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.

26 thoughts on “Chances of Admission for Fall 2019”

  1. Welcome to the job! Just read about “Waterloo’s secret list” on Global News. I imagine you may address it in an upcoming blog post. Is there an adjustment applied to “students from New Brunswick” or “students from Egypt”? How much can the adjustment factor affect the admissions process? What was the minimum number of students from each high school e.g. Grimsby or Bangladesh for it to make the list (for the result to be statistically significant)? Will you release the data in a more open way with detailed explanation here on your blog? What would you say to parents who are concerned that their children are attending one of the schools on the list (or want to move their children to a school on the other end of the list)?


    1. I do intend to have upcoming blog posts that will address many of the questions you have raised but right now our team’s focus is on addressing media inquiries from Global News, CTV, and various other news organizations. I believe Global News published the adjustment factor for New Brunswick. Factors are applied to any school or jurisdiction where we have sufficient students to justify a statistically significant result. This includes other provinces and countries. I do not recall which other provinces and countries made the list last year. We have not disclosed the number of students required for the calculation, partially due to the fact that it may cause other issues. There is a more detailed explanation of the adjustment factor calculation on Bo Peng’s blog that you can find online. It is reasonably accurate. For parents, I would say that they should not move students to try to game the system. Moving a student from one high school to another will disrupt their learning. The fact that we have adjustment factors for schools indicates that we accept students from those schools. It is possible to get into engineering from any of the provincially approved secondary schools in Ontario.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your responses and glad to hear it will be addressed later. I do see that Bo Peng and Patrick Cain provided access to the whole OSS and NOSS list in a Google spreadsheet. Looking forward to your explanation and considerations.


  2. Any consideration for future admissions to use AP scores, SAT scores (Standardized exams) to evaluate students potential? I feel that the grading system in Ontario is very biased and depends on competitiveness of certain schools (i.e. top ranked school in GTA not same as top ranked school in other areas in Ontario).

    Also, does the engineering release grade distribution for undergrad courses?


    1. We do not have any plan to require any standardized testing from jurisdictions that do not already use such testing. We do ask for SAT scores from applicants in jurisdictions where SAT scores are typically required but the scores themselves are not a significant factor in our competitive selection process. The top U.S. schools are currently moving away from requiring SAT scores as they have found them to not be great indicators of success. SAT scores have the potential to exhibit some bias since students who come from affluent families have much better access to prep courses. I plan to write a blog post on standardized testing sometime later this year. It is a hot topic.

      We do not release final grade distributions for our undergraduate courses.


  3. Hello Sir,
    I am a prospective applicant for the 2019 engineering admission cycle. I have according to the graph, it is easier to get into Waterloo Mechatronics Engineering with a 96% average in comparison to 2018 by looking at last year’s graph. Can you please tell me any specific reason for this?
    Is this due to the highschool adjustment factors across Ontario, the list of 74 schools posted in September 2018?


    1. The graphs produced by Bill Anderson to predict chances of admission in 2018 use a different tool and a slightly different method as described briefly at the end of my blog post. Some of the differences between the two graphs are simply due to the change in the way the graphs were produced. The data also changes slightly from year to year due to program demand. The chances of admission depend heavily on the size of the applicant pool, the quality of applicants, and the number of available spaces in the program.

      The averages reported in the chances of admission graphs do not take into account adjustment factors, Admission Information Form scores, online interview assessments, or any other adjustments. For the majority of applicants, adjustment factors have very little impact upon an applicant’s chances of admission.


  4. Hi,
    A lot of IB Highschool students were forced to take a summer school SPH4U course since they were unable to fit that course into their daily schedules due to the fact that the IB Program filled their entire course schedule. These students do not have any spares and would have wanted to take the course in day-school had they been allowed. Will these students be negatively affected during admissions?


    1. If applicants fail to provide a suitable explanation on their Admission Information Form, they may have their overall admission score adjusted. This is clearly indicated on our website. We encourage all applicants to take required courses through regular day school, whenever possible. My recommendation to all future applicants is to start planning your courses in Grade 11 (or earlier) to figure out the best way to meet post-secondary school requirements. In some cases, it may be possible to take a non-required course in summer school to free up a slot for a required course. In other cases, you may find a way to take one or more Grade 12 courses in an earlier year.


  5. 90% (3.6 GPA) from an American school with 4/5s in AP Physics, CS, and Calculus. Plus I have a reasonably good experience with programming (92% at ICS3U at an Ontario virtual school, a few projects in Github, and a couple of opensource contributions)
    And an interesting transition from Egyptian > Canadian > American education (While traveling from Egypt > Kazakhstan) PS: I have a Canadian citizenship

    Would you think it is worth it to spend half my choices on SE? Or would I be better off choosing programs where I have more chances to get in?


    1. I always recommend that students apply for the program they most want to pursue. Students are rarely happy when they accept a program other than the one they really wanted. Transferring from one Waterloo Engineering program to another Waterloo Engineering program is very difficult due to our discipline-specific first year courses. We do not have a common first year engineering program. We need discipline-specific first year courses to prepare students for their first co-op work term placement.

      As the graph suggests, the SE program is a highly competitive program with a low acceptance rate. Given that you were educated in the U.S., we would look into your high school profile to assess your GPA more accurately. We do not care about marks in freshman, junior, and sophomore years. Your GPA would presumably include all of these years so we would recalculate your admission average using just your senior year grades. Your admission average might be higher or lower, depending upon how you did in your senior year. If the admission average remained at 90%, the odds of acceptance to the SE program would be low but there would still be a slight chance. The Admission Information Form and the online interview could make the difference. Having Canadian citizenship is a significant advantage. We have a very limited number of spots for international students.


  6. Dear sir,
    I am currently applying for the software engineering program at waterloo. My average before midterms is around a 90% and ill hopefully improve it. I am currently in the AP Stream at my school. I believe I have a great deal of experience programming working on various personal projects and the recent one being a full fledged close to commercial level flight simulator logging over 2000 hours of programming experience. Assuming this stuff goes into the AIF, how much is this kind of stuff weighed into the admission acceptance chance?


    1. The assessment of an Admission Information Form is worth 5% overall. We rarely give a grade of 5 out of 5 on the Admission Information Form. An applicant needs to be truly exceptional to receive such a grade. Remember that the average applicant to the software engineering program is not a typical high school student. Software engineering applicants tend to have more extracurricular activities than the average university applicant. I would say that an above-average applicant to the software engineering program can realistically make up two percentage points over an average applicant to the software engineering program.

      The optional online interview is another way to boost your application. When completed, this interview is given a similar weight to the Admission Information Form. A strong interview can definitely improve an applicant’s chances of being accepted to a Waterloo Engineering program.

      At the end of the day, the best way to improve your chance of being selected for our programs is to do well in all of your grade 12 courses. There is still time to improve your grades, as you indicate in your message. Do the best that you can.


      1. Dear Mr. Bishop,
        I’m an international student applying to software engineering (with around a 95% average) and was wondering how holistic the admission process is.
        If a student is taking IB (HL math physics chem), would there be an advantage for taking such difficult courses relative to other applicants who did not take such rigorous courses (someone taking SL math physics and chem)?

        Do you always take the student with the highest admission average (grades + AIF + Online Interview), or is there some individual selection. For example, if student A has a 99% average, 3 on AIF and 2 on the online interview, while student B has a 95% average with a 5 on the AIF and 3 on the interview, will student A always get picked over student B? Or is the process more nuanced?


      2. A student with HL courses in mathematics, physics, and chemistry would generally be preferred over a student with SL courses in these same subjects. Students with a stronger background in math and science often do better in our engineering programs. The two most important courses would be mathematics and physics. While chemistry is a required course for our engineering programs, only a few of our engineering programs extensively use a knowledge of chemistry. For example, Software Engineering does not need quite as strong a background in chemistry as Nanotechnology Engineering.

        We do not simply rank students and take the top students from the ranking. We do individual selection for the majority of our available spaces. We spend quite a bit of time examining applications, assessing information forms, and assessing interviews. There are other factors as well. We have adjustment factors to predict success rates and we have conversion charts for different grading schemes. The situation you described would be a difficult one. Scoring a 5 on the AIF is very difficult. We might choose the student with the 5 on the AIF over a student with a higher average and a lower AIF score. It might depend upon how the averages were obtained. If the 95% average student had great marks in mathematics and physics but a low mark in a 6th (non-specified) course, we might favour the 95% average student. As you suggest, our process is more nuanced.

        Our process tends to be very good at selecting students who will succeed in our engineering programs. It generally rewards students who work hard and excel at what they do, regardless of the challenge.


  7. Dear Mr. Bishop,
    Thank you for the timely response!
    How significant (if significant at all) are contest scores in the admission process (Euclid and CCC) for Computer Engineering? The waterloo website suggests that they are factored in the Software Engineering admission process, is this true?

    Are these contest scores factored into the AIF score or is it added to the admission average (School average + AIF + Video Interview)?


    1. Awards and contest scores can play a role in the engineering admission process. Any awards or contest scores that you can report on your AIF will be factored into your AIF score. If the awards are significant, they are given some weight. If you won the high school science fair, this would be a relatively minor achievement unless your high school was very large. However, if you placed in the top 2% of all students in the Fermat Mathematics Competition in Grade 11, this would be a significant result that would be factored into your assessment. The number of skilled competitors in a competition is a factor in our assessments. International competitions generally have more participants making these competitions more difficult to win.

      For the Euclid Mathematics Competition, one problem we face in the Faculty of Engineering is that we may not know the results of the competition until after most student assessments are complete. The Euclid will be written this year on either April 3rd or April 4th, depending upon where you live. Grades will likely not be known until very close to our internal deadline for accepting students. The Faculty of Mathematics knows the results earlier than we do so they can factor the results into their admission decisions. The results can be a significant factor for programs such as Computer Science. For the Faculty of Engineering, we may be able to factor the results into our assessments late in the process for programs such as Software Engineering but there is no guarantee that we will. Sometimes, these competition results can be a factor in selecting scholarship recipients as well.

      We do ask that you report your intention to write competitions such as the Canadian Computing Competition and the Canadian Mathematics Competition in your AIF. Students who participate in such contests are often a good fit for our engineering programs.


    2. I just wanted to speculate that because of the individual selection process, it’s quite possible both suggested student A and B are accepted, or both A and B are rejected, for other considerations that are not reflected in 3 statistics. The initial framing was that there’s only 1 seat for A and B, but there might actually be 2 or 0 seats for A and B.


      1. Yes, it is quite possible that both students would be accepted. It is also possible (but highly unlikely) that both would be rejected. We do not reject many students with a 99% high school average. One thing that applicants often forget is that we accept more students than we admit. Some applicants get accepted but then decide to go elsewhere. Thankfully, we have years of statistics to help with predicting how many applicants to accept into a program. My predecessor was very good at predicting who would accept our admission offers. Time will tell whether I can replicate his success.


  8. To get a (5 or 4.5) on the AIF do you HAVE to win an international/national competition or has there been cases where a student’s personal projects, internships, and essays were so good that they earned a 4.5 or 5 on the AIF?


    1. It is possible to score a 5 on the AIF without winning a national or international competition. We assess the entire AIF looking for things that might distinguish an applicant. While it is possible for students to score well due to demonstrated excellence in a single activity, it is probably easier to score well with a strong combination of extra-curricular activities, awards, projects, and experiences. It is difficult to provide a simple formula for scoring well on any subjective assessment. Internally, we have some guidelines that we follow but with over 13,000 applications per year, there are always things that we have not anticipated. Our assessments are tough but fair.


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