Reflections on the University Fair

This year’s Ontario University Fair attracted a smaller audience than previous years.  Over the three days, 118,357 visitors attended the fair.  The University of Waterloo scanned 17,333 OUF passports at our booth and 5,695 visitors attended a presentation on the University of Waterloo.  Over 550+ students, staff, and faculty from the University of Waterloo attended to answer the questions of prospective applicants and their family members.  It was another successful year for Waterloo Engineering.

Many questions were asked about Waterloo Engineering and the admissions process.  Here are some of the most frequently asked questions for those who might not have been able to attend the fair:

Does Waterloo have a general engineering program?

Waterloo Engineering does not offer a general engineering program or even a common first year program.  Students must select a specific discipline of engineering when applying to our university.  We strongly encourage prospective applicants to speak with current students to learn more about each discipline.  Applicants should also investigate the course requirements for each discipline to get a feel for the course material taught.

There is a very good reason why we require applicants to select a specific discipline.  Our unique co-op program requires us to provide specialized instruction to our students starting on the first day of classes.  We need to prepare students for their first co-op work term which can happen as early as 4 months into a program.  We want to make sure our students are successful in both their studies and their co-op employments.

Is the co-op program mandatory?

Yes.  Co-op experience is a requirement for graduation from any Waterloo Engineering program.  Students are required to successfully complete at least 5 co-op work placements.  We have a process in place that assists students with finding a suitable co-op work placements.  Employers advertise openings on our online system, students apply through the online system, employers interview students on-campus, and a ranking process is completed by both employers and students to match students with co-op work placements.  We have an extensive list of co-op employment opportunities.  Students may also elect to search for a co-op work placement independently.

What are the most difficult engineering programs to get into?

The answer varies from year-to-year.  Software Engineering and Biomedical Engineering were the two most difficult engineering programs to get into in 2018.  Other highly competitive programs include Computer Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Mechatronics Engineering, and Systems Design Engineering.  In 2018, 90% of all students admitted to Waterloo Engineering programs in first year had an average of 90% or greater in high school.

How are averages for admission calculated?

For students applying to Waterloo Engineering from Ontario high schools, we use Grade 12 grades in the 5 required subjects (English, Physics, Chemistry, Advanced Functions, and Calculus & Vectors) plus the student’s highest grade in a 6th course at the 4U or 4M level.

Students retaking any required course will have 5% deducted from their admission average.  Alternatively, if the original course grade was greater than 70%, we simply use the original course grade for average calculation which benefits the applicant slightly.  Our experience shows that students who retake courses to improve their average for the purpose of admission do not succeed in our engineering programs.  Students only have a realistic chance of being successful if a suitable (e.g., medical emergency, family emergency, etc.) reason exists for retaking a course.

Students taking courses outside of normal day school may also be subject to deductions from their admission average.  Students who take courses outside of normal day school should clearly indicate why they did so on their Admission Information Form.  If a suitable reason is provided, deductions may be reduced or eliminated altogether.

Do Grade 11 courses factor into admission decisions?

We do not typically look at grades from Grade 11 or earlier.  Grade 11 grades are only used to predict a missing Grade 12 grade for the purpose of early admission.  We will do this if a student is missing 1 or 2 required courses at the time of early admission consideration.

The decision to make an early offer of admission is a challenging one.  Sometimes, exceptional students are not given early offers of admission due to the fact that too many required Grade 12 courses remain to be completed at the time of consideration.  A slightly weaker student that has completed all of the required courses may receive an early offer of admission.  Students applying to U.S. universities also tend to be given early consideration due to the fact that U.S. universities have earlier acceptance deadlines.  In general, offers of early admission are extremely rare.

How are IB courses considered?

IB course grades are converted into equivalent course grades prior to assessment by the admissions team.  A conversion chart can be found here.  Applicants are encouraged to indicate that they have taken IB courses when completing their Admission Information Form.  While many high schools clearly identify IB courses, some do not.  Students who have completed the IB program tend to be slightly more prepared for first year engineering courses.

If my high school has a high adjustment factor, will I still be considered for admission?

Absolutely.  We carefully consider every application we receive.  We review Admission Information Forms to find exceptional students.  We believe that all high schools are capable of producing exceptional students.

We use adjustment factors to help rank students for admission consideration.  The adjustment factors change from one year to the next.  If a school has an adjustment factor, it is a clear indicator that we have accepted students from the school over the past 6 years.  You should not assume that your school will have the same adjustment factor this year.  Adjustment factors are just one tool that we use to assess students.

How many students are accepted into each program?

This is a very difficult question to answer.  We accept many more students than we admit to our programs.  There are many excellent universities in Canada that offer engineering programs.  While Waterloo Engineering is clearly among the best for an undergraduate education in engineering, we are not the only good choice.  Our top competitors include engineering programs at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.

It is slightly more useful to know how many students we admit to each program.  Each year, we set targets for newly admitted students to our engineering programs.  In Fall 2018, our targets were the following:

2018 Program Targets

We will not know our targets for Fall 2019 until December.  We revise our targets every year but they rarely change significantly.  These targets do not include students repeating academic terms.

Class sizes may be smaller or larger than those listed above.  In some cases, students are split into multiple sections.  In other cases, students are grouped together for common courses.  In first year, our classes rarely exceed 140 students per class.

How are extra-curricular activities assessed?

When assessing extra-curricular activities, we consider the time commitment and the skills required.  Since our engineering programs require co-op work placements, we look for skills that might lead to employment.  Soft skills such as leadership skills, communication skills, time management skills, and teamwork skills are valued.  We like to see some breadth and some depth.  Volunteer experiences and paid employment may be given the same consideration.

When can I apply?

The Ontario University Application Centre (OUAC) sends out information to high schools notifying them when students may apply.  Due to the high number of applications that must be processed by the online OUAC system, invitations to apply are sent out in small batches to balance the load on the system.  When you receive your code for the OUAC system, you should immediately start applying to universities.  I recommend completing all application requirements as soon as feasible.

Ontario University Fair

The Ontario University Fair will run this year from September 28th to September 30th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto, Ontario.  The doors open for visitors at 10:00 am and close at 5:00 pm every day.  If you are a Grade 11 or Grade 12 student considering applying to university programs over the next couple of years, you should plan to attend this fair if you have the ability to do so.

The University of Waterloo will be well represented with a large booth in the Main Exhibit Hall.  The Faculty of Engineering will send a large team of faculty members, staff members, and students to answer the questions of applicants and their families.  At the fair, you can learn more about our highly respected co-operative education program and how it helps students successfully pay for a substantial portion of their education.  You can also learn about the 14 different engineering programs that we offer as well as our excellent Architecture program.  Our volunteers will do their best to answer all of your questions.

I highly recommend speaking with our students about their experiences.  Our students have been instructed to answer your questions honestly.  They will tell you that our programs are very challenging.  For many students, the transition from secondary school to university is a difficult one.  Moving away from home, relocating to a new city, making new friends, and learning an entirely different daily routine can be daunting task.  Our students can provide you with tips on how to make this transition successfully.  After all, just a few years ago, they were in a situation similar to your situation.

I will be at the fair for a portion of all three days.  I will do my best to answer your questions or to refer you to a member of our team that can do so.  I look forward to meeting all of our future students and their parents at the fair!

Chances of Admission for Fall 2019

Every year, prospective students frequently ask about their chances of admission to Waterloo Engineering.  As you can probably imagine, admission to Waterloo Engineering is highly competitive.  As one of Canada’s premier engineering schools for undergraduate education and as a worldwide leader in co-operative education, our programs are quite popular among prospective students.

Since 2014, Bill Anderson has posted on his blog an easy-to-read graphical version of the information that appears on the Waterloo Engineering website and in our promotional brochures.  Here is a link to last year’s version of the blog post.  Bill bases this information on the previous year’s experience and shows the overall probability of getting an offer of admission given an applicant’s admission average.  This admission average is based on the required courses, usually mathematics, physics, chemistry, and English (depending upon the school, the location, and the curriculum).

Thanks to Bill Anderson, I now have an updated version of his blog post for 2019, based on experience with the 2018 admission cycle.  New this year, some changes have been made to more accurately display the information.  The biggest change is in the assumption that an admission average of 100% should result in a 100% probability of an offer.  When Bill first started constructing these graphs, this was a fair assumption but recent years have illustrated that it can now be misleading for the most competitive programs where there are many applicants with averages between 95% and 100% who unfortunately, did not receive offers of admission.  Now, the assumption (for graphical curve fitting purposes) is that the probability stays constant for 95% and higher and does not approach 100% probability.  With this change, the graph looks somewhat different than those previously posted.


For example, this graph would suggest that of all the Canadian applicants to Mechatronics Engineering with an admission average of 94%, about 60% of these students will receive an offer of admission to their program of choice.  For the purposes of this graph, the admission average does not include any other factors such as work experience, extra-curricular activities, or other distinguishing factors.

This graph is based on the data shown on the Waterloo Engineering website.  As in previous years, programs with similar probabilities are lumped together for simplicity and clearer presentation.  This is based on the actual admission results for all 13,000+ applicants to Engineering in the 2018 cycle.  The apparent decrease in probability fro averages from 98% to 100% is an artifact of the mathematical technique used to fit the curves and does not represent any real reduction in probability of admission.

In past years, Bill Anderson used Mathcad to fit cubic splines to the data shown on our website.  This year’s graph was produced by Bill Anderson using Maple, a home-grown Waterloo product that has been in existence for over thirty years.  I recall first using Maple in 1988 while visiting Brock University on a school trip.  I recall being amazed by what the tool was capable of solving on a Macintosh computer that at the time seemed better suited for drawing pictures than solving complex mathematical problems.  I am sure that the modern version of Maple is both faster, more reliable, and more powerful than the version I used so many years ago.

For those interested in the details of how the graph was produced, Bill used the “ArrayInterpolation” function with “method=spline” to get a cubic spline interpolation between the points.  As expected with a cubic spline method, there are some artifacts in the graph that are not actually meaningful.  There may be a better way to represent the data but this approach seems reasonable.

The Journey Begins

Today, the class of 2023 begins its long march towards graduation from Waterloo Engineering.  The road to becoming an engineer is an interesting one filled with challenges, roadblocks, and surprises at every corner.  For many, the journey will end successfully.  For some, the journey will involve detours and perhaps even a few tolls.  It is a journey that will forever change the hearts and minds of our students.

Let me start by wishing all the best to our newest students.  As difficult as the path may be, our alumni would often tell you it is worth the effort.  You will develop friends and memories that will last a lifetime.  You will likely do some amazing things.  You will have opportunities to explore the world around us.  Hopefully, you will find time to enjoy your experiences as you work towards engineering a brighter future.

Life Tip #1: Don’t forget those who made your journey possible.  Your family, your teachers, and your friends wish you all the best.  Remember, they simply want you to be happy.

2018 is a very special year.  Engineering 7 is nearing completion.  Classes will enter the classrooms for the first time on Thursday at 8:30 am.  There will be challenges as all large construction projects have minor issues.  There will also be pleasant surprises.  The Faculty of Engineering consulted students, staff, faculty, and alumni when designing the building.  The result is a state-of-the-art complex with room for both teaching and research.  The building also enables the move of the recently renamed Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business to the main campus.  This is a move that is long overdue.

For me too, this is a very special year.  On September 1st, I started my role as Director of Admissions for Waterloo Engineering.  It is a daunting task but one that I readily accept.  The previous Director of Admissions had a very long list of accomplishments as indicated in his blog post on August 31st.  I only hope that I will be able to continue the great work that Professor Bill Anderson during his term as Director of Admissions.  I plan to use this blog to speak to four audiences (prospective students, students, parents, and alumni) in much the same way that Bill Anderson did on his highly successful blog (A Professor in Waterloo Engineering).  While Bill Anderson doesn’t like to brag about the success of his blog, it is the top referring website to the official Waterloo Engineering website and will likely remain so for some time to come.  I will also use this blog as a way of informally providing information and advice about the admission process for Waterloo Engineering.