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.