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:

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!



5 thoughts on “Competitiveness”

  1. Hi sir, assuming all other factors are equal, (AIF score, adjustment factor, interview etc.) how much would someone with a 98 average be favored over someone with a 95 average, and is this three percent increase more significant than say a 91 vs a 94?


    1. This is a great question but one that is nearly impossible to answer. The distribution of applicant averages and admission scores varies by program. In general, applicants with a higher average have a better chance of being admitted. When we indicate probabilities of admission by average range, an applicant in the middle of the average range would have exactly the probability indicated for the range. The probability of receiving an offer of admission increases as you move up in the average range and decreases as you move down in the range.

      As an example, consider an applicant to Computer Engineering. We indicate three average ranges with corresponding probabilities of admission. If an applicant has a 95+ average, we indicate a 70% chance of being offered admission. If an applicant has a 90 to 94 average, we indicate a 45% chance of being offered admission. If an applicant has a 85 to 89 average we indicate a 10% chance of being offered admission.

      Using these ranges, if an applicant had a 92 average, a 45% probability accurately estimates the chance of the applicant being offered admission. If an applicant had a 94 average, a 45% probability underestimates the chance of the applicant being offered admission. In this scenario with an applicant average of 94, a more reasonable estimate of the probability might be halfway between 70% and 45%. If an applicant had a 90 average, a 45% probability overestimates the chance of the applicant being offered admission. In this scenario with an applicant average of 90, a more reasonable estimate of the probability might be halfway between 45% and 10%. This results in a continuous distribution of probabilities.

      One might wonder why the probability of admission is not higher for the high average ranges. There are many reasons why the probabilities are not higher. First, admission to our programs is highly competitive. We have a large number of applicants per available space. Second, we assess more than just grades. We use the Admission Information Form and the optional Online Interview to assess students beyond their grades. Third, we apply adjustment factors to averages to help ensure success in our programs. Fourth, we sometimes have applications from applicants with high averages that are incomplete. These applicants are essentially ineligible for an offer of admission. All of the reasons (and more) lead to slightly lower than expected probabilities for the 95+ average range.

      As a final point, there is not even 100% probability of an offer of admission for a student with an average of 100. We do individual selection. We reserve the right to reject an applicant with an average of 100. This may be the case if an applicant fails to complete a required part of the application process (e.g., Admission Information Form) or if an applicant is applying from a highly questionable school in a foreign country. When we make our assessments of applicants, we try to select applicants who are highly likely to be successful in our engineering programs. An average is only a single measure of the fit of a student for a program.


  2. Hi Prof. Bishop,

    In your post you detailed that the grade ranges presented are for OSS students. How do these grades change for students outside Ontario but still in Canada? (I am an Alberta high school student)


    1. The grade ranges are applicable to most Canadian provinces and territories. There were two provinces (New Brunswick and Saskatchewan) in the 2019 admission cycle that had higher than average adjustment factors. Students from high adjustment factor provinces would likely need slightly higher grades to receive an offer of admission.


  3. […] 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.  I continued this transition with my blog post last Fall on the Chances of Admission for Fall 2019.  In our brochures, we estimate the probability of an applicant receiving acceptance based on several years of application trends.  We try to make the projections as realistic as possible but the projections often tend to be a bit conservative.  Not all programs grouped together have exactly the same probabilities.  The projections tend to be most accurate for the top program in a grouping.  The most recent admission average probabilities can be found in my blog post on Competitiveness. […]


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