Confirmation Deadline

Today is June 1st.  Admitted students have until midnight tonight to accept their offers of admission to Waterloo Engineering programs.  I will likely receive a few e-mails tomorrow from students who did not confirm their offers in time or who now regret their decision to study at another university.  Unfortunately, once the deadline passes, there is not much that I can do.

Based on our results so far, it appears we have had another successful year of admissions.  We are a bit above target but this is normal at this time of the year.  There are always a few students who do not meet offer conditions, a few students who ultimately decide to not come to Waterloo Engineering, and a few students who defer their offers.  We have to exceed our targets slightly at this time to meet our November 1st targets for grant funding.

There is greater uncertainty this year given the global pandemic.  It may be the case that some students will not be able to afford Waterloo Engineering due to financial difficulties.  It may also be the case that a few more students defer their offers of admission this year.

A deferral is a personal decision that should not be taken lightly.  While it may seem like a great idea at first glance, here are some things that you should consider prior to requesting a deferral:

  • Tuition and incidental fees increase every year.  A deferral will mean that your education will likely cost a bit more.  While you may also earn more on your co-op work terms, tuition increases often exceed the pace of inflation.
  • Taking a year off studies can make it difficult to return to your studies.  You will need to find a way to maintain your knowledge of Calculus, Physics, and other high school subjects that are required for Waterloo Engineering.
  • If you defer your studies, you are not allowed to take courses at any other post-secondary institution.  This would include courses at both colleges and universities.
  • If your classmates do not defer, your classmates will be a year ahead of you.  They will likely graduate before you do if you defer.
  • The sooner you graduate, the sooner you can start enjoying the benefits of a Waterloo Engineering degree.  There are likely to be some great engineering jobs available in 5 years.

Some students are justifiably worried about online classes in the Fall.  There certainly have been some terrible implementations of online classes in high schools and universities.  I’d like to believe that these are anomalies.  While I have heard of some courses in other faculties simply providing course notes for self-study, this is not the plan for Waterloo Engineering.  We expect to deliver a rich online experience for our students with a combination of live sessions and pre-recorded sessions for most engineering courses.  We are already making this a reality for our students enrolled in courses this term.

I have been teaching a course this term.  I have been splitting my normal lectures into micro lectures implemented as videos no longer than 20 minutes.  My notes are being completely rewritten for an online context with more details being provided.  My assessment techniques are being modified to fit within an online context with weekly quizzes and timely feedback.  My labs are being replaced with online project activities that include group work.  My online course is probably better aligned with our expected learning outcomes and I fully expect my students to learn more from my online course.

Our students are finding the switch to online learning a bit challenging but many students have given positive feedback.  The biggest complaint our students have is that most faculty members do not have access to a professional grade microphone.  I am working on acquiring one but they are in short supply.

In a normal course, students have the ability to skip lectures when they are really busy.  While students who skip lectures miss out on some lecture material, it often saves them time and they still do well by the end of the course.  In an online context, it is more difficult for a student to skip a video lecture.  Most of my students are watching all of my lecture videos.  In a normal course, only 70% (or fewer) of my students would typically attend all lectures.  This might be one of the reasons why online courses seem to consume more student hours.

In terms of preparation for future courses, I expect the students in my online course to be slightly better prepared if they can handle the workload.  I have done my part by shrinking the lecture videos to the core topics.  Without student questions, I can cover the same material in about 2/3rds of the time.  A 1 hour lecture appears to require about 40 minutes of lecture videos to complete.

As the Fall 2020 admissions cycle comes to an end, I am looking forward to spending some time relaxing in my backyard.  I will leave you with a few photos of my gardens that I took over the past week.


42 thoughts on “Confirmation Deadline”

  1. Hi professor,
    Congratulations on completing the admission season. You and your team have done a great job.

    I wonder if you can give us some insights on the applicant pool this year and some predictions for 2021 if possible. Specifically, can you provide any information on the SE in 2021? If you are not able to give any predictions, would you provide some insights on the successful SE visa applicants who got in this year? I wonder are most of the visa students in SE completed high school in Canada or mostly from other countries? I know SE applicants are required to have a profound level of knowledge in software engineering, but it is very difficult to determine a level that would suffice. What kind of ECs they typically have under their belt? Are those Elite level engineering competitions, internships, or side projects required for visa applicants to SE? If not, what kind of ECs are your team looking into in visa applicants for SE? Sometimes, it’s very difficult to for visa students who transferred to Ontario high school to get access to elite-level ECs like highschool Hackathons, FirstRobotics, DECA, or SHAD, or internships at FANG, or side projects that include IoT or ML simply because we DON’T have enough TIME and CONNECTIONS in the field. While struggling on figuring out how to build a simple mobile or web app, we kind of fall short compare to domesticate applicants who have time and connections in the field to participate in these fabulous ECs that we craved. Do you have any suggestions for us visa applicants in Ontario to be successful without these privileges of some domesticate applicants?

    Have a great day and enjoy your break.


    1. Thanks for your feedback! We won’t know how well we did until the Fall. The best way to measure success is not by how many applicants are happy but rather by how many admitted students are successful in our programs.

      The SE program remains the most competitive program in Waterloo Engineering. I do not anticipate this changing over the next year. Demand for spaces in the program greatly exceeds the number of available spaces. It is my understanding that there are no plans to increase the number of available spaces in the near term.

      With respect to successful visa applicants, about half of our confirmed visa applicants reside in Canada and about half of our confirmed visa applicants reside outside of Canada. Clearly, students studying outside of Canada may not have access to SHAD, Catalyst, or activities held in Canada but they often have access to similar programs in their home countries. We are well aware of some of the more popular programs in other countries.

      There is a false perception that SE applicants must have participated in certain competitions or internships to be offered admission. While it is certainly true that a large percentage of admitted SE applicants have done some amazing extra-curricular activities, it is still possible to be offered admission with great grades and some structure programming experience demonstrated either through course work or independent projects. The AIF plays a huge role in our admission process for SE applicants so it is important that applicants clearly document their programming knowledge if they want to be offered admission. Extra-curriculars are one way of documenting relevant experience. Other ways exist to document programming experience such as describing in detail projects, course work, and languages studied.

      The concern about access to extra-curricular activities is a valid concern. Some schools are much better than others at supporting their students’ extra-curricular activities. Proximity to events can also be a factor in student participation. We do try to consider these factors when assessing applicants but there is a practical limit to what we can do. If a student does not have access to a computer or a programming course, that student will simply not be prepared to make the leap to our SE program where all first year students typically have a solid understanding of computing and computer programming prior to entering the classroom. Arguably, this is not fair but the solution is not to fix the admissions process but rather the broken system that allows a high school student to be excluded from the essential skills and courses that they need to succeed in the 21st century.

      I will say that there are many schools in Canada, including rural schools, that do a wonderful job of ensuring that all of their students have access to the courses and extra-curricular experiences that students need to be successful. Every year, I see applicants from all over Canada that have access to a wide range of courses and activities that simply didn’t exist when I was a high school student. I also see applicants who might not have the same access but they find a way to shine either by taking the initiative to work on a project or by taking the initiative to participate in an extra-curricular activity that is not a part of a school system.

      Sometimes, applicants forget that extra-curricular activities do not need to be activities directly supported by a school or school board. There were more than a few applicants who claimed on their AIF that they couldn’t participate in sports this past year because their schools chose to not offer sports activities to students. My response would be to join a community league or organize a community event. From an admissions perspective, playing soccer in a community league often requires greater discipline and time commitment than playing soccer on the high school team.

      Being a visa applicant studying high school in Canada does not prevent you from participating in the local community. I can point to many examples of visa applicants who volunteered in their community, who played sports, and who found ways to enrich their experiences. Sometimes, applicants need to be creative but creativity is an important skill for engineers to acquire.


  2. Hello!

    I have read that it is easy to switch from Biomedical Engineering to SYDE since they are under the same department! Is this true? If possible, could the switch be made prior to the start of the first semester?


    1. Transfers between Biomedical Engineering and Systems Design Engineering are not currently permitted. I do not expect this situation to change in the coming year.


      1. Transfers at the 2A level and above are handled by individual departments. They are typically very rare. You would need to contact SYDE directly regarding a 2A transfer.


  3. Hello Mr. Bishop. I am planning to apply to Software Engineering in 2021. Would taking a spare in grade 12 be detrimental for my application?
    For context, I am taking six A.P. courses next year (five of which are required for Engineering and the sixth being Computer Science), as well as Religion, which is required by my school. I planned on taking University French for my eighth course but I am being asked to drop French by my guidance counsellor due to a scheduling conflict with A.P. Physics and A.P. Computer Science, which I cannot drop. As a result, my options are to take a spare or to take another course, like Accounting or Philosophy. I am aiming to use all of my A.P. courses for my application. If I take a spare, I would use it to balance my course load, work on side-projects like coding a mobile app, and study for Euclid and the CCC.
    I would greatly appreciate your opinion on taking a spare. Thank you.


    1. A spare is not viewed negatively by the admissions team in most cases. Many applicants take one or more spares to participate in extra-curricular activities and to work part-time. Sometimes, spares simply happen due to courses not being available at the right time. I do not foresee a problem with your proposed course load. It might even be a bit higher than the normal course load since most students do not take A.P. courses. You also have a plan to use your “spare” time wisely.

      Spares are a problem for us only if they are being used as a way of achieving a significantly inflated average. Every year, we have applicants with Grade 11 averages in the high 60’s and low 70’s who use a combination of spares, summer school courses, and night school courses to obtain Grade 12 averages in excess of 95%. When this occurs, the applicant averages are adjusted. The adjustments are used to properly assess the likelihood of an applicant’s success in our program.

      Past experience has shown that applicants who work the system to get into Waterloo Engineering rarely succeed in graduating from our university. It is in no one’s best interest to accept an applicant that will eventually fail out.


      1. Hello,

        I got pretty concerned reading this because I am someone who has slacked off a lot this year (grade 11) and only got low 80s to high 70s. But Waterloo is my dream and I am willing to grind for it. If I do work hard enough to attain 90s next year in regular school, will I still be looked at negatively?


      2. We try to look at students who do not slack off. One of the best indicators of success in engineering programs is how students do in courses that don’t really affect admission. If you do well in all of your courses because you are self-motivated, you will do very well in engineering. If you need a motivation to do well, engineering is often not a good fit for you. There will be times in an engineering degree where you will lack external motivation. You will need to dig deep to push through and do the work so that you can get to do what you want to accomplish.

        I will say that the original discussion was with respect to our most competitive program (SE). We can be much more selective for SE. Some of our engineering programs are much less selective.


  4. How do we get evaluated for distance learning? Will there be tests online or do we have to go on campus to take them.


    1. Course instructors have control over their grading schemes. Most instructors have moved towards replacing formal written exams with a combination of quizzes and assignments. We can still have a final assessment in the form of a written exam but we need to allow 48 hours for completion and the weight on the exam is typically much less than 50%.


    1. Thank you! We have built our gardens over the past 15 years. We have a small house with a big backyard that is perfect for gardens. It is rare to have a home within 5 miles of the university that has a big backyard. These days, most homes are large relative to their lots.

      I will try to post a few more photos later in the season when our other plants bloom. My rose bushes are just getting ready to do so.


  5. A question from a curious Grade 11:

    I know you must be bombarded with questions right now, so I’m going straight to the point. With the current pandemic situation, there won’t be access to many extracurriculars over the summer. If I were to use this time to take a Gr12 course online, would I be penalized? The course I plan to take is Data Management because I feel it will help prepare me for university. If I do score well and it is added to my Top6, I fear I will get a deduction. If that is the case, can I opt to have it not included in my Top6?

    Thank you! I appreciate any advice


    1. You can never have a deduction for taking an elective course in the summer. If we saw a student was going to be penalized for taking an elective course, we would simply use another course to compute your average. This assumes that you have a 7th course which is likely if you take a summer course.

      There are many situations where we do not penalize students for taking summer courses. We just want students to know that we reserve the right to do so in cases where we feel it is appropriate.


    1. Although I am a big fan of DSLRs, I take all of my photos for WordPress on my iPhone 8 as it is the easiest way to upload images to WordPress. I am constantly impressed by the quality of the images taken using my phone. The engineers at Apple and their parts suppliers have been doing some great work on imaging.


      1. Yes the color and sharpness is very good. What type of plant is the yellow one? The bleeding hearts and lady tulips are beautiful


      2. The yellow bush is a Forsythia Bush. Every spring, it turns yellow for about 2 weeks (if the weather co-operates). The white flowering tree is our pear tree.


  6. Hi Mr.Bishop, I was hoping if you could give me your insight and opinion towards management engineering and nanotechnology engineering. Also, I like the pictures you took from your garden.


    1. Both programs are very good. They target completely different students and different career prospects.

      Management engineering is a great fit for students who like to design solutions to problems but also tend to enjoy the management of projects. Management can include managing logistics (planning), managing people, or even managing risk. A management engineer could work in a large engineering firm, a consulting business, or even a small startup. Management engineers tend to do a fair amount of computer work (data analysis, reports, presentations, and programming) but they also need to have a firm grasp of all engineering disciplines. Management engineering would be a great program for someone who enjoys analyzing problems and proposing solutions. The graduates of the program tend to be focused on getting a management job shortly after graduation. Some go on to start ventures or pursue graduate studies.

      Nanotechnology engineering is a great fit for students who like to work in a laboratory setting. It is probably the most theoretical of our engineering programs. There is a fair amount of chemistry and electronics in the program. Students need to be well-versed in the sciences. The work is highly-specialized. This is both good and bad. It may be slightly more difficult to branch out of nanotechnology. However, it is also very difficult for anyone outside the field to steal your job so job security is very high once you find a suitable job. Nanotechnology lends itself well to research so many of the students who graduate from this program move on to a graduate program in a closely related field of study. The graduates of this program are highly sought by researchers around the world. It is not uncommon for some co-op students to do their work term placements at U.S. universities assisting with research projects. Harvard is a popular destination for the top students in the class. The other popular path for Nanotechnology graduates is to found a startup. The students graduating from Nanotechnology often have skills that allow them to build things no one else can.

      Extroverts might be more inclined to pursue Management Engineering while introverts might be more inclined to pursue Nanotechnology Engineering but there are always exceptions. From a workload standpoint, there is slightly more work required to complete the Nanotechnology program. It has some labs and projects that take quite a bit of time. When I last looked at the Nanotechnology curriculum, it had the most contact hours of any engineering program on campus.


  7. Hi Prof,
    Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic my school system has been online for the last 3 months. However, unlike many Ontario School boards which have said a students final mark cannot be lower than their midterm mark my school board has not committed to this. Due to the unique situation we all find ourselves in do you think Waterloo Engineering will be a little more lenient with required course mark conditions?


    1. Most of our admitted students should be comfortably above their conditions. We accepted very few students with grades near 70% or averages near 85%. Also, most admitted students already have grades that account for more than 50% of their admission average.

      This being said, if you fail to meet a condition, please reach out to us. Given the unprecedented situation we are facing, we may be able to work with you and your school to find a solution.


  8. Hello,
    I was wondering if there was still a way to accept a Software Engineering offer after June 1st? I originally planned on going to another UW program, but may want to change my decision.


  9. Apparently the CS program is well above targeted enrolment. Does the engineering department face a similar issue?


    1. Most programs in the Faculty of Engineering are between 10% to 25% above target which is where they should be at this point in the admission cycle. We often have some attrition between now and September 1st. There are likely some students who have accepted more than one offer at this time. While it should not be possible to do so within the Province of Ontario, there is nothing preventing a student from accepting an offer to Waterloo Engineering and an out-of-province institution. We will also have a few students who fail to meet their admission conditions or simply decide to defer for personal reasons. This year, I also expect a slight increase in our deferral rate but nothing near the 50% projected for some university programs.

      It is my understanding that the School of Computer Science is substantially above historical targets but this is likely due to the fact that they rely more heavily on international students. Given the ongoing pandemic, it is predicted that 50% of all international students may defer for a year.

      In the Faculty of Engineering, I am hoping that our rates of deferral will be lower than industry predictions due to the fact that we have outstanding programs that offer good value to students. I also believe we have the capability to deliver high quality courses remotely. Many faculty members in the Faculty of Engineering are working on setting up home recording studios to record professional content. I have already upgraded my audio equipment from a noise cancelling headset to a studio grade microphone. I have purchased a boom and a shock mount that
      are projected to arrive in the next week. A few minutes ago, I finished post production on a lecture video for my course this term.

      So to put simply, the Faculty of Engineering does not face the same situation as the School of Computer Science. They might actually be in a better position to survive the pandemic but we will just have to wait and see.


  10. Hi Professor,
    from what you said about the school of computer science,
    is it possible that 50% of international students who deferred will take lots of space for 2021 admission?
    I am not sure about how admission will work with so many students who deferred their admission. Would it severely jeopardize the chance of visa applicants in 2021? What’s the current situation of deferrals for engineering. Although you are not in CS, as an admission officer, are you able to provide some insights on that? What is likely to happen to us visa applicants in 2021?


    1. I can appreciate your concern. There is great uncertainty regarding Fall 2020 and Fall 2021. The best I can do is predict what might happen if we see a high deferral rate in Fall 2020. Please keep in mind that the scenarios I will discuss in this response are highly speculative and subject to many variables:

      Let’s assume that we see a deferral rate of 50% for visa students and 25% for domestic students for all programs. If this is the case, the following would likely be true:

      1. The University of Waterloo would miss its targets.
      2. All universities in Ontario would likely face the same situation, if not worse.
      3. All universities in Ontario would face unprecedented budget cuts (in excess of those already planned for this year).
      4. All universities in Ontario would need to take corrective action in Fall 2021 to makeup for lost revenue.
      5. The finite supply of high school students in Ontario would force universities to increase domestic targets and visa targets for Fall 2021.

      In other words, if we miss our targets this year, we will need to raise our targets next year to makeup for lost revenue. Effectively, this will mean that we have approximately the same ratio of applicants to available spaces. This is the most likely scenario. It is still not ideal for students in Fall 2021. It would likely mean slightly larger class sizes and slightly fewer co-op opportunities per student. However, there is also a chance that demand for co-op students will be stronger than normal as the economy restarts. Employers fear uncertainty (as they generally should) and co-op students are a great way to stabilize a workforce in the short term. This could offset the problem of fewer co-op opportunities per student.
      The problem of larger class sizes and potentially weaker job prospects would likely not be specific to any university or program.

      There is another scenario that could complicate things but it is a long shot. The government could intervene to fix the problem with a shortfall in university enrollment and revenues. There are many possible outcomes of a government intervention. There are too many scenarios to consider in detail. There is a slight chance that highly competitive programs could be more competitive in Fall 2021, depending upon the steps taken by the government. Changing a funding system is never easy.

      As a prospective applicant, you should focus on the things you can control. I would assume (for now) that the competitive landscape for Fall 2021 admission will be slightly more challenging. There is no significant harm in assuming a slightly more competitive environment next year. It might help motivate you to do better in your studies or to apply to an additional program or two. The programs most likely to see increased competition next year are those that are significantly over target this year. Waterloo Engineering was not significantly over target. I have heard that CS exceeded their targets but I am not sure by how much. Targets were changing throughout the admission cycle. It may be that some of the CS overshoot is really just a planned increase to CS targets.

      One important message to keep in mind is that applicants should always apply for the programs that they want to study. You will only find out if you qualified for an offer of admission if you apply.


  11. Hi Mr. Bishop,
    I have a few questions related to Civil Engineering.

    1) How difficult is it to obtain a Civil Engineering job in the U.S. after graduating from the UWaterloo Civil Engineering undergrad program?

    2) What sort of extra-curricular activites would you suggest to be doing? I’m in Grade 11 right now and I have two jobs that I’ve had since the start of highschool and plan to continue until the end of Grade 12, albeit the jobs unrelated to STEM/engineering. I also have 50 hours of volunteering, also unrelated to STEM/engineering. To be honest there aren’t any clubs at my school that interest me so I haven’t joined any. Do I need to being doing more extra-curricular activities to have a good chance at acceptance? Or are jobs and volunteer experience enough?

    3) I anticipate and will be pushing for at least a 94 average in Grade 12. That, with my current extra-curricular activities that I discussed above, will I have a good shot at acceptance for Civil Engineering?

    4) According to the UWaterloo Engineering Adjustment Factor List, in 2018, my school had one of the lowest ones, it was in the 11 to 12 range, way below the 16.3 which is assigned to the majority of Ontario high schools at that time. Assuming the adjustment factor hasn’t gone up or down drastically, does that mean that about 4% would be added to my average? Or how does the adjustment factor work?

    Thanks for your time.


    1. Your first question is a difficult one for me to answer as I am not in the field of Civil Engineering. I would recommend contacting the department directly with this question.

      The second question is one that I can answer. For civil engineering, any extra curricular activities will help distinguish you from your fellow applicants. This past year, the civil engineering program admitted almost all applicants with an average of 85% or greater, regardless of their extra curricular activities. If you are looking for fun competitions, I would suggest looking for a bridge building competition, a Rube Goldberg competition, or something vaguely related to civil engineering. There are often competitions like these held during March (Engineering Month). This being said, competitions are not a requirement for admission to civil engineering.

      The third question is an easy one to answer. Based on everything you have described, you would definitely receive an offer of admission. There would have to be something you haven’t mentioned to prevent you receiving an offer of admission. For example, if you had 69% in Grade 12 Physics but had a 94% average, you would not get an offer of admission.

      As far as the adjustment factor goes, if you have a 94% average at a low adjustment factor school, you would likely be near the top of your incoming class. That would be roughly equivalent to a 98% average at typical school. Of course, adjustment factors change from one year to the next. There have been two years of changes to the adjustment factors since they were made public. Some schools have been added to the list and some have been removed. You should generally assume that your high school receives the average adjustment factor when applying.

      I certainly hope you apply for Civil Engineering for Fall 2021. I think you will enjoy our program. The civil engineering department has been making some very positive changes to its curriculum. Also, now is the perfect time to pursue civil engineering as large infrastructure projects are typically started immediately after a recession to jumpstart the economy. Now more than ever, we can see a need to build new hospitals, new long term care facilities, and better transportation systems. Also, if more people start working from home, civil engineers will need to completely reinvent how cities are built.


  12. Hello,
    I’m a biomedical sciences student who just finished the first year here at the University of Waterloo looking for a transfer into mechanical engineering here. I am extremely unsatisfied and frustrated with the program I’m in and really want this transfer. I have about an 85% average overall and have 90s in my calculus and physics courses the last term. I was wondering how I can make this transfer for this upcoming fall 2020 term. I really want to make this transfer as soon as possible as there are financial implications in staying in a program I really don’t like especially during times like these during a pandemic.


    1. The deadline to apply for a transfer in the 1A term of Mechanical engineering in Fall 2020 has already passed. UW students (in non-engineering programs) wishing to transfer into a 1A engineering program must normally apply in time to be considered alongside all other applicants for the Fall term. By this point in the admission cycle, our programs are typically at capacity.

      However, this is a highly unusual year. If first year deferral rates are high, there may be a late opening in 1A mechanical engineering. I would suggest e-mailing to find out more about the transfer process and to inquire if you could be added to the waitlist for mechanical engineering. If possible, we can consider you alongside other applicants on the waitlist for Fall 2020 should a space become available.


  13. Hi Mr. Bishop,

    I’m a grade 11 student from BC, and I have a few concerns about which courses are considered academic or not. I have 5 out of 6 required academic courses lined up for next year, but I have three potential courses and only two remaining slots. It’s those three courses that I have concerns about.

    The three courses are Social Justice 12, Leadership 12, and AP Computer Science AB (This one is an in-school online course because it’s not offered at a normal course but it still takes up a school block). Which of these courses, if any, count as academic courses in the context of Waterloo Engineering Admissions?

    Also, my school, which is a Christian school, requires me to take a Christian Studies course. It’s different from a Religious Studies or World Religions, so I’m not sure whether it counts as an academic course or not.

    Thank you!


    1. Generally, we only assess penalties for the required courses and only in a very narrow set of circumstances. Taking AP Computer Science AB online for reasons of availability is perfectly acceptable. It is certainly better to take the course online than to not take the course at all. I would suggest forwarding your question to for an official answer on this question.


  14. Hi Prof,

    My board has committed to not reducing marks beyond the March 13th mark you had in a course due to the difficulties that come from Online learning. That being said I didn’t not complete and assignment for my English class as the teacher informed us it was voluntary. We were now informed today that even though our marks will not be negatively impacted there will be a comment on our report card stating that we stopped participating in the course if we did not complete said assignment. If this is the case will it effect my offer to UW engineering?


    1. I do not see why the comment would prevent you from meeting your conditions. The conditions are simply based on grades and successful completion of your high school diploma. If the written conditions are met, it shouldn’t matter what comments exist on your report card. Unless you fail to meet a condition that we put in writing, we should not be able to revoke an offer of admission.


  15. Hey Professor Bishop,

    I’m an incoming mechatronics student and I’m considering deferring my offer of admission. I was hoping to get your opinion on it. I have no experience with any engineering-related stuff, and I don’t know any programming languages. I was hoping to get experience through design teams, but that isn’t as promising now with covid, and I’m not exactly looking forward to online classes since I like more hands-on stuff. I’m worried I won’t be able to get my first co-op since I don’t have experience, and with covid I think it could be even harder to find a job, especially my first one. So do you think it would be wise to defer my offer, work part time for a year, and then start in September 2021?


    1. There are pros and cons to deferring your start date.

      Many students are unsure about whether they are ready for university or not. This is a normal feeling. I can only speak for Waterloo Engineering but I know that our typical failure rates in first year are typically in single digits (less than 10%) so most students are ready but clearly a few are not. A significant unknown is how remote learning will affect our failure rates. Some courses this summer have seen grades improve significantly but others have seen grades decline.

      The pandemic has certainly introduced a number of new challenges. A student starting university in Fall 2021 is much more likely (but not guaranteed) to start with on-campus courses. A student starting in Fall 2020 will be doing their first term of studies remotely without access to some of the supports normally afforded to first year students. This includes not knowing your classmates very well which makes it difficult to ask for help from your peers. There is also a chance that the Winter 2021 term will be offered remotely but this decision has not yet been made. Under current provincial restrictions (which I fully support), there is simply no model that allows all of our students to study on-campus.

      Some students are doing very well on their studies at a distance but I would say that many students are struggling with focusing on their studies and completing their work independently. Another concern of our students is that they spend far too much time in front of their computer screens when studying remotely. Students planning to study remotely should start setting up their environment for the upcoming academic term. If you can afford to do so, invest in a good (ergonomic) chair, a comfortable set of headphones, and a good computer monitor (or two).

      It is also true that some remote course offerings are well prepared and presented while other remote course offerings could use substantial improvement. Our course offerings are continuously improving. We have more experience than many peer institutions as we are currently running a full semester of engineering courses. Many of our peer institutions have been preparing significantly for the Fall term but they have not yet had the opportunity to incorporate changes based on actual remote teaching experience. We have already upgrading our systems to handled remote teaching. For example, I invested in video production software, a new webcam, a new microphone, a shock mount for the microphone, a pop filter, and a boom arm to help me record better videos. I will likely be making further upgrades to my system prior to teaching my courses in the Fall.

      So far, very few students have elected to defer their studies. According to my latest report, only 21 first-year engineering students have submitted a request for deferral. That would be less than 1% of our first-year students. I expect more first-year students to defer just prior to the deadline. While students may withdraw without financial penalty prior to September.

      For a student not looking forward to taking courses remotely, delaying certainly makes some sense. You should enjoy your studies. If you are not looking forward to studying, you may struggle. Please know that whatever you choose, it will be the right decision for you. This is all that matters.

      The problem with deferring your start date is that you may lose some of the knowledge you have acquired if you do not continue to use it regularly. One way to keep your knowledge fresh is to study high school course content throughout the year. While we do not allow students on a deferral to study at a post-secondary institution, I believe students are allowed to retake high school courses. You could take a programming course or a course on the use of 3D CAD tools. Coursera offers some great courses including a programming course on Python offered by some of my friends at the University of Toronto. Coursera courses would not affect your deferral status provided you do not take the courses for post-secondary credit.

      I think some students fear deferring their studies due to a fear of others perceiving them as “weak”. Like most fears, this is an irrational one. In a pandemic year, no one would look negatively upon a student opting to defer their studies by a year. My only suggestion is that if you choose to defer, use this time wisely. If you can, get a part-time job to save up for your university education. Develop independent study habits that will help you succeed in your studies. After a year away from school, you will realize how much you look forward to attending classes and learning.


  16. Hi Prof. Bishop,
    with most of the province entering the 3rd stage of reopening, are there any plans for the university to open up by winter term?


    1. No announcements have been made with respect to the Winter 2021 term.

      While the Stage 3 reopening is a step in a positive direction, the restrictions in place still prevent us from having all of our students on-campus at one time. Our first-year class sizes are typically much larger than 50 students. In a typical term, the campus is very busy. The biggest challenge is the movement of students from one class to the next. Many of our students could attest to the challenge of entering and exiting a busy classroom. Some of our stairwells and hallways also get very crowded in a typical term.

      I do not know when a decision will be made. While it is clearly a goal of the University of Waterloo to resume on-campus instruction for all students, this will only occur when it is deemed safe to do so by the local health authorities and the university administration.


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