments.  AccessAbility Services will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m..
  2. If you would like to obtain your student identification card, plan on visiting the WatCard Office in the Student Life Centre (SLC).  Remember to bring government-issued photo identification with you so that we may verify your identity.  The WatCard Office will be open from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m..
  3. If you would like to purchase clothing, school supplies, gifts, or textbooks, plan on visiting the W Store at South Campus Hall (SCH).  The W Store will be open from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m..
  4. If you would like to purchase a parking pass for the Fall 2019 term, you may apply for a parking pass at Parking Services at General Services Complex (GSC) 1112.  Remember to bring your student identification number, your vehicle registration documents, and government-issued photo identification.  Parking Services will be open from 12:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m..
  5. If you would like to learn about OSAP, financial aid, or your student account, plan on visiting the Centre on the main floor of Needles Hall (NH).  Here you will find staff willing to answer your financial questions and willing to help you produce proof of enrollment letters.  The Centre will be open from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m..

Registering for Engineering 101

Over 700 undergraduate Engineering students and 800 parents have already registered for Engineering 101.  If you plan on attending, you must register so that we can plan accordingly for the event.  You can register using the 101 Days Registration website.

New Challenges, Transfers, and Deferments

If you have been offered admission to Waterloo Engineering for Fall 2019, you are likely very excited to start a new chapter in your life.  You may also be a bit nervous about your future.  University life and high school life are quite different.  At university, you will have greater independence.  Larger class sizes provide greater anonymity.  Attendance is not mandatory.  If you fall behind in your studies, you will have to find a way to catch up.  Extra credit assignments are rare.  Final exams are often worth 50% or more of your grade and they are more difficult than the exams you wrote in high school.  You will need to adapt and make new friends to help you through the tough times.  There is no way to know how you will manage the transition from high school to university.  Just know that the transition is as hard as everyone says and that many students struggle.  You are not alone.

Now that your high school year has ended, you may start thinking about how you will react to the new challenges you will face in university.  You may have concerns about the program you have chosen.  Is it the right fit for you?  Have you chosen wisely?  Most applicants ask themselves these questions.  It is a normal part of the transition to university life.

Over the past 4 weeks, the Engineering Admissions Office has received many inquiries from students who have accepted offers to programs.  Quite a few of these inquiries involve discussions of transfers.  Applicants want to know if they can transfer into another program prior to the start of the school year.  Often, the answer is no simply due to the fact that we do not have available spaces in our programs.  However, there is never any harm in asking about the possibility of a transfer.  We only ask that you think carefully about why you want to transfer and what you hope to accomplish by doing so.  If you have a good reason for a transfer and if a space is available, a transfer may be possible in some cases.

Only a small number of engineering programs have the ability to accept transfers at this time.  If you are seriously interested in requesting a program transfer, you may inquire into the feasibility of doing so by e-mailing enginfo@uwaterloo.ca.  A few students have already had program transfers granted.

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On the subject of program transfers, one thing to keep in mind is that we will not allow transfers between programs during the middle of a term.  Once classes start program transfers will not be considered until the end of the academic term.  Based on our years of experience, this is the only fair process.  It also prevents students from making a poor decision one week into a new program.  The grass often seems greener on the other side of the fence.  At the end of your first week of lectures, you might think that another program looks much more interesting.  You need to give your program the time and attention that it deserves prior to changing programs.

Another question you might have about your university education is how you will pay for it?  Recently, the media has had numerous reports on the subject of OSAP cuts.  In some cases, the predicted OSAP loans and grants were higher than those actually awarded.  You may find yourself in a situation where it may be a challenge to fund your studies if you were relying upon OSAP.  The 10% tuition cuts help some students but the cuts to OSAP appear to have amounted to more than the 10% tuition cut, in many cases.

The most common solution is a terrible one.  Students sometimes try to get a part-time job during their academic term to earn some income while going to school.  Based on my years as an advisor, I can say that very few engineering students are able to successfully complete their studies while working part-time.  I can recall at least one year where every student I advised that had a part-time job failed at the end of the term.  Engineering programs require about 60 hours of work per week.  While this may not seem like much more than you currently do, it is important to remember that the additional work time is directly taking away from your time to rest and relax.  When learning new things, it has been shown that time to rest and relax is an important part of the learning process itself.  Sleep is necessary to transfer knowledge from short term memory to long term memory.

A better solution is to reduce unnecessary expenses.  You may enjoy watching Netflix or prefer Starbucks coffee but you can live without these expenses.  You don’t need a car to live in Waterloo.  We have a light rail transit station on campus that allows you to easily travel many places within Kitchener-Waterloo.  We also have GO buses that provide easy access to the greater Toronto area.  It is often easier to reduce expenses by $1,000 than it is to earn $1,000 working a part-time job.

Another, more radical option, is a deferment.  A student given an offer of admission to Waterloo Engineering may ask for a 1 year deferment.  Put simply, this allows you to defer the start date of your program from September 1, 2019 to September 1, 2020 without penalty.  During a deferment, a student may not study at any other post-secondary institution.  A student may use this year to work a full-time job to save money for their education.  It also provides a student with an opportunity to develop life skills and mature so that the student is ready for the challenge of university.  A deferment is in many ways similar to a gap year.  The only difference is that the student has already been accepted into a university program.  There is no need to re-apply for admission at the end of the deferment.  You simply need to tell the university that you will be attending and pay your fees by the deadlines.

There are two potentially negative consequences to a deferment.  One is that tuition (and expenses) always seem to increase over time.  Deferring your studies by a year will result in you paying slightly more for your education.  This additional cost can be more than offset by the earning potential of a year of full-time employment.  The second is that it is easy to forget math and science skills by taking a year off your studies.  You may need to review your high school courses in the months immediately prior to starting your studies to be prepared for university courses.

Other reasons for considering a deferment would be if you needed time to recover from a serious injury or if you needed time to take care of someone.  For example, if you suffered a serious head injury while participating in sports this summer, a deferment would provide you with a year to recover.  If a loved one was diagnosed with a terminal illness, a deferment might allow you to spend more time with them taking care of them.

A deferment is a very good option for some students.  You should at least know that this possibility exists.  Every year, a few handfuls of students defer their engineering programs for a variety of reasons.  If you are interested in learning more about the possibility of a deferment, you can email enginfo@uwaterloo.ca to find out more.

Competitiveness

Over the past two weeks, I have received a number of comments on my blog asking about the competitiveness of our programs.  Many variations of the following questions have been asked:

  1. How many people applied to each program?
  2. How many people were offered admission to their first choice program?
  3. How many people were offered admission to their second choice program?
  4. How many people were refused offers of admission?
  5. What was the cutoff for each program?
  6. Which program was the most competitive?
  7. Which programs are likely to accept students on a waitlist?

While I can appreciate why you want to know this information, I also hope you can appreciate why some of this information is not typically disclosed.  One of the challenges is that application data from a single year is not necessarily a good representation of what typically can be expected.  However, the biggest challenge is that it is often very difficult to produce accurate data.

I am regularly asked for admissions data from applicants, parents, guidance counsellors, faculty members, and university administrators.  It is not always easy to figure out how to count applications.  As an example, if a student applies in November to Software Engineering but switches their application in February to Mechatronics Engineering, how should the applicant be counted?  At first glance, it would seem obvious that the applicant at the time of consideration was an applicant to Mechatronics Engineering.  Would you change your mind if the application was subsequently cancelled in March?  Would you change your mind if the application was cancelled in May?  What if the applicant did not receive an offer of admission and then cancelled the application?  What if the applicant received an offer of admission to another program and then cancelled the application?  Clearly, there are many scenarios to consider.  To produce useful data, the questions must be answered consistently from year to year.

As another example, should we count an application that is only partially complete?  Waterloo Engineering requires completion of the Admission Information Form.  Some applicants failed to complete this form.  Applicants who do not complete this form are ineligible for an offer of admission.  Should these people be considered applicants?  Would your opinion change if instead of completing a form, the applicant failed to enroll in the courses necessary to meet the entrance requirements?  Should this applicant still be counted?  This applicant would be ineligible for admission but arguably, this applicant did apply.  There are data sets where this applicant needs to be included in the count and other data sets where this applicant needs to be excluded from the count.

Some other universities and faculties double count applicants.  For example, if an applicant applies to two programs in the same faculty, the applicant is often counted twice.  Waterloo Engineering only allows you to apply once to an engineering program but you are able to specify a second choice engineering program on your Admission Information Form.  For this reason, when we indicate we have over 11,000 applicants, this means we have applications from 11,000 different people.  This may not be true in other universities and faculties.  If you were to blindly compare our applicant numbers to another faculty we might seem low for this reason.

Of course, we do need to provide a means for future applicants to assess their chances of success when applying to our engineering programs.  Our best method for doing this is to present a table of probabilities.  This table is produced by calculating the percentage of OSS applicants in a particular grouping of programs who received offers of admission to their first choice program in the previous admission cycle.  The percentages are rounded to the nearest 5% or 1%, depending upon the grouping.  I have just finished this table for our upcoming engineering brochure.  Here is the result:

ENGINEERING PROGRAMS GRADE RANGE PROBABILITY
Biomedical, Software 95+ 40%
90 to 94 12%
85 to 89 1%
Computer, Electrical, Mechanical, Mechatronics, Systems Design 95+ 70%
90 to 94 45%
85 to 89 10%
Architectural, Chemical, Civil, Environmental, Geological, Management, Nanotechnology 95+ 85%
90 to 94 75%
85 to 89 50%
  • All courses and grades are normalized to Ontario Secondary School requirements.
  • Stated grade averages do not include adjustment factors, admission information form assessments, or interview assessments.
  • Grade averages reflect admitted student averages in 2019.
  • Visa applicants typically have a slightly lower probability of acceptance.
  • English language requirements often play a significant role in visa applicant decisions.

Effectively, this answers the question about which programs are most competitive.  Biomedical Engineering and Software Engineering were the most competitive programs in the 2019 admission cycle.  A keen observer would note that it is now a bit harder to get into engineering programs than it has been in previous admission cycles.  Of course, it is very difficult to predict the future.  Next year, acceptance probabilities may be higher or lower.  The fact that fewer Ontario Grade 12 students are applying to engineering programs gives hope to applicants that these probabilities may be a bit conservative.

Another important observation is that the Admission Information Form continues to play a significant role in the admission process.  The percentage of students being accepted with high averages has decreased slightly while the percentage of students being accepted with slightly lower averages has increased slightly.  In other words, grades are important but other evidence of excellence in the form of extra-curricular activities continues to be a significant consideration in our admission process.

Here are some other interesting facts that I calculated based on offers given out for each of our programs.

  1. We gave out offers to some students with averages of less than 90% in all of our engineering programs, including Biomedical Engineering and Software Engineering.
  2. The median average for all of our programs was in excess of 90% regardless of the engineering program.
  3. Four engineering programs gave out offers to applicants with an average of 100%.

If you sent me a blog post comment on program competitiveness, please note that your comment was read.  There are simply some things I cannot reasonably disclose publicly.  I will continue to read your comments and respond to as many as I can.

Go Raptors!

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Waitlist Inquiries

The Engineering Admissions Office has received quite a few inquiries over the past week regarding our waitlists for admission to engineering programs and our waitlists for transfers to other engineering programs.  We have added many applicants to our waitlists.  It is natural for some applicants to immediately question whether they have made the right decision.  Applicants often benefit from having some time to think about the choice they have made.  To facilitate this cooling off period, we have not begun to process our waitlists.

In practice, very few students get an offer from our waitlists.  We will be able to satisfy a few requests to transfer from programs that are over target to programs that are under target and we may be able to satisfy a few waitlist requests to under target programs.  If we find that a large number of applicants cannot meet their offer conditions, additional spaces may become available later this summer but this is a rare occurrence.  If you are selected from one of our waitlists, you will be contacted by a representative of our university.

This year, we experienced higher than normal acceptance rates for certain applicants so 11 programs are above target and only 3 programs are below target.  While we know that some students will not meet our offer conditions and some students may not be able to secure student visas, we do not anticipate many waitlist opportunities to be satisfied this year.  Overall, I estimate the Faculty of Engineering is about 10.2% above our official targets for incoming students.  Despite being slightly over target, Waterloo Engineering  will still be able to meet our commitments and deliver a high-quality education to all students who have accepted our offers.

Parents and students might be concerned that we will try to fail out more students than usual since we are over target.  This is simply not the case.  Waterloo Engineering does not attempt to shrink programs by enforcing failure rates.  Professors have a great deal of autonomy when creating, delivering, and assessing courses.  Professors set exams and expectations independent of class size.  Waterloo Engineering does not have the ability to enforce failure rates (or success rates) in engineering programs.

When Waterloo Engineering accepts students into an engineering program, we guarantee a place for them in their program of study through to completion.  Students must pass their courses but we will not make courses more challenging to shrink class sizes.  Logically, since the university is mostly funded by student tuition fees, there is no  motivation for failing students.  Thankfully, most professors do take their jobs and academic integrity very seriously.  The tenure process also ensures that professors have the autonomy they require to ensure academic integrity.  Otherwise, universities would probably be strongly motivated to pass everyone.

I am not able to disclose which programs are below target as doing so would perhaps give the wrong impression that these programs are either less popular or less desirable.  Programs can miss targets for a number of reasons.  Even high demand programs sometimes miss target.  For a high demand program, we expect most students to accept our admission offers.  A slight drop in acceptance rates can make it very easy for a high demand program to miss target.

A few applicants have already asked for the lifting of offer conditions.  Unless there are extenuating circumstances, we will be strictly enforcing our offer conditions.  These conditions have been established to ensure the success of applicants in our programs.  Our hope is that all students admitted to Waterloo Engineering will eventually graduate from their chosen program and become proud alumni of the University of Waterloo.  Shown below is a photo of the Graduate House taken late last week.

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Difficult Decisions

All admission decisions have been made for Fall 2019 for Waterloo Engineering.  By now, all applicants should know if they have been offered admission to Waterloo Engineering and they should know if they are receiving scholarships.  If you are an applicant, hopefully you have received very good news.  We are currently preparing for You@Waterloo Day being held this Saturday.  Our welcome banner has already been hung on South Campus Hall to welcome our future warriors.

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The process of selecting students is incredibly difficult.  This is especially true for Waterloo Engineering since we do not simply use a cut-off system where top averages are selected for admission without consideration of other factors.  Much time was spent reviewing Admission Information Forms and online video interviews in an effort to find exceptional future students.

By February 20th, we had received over 11,289 applications to just 1,699 available spaces.  In other words, we had 6.6 applications per available space.  For high demand programs such as Software Engineering, the competition was fierce.  As an example, we had 9.4 applications per available domestic space in Software Engineering and 30.4 applications per available visa space in Software Engineering.  We had 124 available spaces in Software Engineering and 198 applicants with averages in excess of 97.0% this year.  For Software Engineering, programming experience was an important consideration for admission this year.  Successful Software Engineering applicants often had several years of practical programming experience, knowledge of several programming languages, and a track record of success in programming.

The final round selection process took about two weeks from start to finish.  This time was necessary to perform individual selection in highly competitive programs such as Software Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Mechatronics Engineering.  The total time was slightly longer than it was supposed to take but quite reasonable given the large number of applications to consider for each program.  I recognize that delays increase the stress of applicants, their families, and the many staff members working in admission roles.  It is certainly not our intention to induce stress.  I would like to thank everyone for their patience throughout the admission process.

Now that our difficult decisions have been made, applicants face a June 3rd deadline for making their difficult decisions.  I am sure that some applicants and their families are very concerned about making the right decision.  The important thing to remember is that you can’t really make a terrible decision with respect to attending university for engineering programs.  All engineering schools in the Province of Ontario have accredited programs.  Regardless of which engineering school you attend, you will get a great education.  Regardless of which engineering program you choose, you will have great career prospects.  There really is no wrong decision to make in most cases with one possible exception…

If you already know that the program you have been offered is not a good fit for you, don’t accept the offer!  Accepting an offer to a program you are unhappy taking will only lead to a year of misery and likely very few options at the end of the year.  If accepting an offer of admission to a program does not excite you in any way, don’t accept the offer.  You need to be motivated to succeed in a university program, particularly an engineering program.  The workload is much higher in university and there are many demands on your time.  If you do not enjoy some portion of the work you will be doing, you will not do well.

If you are undecided on whether you will like the program you have been offered, don’t worry!  Choosing the wrong university or the wrong university program is a mistake that can be fixed with some hard work.  The consequences are reversible so you should not fear making a poor decision.  At most, you might spend one year of your life realizing that another path is a better one for you.  In fact, you might even learn some valuable skills along the way.  A few of our future warriors initially chose a different path but they have been accepted (a year later) to pursue Waterloo Engineering starting in the Fall.  So relax, take some time to think about it, and know that whatever choice you make with respect to university programs, it will likely be okay.

One thing to keep in mind is that once you choose a university program, transferring into another university program is not always an easy process.  You will need to get good marks (80% or greater) in your current program and you will need to be willing to start over.  Transferring into engineering from another faculty can be a difficult challenge.  Some applicants mistakenly believe that they will be able to easily transfer into a different program if they make the “wrong” choice.  Transfers are difficult, but not impossible, to obtain.  Obviously, transfers into high demand programs such as Software Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, or Mechatronics Engineering are extremely rare.

Rather than transfer programs, a better approach is to customize your university program to your liking.  Most university programs offer access to elective courses, options, and minors that allow you to specialize in other areas while completing your major.  For example, you do not need to be a Software Engineer to study programming.  In fact, many of our engineering students have programming duties in their co-op jobs, regardless of their chosen discipline.  You do not need to be a Management Engineer to study management sciences.  You simply need to have a desire to learn the topic and a schedule that fits the classes you wish to take.  Before giving up on a program, think about ways you might be able to make it work.

In the media, you often read simplistic advice that suggests you should follow your passion.  While there is some truth to this message, it is important to realize that what people really mean is that you should choose a path that allows you to pursue your passion.  You do not need to be passionate about everything you do in life to be successful.  You just need to pursue a path that allows you to do the things you are passionate about and that the positives outweigh the negatives.  You won’t like every class you take in university.  You won’t like every aspect of your co-op job.  But if doing a few things you dislike will allow you to do the things you are passionate about, you will always find a way to succeed.

Sometimes, students ask me why we don’t teach how to write computer games or mobile application development as a core part of Computer Engineering.  My response is always the same…

At university, we teach you the things you need to study that you wouldn’t otherwise study.  We need to teach you Calculus and Physics because these subjects are important and I know very few Computer Engineering students who would willingly rush home at night to study these subjects.  I do know many Computer Engineering students who willingly self-study writing computer games or mobile application development.  The role of a university program is to ensure that you receive the breadth and depth of education necessary to succeed in life.  We teach you the things you need to know that you don’t already know or can’t easily learn elsewhere.  It won’t always be fun but it will always be educational.

Tomorrow, I will be on campus for You@Waterloo Day to answer your questions.  For our future warriors, you might want to know that our W Store which sells university apparel will be open from Noon to 4:00 pm.  It will be a great opportunity to have your parents buy you a hoodie, a pair of track pants, and a backpack for the Fall term.  Also, don’t forget to check out our residences so that you can decide how to prioritize your residence selection.  I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow.

Quick Admissions Update

A few final round admission offers have now made it out from our university but be assured that many more will be processed over the next week.  It is my understanding that many staff members are working throughout the weekend to expedite the process.  I expect that all offers will be communicated by the end of next week at the latest.

We have been working around the clock to make admission decisions and to communicate them.  The image below is an image of the parking lot when I left the university last night at 12:47 am.  It was the first time I have every seen an empty parking lot on campus and I have worked many late nights over my career at the University of Waterloo.

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Usually, we manage to get out engineering admission offers to all Ontario Secondary School students by the 2nd Friday in May but we ran into some issues that delayed processing.  Please be patient with our staff.  They are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances.  It is a huge effort to code and communicate all of the admission offers for our university.

My best advice is to try to focus on your studies and other activities.  Knowing the answer as soon as it appears on Quest will not change the outcome.  Knowing the answer a few days earlier shouldn’t change your decision.  I suspect most applicants already know what decision they will make if they get accepted and what decision they will make if they get denied.

Of course, if you are still on the fence, we will have an event on campus called You@Waterloo Day that will give admitted students another opportunity to visit the campus with their families and learn more about university life.  You will hear more about You@Waterloo Day after receiving admission to the university.  I am scheduled to be on campus for the entire event to help answer questions.  I look forward to meeting with you.