Chances of Admission for Fall 2020

With the Ontario Universities’ Fair starting in less than 24 hours, I thought I would attempt to answer the most frequent question asked of any admission officer:

What are my chances of receiving an offer of admission?

This is not an easy question to answer since every applicant is different.  Good grades are one consideration for admission but we also look at many other factors including previous employment, volunteer work, extra-curricular activities, skills, and notable achievements.  We can use good grades as a starting point for the discussion but we obviously look beyond grades to select applicants who will be highly successful in our programs.  This is why Waterloo Engineering does not simply accept applicants with the top grades and why students with lower admission averages still have a reasonable chance of receiving an offer of admission to some of our top engineering programs.

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.

Using the applicant data for the Fall 2019 admission cycle, I have produced graphs that show the probability of receiving an offer of admission to Waterloo Engineering programs.  All of our engineering programs have been put into three groups as follows:

  • Group 1: Biomedical and Software
  • Group 2: Computer, Electrical, Mechanical, Mechatronics, and Systems Design
  • Group 3: Architectural, Chemical, Civil, Environmental, Geological, Management, and Nanotechnology

The first graph summarizes the probability of an admission offer for Canadians and permanent residents applying from the Ontario Secondary School system.  This graph is shown below:

Fall 2019 AOS - CPR

The second graph summarizes the probability of an admission offer for visa students applying from the Ontario Secondary School system.  The probabilities tend to be much lower for visa students due to the high number of applicants per available space.  However, high average students still have a very reasonable chance of receiving an offer of admission, even to our most competitive programs.  This graph is shown below:

Fall 2019 AOS - Visa

These graphs include a small number of applicants who receive offers to their second choice program instead of their first choice program.  I debated whether these applicants should be included in the graphs but I felt it would be inappropriate to remove them.

I used a slightly different mathematical approach than the one used in previous years.  I used a free software add-on to Excel from SRS1 Software to interpolate data points throughout the admission average range of 80% to 100% using a one-way spline function.  This approach allowed me to produce relatively smooth curves that are monotonically increasing as the admission average increases.

These graphs represent the best projections we can make regarding the Fall 2020 admission cycle.  Until we receive our final application data in February 2020, we won’t know if the application pool is similar to last year’s application pool.  If it is, then these projections are likely to be accurate.  If applications increase (or decrease), the probabilities of receiving an admission offer to a program will change accordingly.

28 thoughts on “Chances of Admission for Fall 2020”

  1. Hi Prof.Bishop,
    In your post, you mentioned that the ranges tend to be a bit conservative for some programs as they tend to be most accurate for the top program in a grouping. Do you release the data for the program rankings within the group? For example, is System Design Engineering or Computer Engineering as both of which are in the second group?


    1. It is difficult to say which program within a group is the top program. Consider the following scenario: Program X has a 60% chance of admission for averages above 95% and a 30% chance of admission for averages below 90%. Program Y has a 75% chance of admission for averages above 95% and a 15% chance of admission for averages below 90%. Which program is the top program? Does it matter how many applications have averages above 95% and how many applications have averages below 90%? The top program in a group is subjective. It depends on how you wait the criteria for ranking the programs.

      The only group where I can easily indicate the top program is the first group. The Software Engineering program is the most competitive program that we offer. The Biomedical Engineering program is a close second but the Software Engineering program has more high quality applicants per available space. This is unlikely to change in the short term.


  2. Hi there!
    I was just wondering, does the time at which you apply to Waterloo affect your chances of getting in? Like, does applying earlier than the posted deadline of Jan. 31 mean that there will be a chance for your application to be reviewed earlier than those who apply later? If so, will this put you at an advantage compared to those applying later?

    I was also curious on how Waterloo treats summer school courses, particularly in the situation that they are not required for the program being applied to? Such as taking Social Studies over the summer, not as a repeat, but only to get it done in order to have one less class during the school year. Would taking such a course outside of the regular school time affect an application in any way? Would taking such a course matter if it is not being used to calculate the admissions average? Should one avoid using it for the admissions average in order to avoid the penalties they might otherwise face? Is there a situation in which this wouldn’t affect an application?

    My apologies for the many questions, but thank-you in advance for your time.


    1. The date of application is not considered in the admissions process.

      There is a practical reason why we cannot use the date of application as a measure of eagerness. It is my understanding that high school applicants are not allowed to apply at the same time. The Ontario University Application Centre staggers the enrolment periods to spread out the load on their computer servers. Some schools will be allowed to applied in early November. Others may have to wait to gain access to the system in December.

      Course scheduling may require students to take elective courses and/or required courses outside of regular day school. If you take a required course outside of regular day school, you should clearly indicate why on your Admission Information Form. We look for students who are trying to boost their averages by taking required courses outside of regular day school. If we feel that this is the case, we will apply an adjustment to your average. Not all summer school courses are easier than regular day school courses. Also, there are many reasons for taking a summer school course other than trying to boost your average. However, there are situations where students take summer school courses in the hopes of boosting their averages and we need to have a way of dealing with such situations.

      If you take a spare to participate in extra-curricular activities or if you take a spare to work part-time, you will not be penalized. We just want to see that you are still busy and you using your time effectively.

      If you take a spare to reduce your course load so that you can spend more time on certain (difficult) courses and you significantly boost your average by doing so, we will adjust your average.

      If calculating your average without your adjusted course grade is better for you, we will do so automatically. For example, if we were going to apply a 5% deduction to your 6th course taking it from 95% to 90%, we would use your 7th course, if it had a grade higher than 90%. Essentially, we will do the work to determine the best possible admission average for each applicant.

      If you take a non-required course outside of regular day school, doing so will rarely affect application decisions. We are most interested in the required courses. We fully support students taking extra elective courses through any means possible.


  3. Hello Dr. Bishop

    I can see in your graph that you have made predicted acceptance rates based on a certain average for Canadian students. However, a 92 average at one school can be considered to be the same as a 97 average at another school, as seen in the Global News list, but the graph does not seem to account for that discrepancy. For schools that have lower/ higher adjustment factors, is the graph still considered to be a fairly accurate predictor of acceptance chances? Thank you for a very detailed article regarding admission chances.


    1. The graphs use the raw high school averages without any adjustment factors applied. This is partially why you see such a large range of averages receiving offers of admission. Adjustments simply level the playing field. If a student at a high school with a high adjustment factor moved to a school with a much lower adjustment factor, our modelling would suggest that the student’s average would drop.

      The graph is the most accurate predictor of acceptance chances that we can provide at this time. Some students will do well on their Admission Information Forms and their online interviews; others will do poorly. You can significantly improve your chances of acceptance by spending time carefully proofreading your Admission Information Form and by clearly documenting your activities. You can also significantly improve your chances by being prepared to answer the online interview questions. My best suggestion is to pick a quiet environment for your interviews and to think about how you might answer typical interview questions prior to taking the interview.


    1. We probably wouldn’t even know the grades were taken online if they are taken through your local school board. It is not always apparent on the transcripts we receive. We will be treating them as regular day school.


  4. Sir, what about transfer applicants? How would the graph look like if they would like to start back from 1A or start from 2A?


    1. It would be extremely rare for a transfer student to start from 2A in a Waterloo Engineering program. Our co-op program is unusual in its scheduling so the courses rarely match well. Also, you would need to have a 4 month work experience equivalent to our co-op placement. Last year, I do not believe there were any.

      Transfers into 1A and 1B from other engineering programs are quite common. Transfers into 1A from non-engineering programs are quite common. University averages are used for the assessment but we use a much lower adjustment factor of approximately 8%. If a program had a 50% chance of admission with a high school average of 90%, the same program would likely have a 50% chance of admission with an average in university courses of 82%.


    1. There may not be a policy that prevents this from happening but in practice, course scheduling and course workload make this difficult if not impossible. However, you can do a smaller course specialization known as an option. A Software Engineering Option and a Computer Engineering Option exist. These both give you exposure to Computer Science fundamentals.

      I would also suggest considering the Mechatronics program as this combines Mechanical Engineering with Electrical Engineering. It also increases your exposure to Computer Science fundamentals.

      In most cases, scheduling can be a limiting factor in accessing courses outside your core discipline. Waterloo Engineering programs are known for having busy course schedules.


  5. Hello Sir. I am wondering if these admission projections apply to students studying engineering at a different university in Ontario. For example, if I have a first year average of 85 at my current school, would there be an adjustment factor that would be placed up against the high school applicants of the program?


    1. University transfer students are considered alongside all other applicants. However, they are assigned lower adjustment factors so that they are not unfairly penalized for taking university level courses. An 85% average in university would be roughly equivalent to a 93% average in high school. However, we hand pick students so the average is less important than what you write on your Admission Information Form and how you do in your interview. Strong assessments on these can easily help a student compete for our most competitive programs.


      1. Okay. So one question I have is if there is an anticipated safe range for certain programs that transfer students should know about? For example, I’d assume that Systems and Management would be less competitive than Software. Also when you mentioned the 8% adjustment factor, does the mark after it get directly compared with high school students? For example, I want to apply to SYDE and I finish first year with an 84. Does that mean I would be given the same chance as other high school applicants after my average gets translated into 92? Or are university transfer applicants from a different school given less priority/harder judgment?


      2. There is no admission average that guarantees acceptance to an engineering program at the University of Waterloo. We assess all applicants individually. Admission averages are just one factor in our decision process. The 8% adjustment factor basically means that a university grade of 84% is treated approximately the same as a high school grade of 92%. Of course, we accept a wide range of averages to all engineering programs so the highest average doesn’t necessarily get accepted. Other factors (e.g., Admission Information Form, Online Interview, etc.) play a significant role.

        Waterloo Engineering only accepts transfer applicants if we feel there is a good reason motivating the transfer. Wanting a transfer simply because you would rather study at the University of Waterloo is not usually sufficient reason. Transferring into a program not offered by your current university is one (of many) examples of a good reason for requesting a transfer.

        Universities are often subject to written and verbal agreements that prevent the poaching of students from other universities. In the U.S., one such agreement has recently been called into question by the U.S. Department of Justice. You can find a good article on the issue here so I will not expand upon it further. I will let you form your own opinion about which side of the argument is most correct.

        Traditionally, Software Engineering has been our most competitive program and I expect this continue for the foreseeable future. I find the comment about Systems Design Engineering and Management Engineering a bit odd. It does not really matter whether they are more or less competitive to Software Engineering. They are completely different programs. If you want to study Software Engineering, Systems Design Engineering will not be a good fit for you. The same is true for Management Engineering. You must choose a program based on your interests and your career aspirations, not simply based on the chances of admission.


  6. Hi,

    I want to talk about geological engineering. Is this program soon going to be as a software engineering or somewhere near, due to climate change? You summarized this in another post and so I just need clarification if that would be. Thanks!



    1. This is a great question. While I anticipate the popularity of programs such as Geological Engineering and Environmental Engineering to increase steadily as a result of climate change action, I fully expect the programs to remain very accessible to future students. Field work may be required in Geological Engineering and Environmental Engineering. Not all prospective students are interested in working outdoors. Of course, analysis can be conducted using a computer much like other engineering disciplines. To learn more about Geological Engineering and what our Geological Engineers do, check out our latest Geological Engineering Video on Youtube.


  7. Hi sir. First of all, thank you for your very insightful blog posts. I know they have definitely helped me and many others to make informed decisions about our university applications.

    I was comparing your competitiveness blog post with this one and noticed that the admissions averages seemed to have changed. For example the table from the competitiveness blog posts suggests that a student applying to systems design with a average between 90-94 would have approximately a 45% chance of receiving an offer of admission. As you stated in a comment on that post, the 45% estimate accurately represents the probably of receiving an offer for a student in the middle of that grade range. So a student with a 92% average would have a 45% chance. This graph however, shows that a student with a 92% average would have about a 60% chance of receiving an offer. I was just wondering what new data, if any, influenced this change in probabilities?


    1. As I indicated in another comment, the competitiveness post is an early prediction of the competitiveness of a program based on all available data. The Chances of Admission for Fall 2020 blog post summarizes the actual data at the conclusion of an admission cycle. Both are measures of competitiveness. There is no guarantee that one is more accurate than the other. I would say that there has been a slight increase in the probability of acceptance to most engineering programs at the University of Waterloo. This increase is most likely due to a reduction in the number of Grade 12 students applying to universities in Ontario.


  8. Hi Professor Bishop,

    For applicants enrolled in the IB Program, will UWaterloo receive the IB exam grades? If so, would a student have their offer rescinded if they do poorly on their IB exams, or if they fail the IB Diploma due to a failing grade on the Extended Essay or failing to complete CAS (given they still pass the Ontario Secondary School Program)?



    1. We have minimum requirements for the grades in IB courses. If you fail to maintain the required course grades, an offer can be withdrawn. The conditions of an offer of acceptance are clearly stated at the time of admission. All students should carefully review the conditions of an offer of acceptance prior to agreeing to the offer.


    1. Competition scores are not a significant factor in our admissions process. Contrary to popular opinion and even some university websites which I cannot control, we do not have access to current year Euclid scores at the time that our admissions decisions are made.

      We will have access to the CCC competition results and previous year CEMC competition results as these are published prior to our admission deadlines. Last year, I briefly looked at these results to see how many students had been accepted into our programs. When I did this check, I found that most students who did well on these competitions had already received an early offer of admission to their first choice engineering program at the University of Waterloo. If a student did well in a competition but had not received an early offer of admission, there was often a reason that prevented an offer from being given.

      It is my understanding that the Euclid and the CCC may be significant factors in admission to the Math Faculty so I would strongly encourage students to write these competitions. Doing so keeps all of your options open. I would prefer you to choose an engineering program because you feel it is the best program for you, not simply because you failed to write a competition required for admission to another faculty.


  9. Hi,
    I am interested in the system design engineering program. I have seen that this program (2017 onward) has moved from the third admission group to the second admission group. Is it fair to assume since it has switched from group 3 to 2 recently that the chances of getting in to system design are slightly higher than the average chances for group 2 programs. I mention this because you said in your post that the averages are more accurate for the most competitive program in the group and I would think that the SYDE would not be the most competitive in group 2 due to it being in group 3 recently.


    1. You should not assume that the Systems Design Engineering program is easier to get into than the other programs in the same grouping, simply because it was once in a different grouping. The Systems Design Engineering program accepts a smaller number of students so the acceptance rate can very significantly from one term to the next. We have put the program in its current grouping because it fits well within this grouping.


  10. Hello Sir,
    I see that there is a particularly high jump in chances of admission from 2018 to 2019. For example, for the 2018 graph you only had slightly more than a 20% chance of receiving an offer for the group 2 programs with a 90% average whereas this year you have about a 40% chance of receiving an offer with a 90% average for the group 2 programs. Also on your competitive post posted in June you mentioned that between a 90-94% you have a 45% chance of receiving an offer for the group 2 programs but according to the graph shouldn’t it be closer to a 55% chance ?


    1. The June competitiveness post was based on the probabilities predicted for our 2019/20 engineering brochures. Predictions are made using prior year acceptance data, application data trends, and anticipated changes to program targets. You will find that the competitiveness post indicates the exact same values as those in our 2019/20 engineering brochures. At the print deadline, these are the best predictions that we can make.

      The most recent post on Chances of Admission for Fall 2020 uses more recent data. We have used the actual acceptance data from the 2018/19 admission cycle. This data was not known at the time of brochure printing.

      It is fair to compare the graphs from the Chances of Admission for Fall 2020 to the Chances of Admission for Fall 2019 as these graphs represent consistent data sets. It is also fair to say that there has been a slight increase in the chances of admission to certain engineering programs for students with an average of less than 95%. Certainly, the probability of admission with an average of 90% has increased slightly. However, part of the difference you are noticing is also the result of the different mathematical modelling techniques used to produce the graphs. I used a slightly different smoothing function in the Fall 2020 graph. I hope to be consistent in future years but it made sense to change our smoothing function to eliminate artifacts at the ends of the curve. In general, admission probability curves monotonically increase in response to an increase in admission average.


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