Preparing for University

With the start of university approximately 1 month away, incoming students are likely starting to get very anxious about their future.  Here are a few tips on how to prepare for the Fall term if you are planning on starting university.

  1. Make sure you are prepared to participate in online course activities.
  2. If you are planning a move, think about the things you will need to take with you.
  3. Develop healthy living habits prior to the start of university.
  4. Connect with your classmates and instructors as early as possible.
  5. Reach out for help when you need it.

Let’s look at each of these points in detail…

Make sure you are prepared to participate in online course activities.

With classes being held remotely in the Fall and most likely the Winter, you will want to make sure that you have created an environment suitable for studying effectively.  You may not have the luxury of buying a brand new computer with dual 27″ monitors, a desk, an office chair, and all of the peripherals you would love to own so you need to prioritize.  My suggestion is to focus on acquiring things that will make it easier for you to study for reasonably long periods of time.

A functional desk is essential.  Students living in residence will have access to a suitable desk and a chair.  Some students may find it useful to upgrade their chair to a proper office chair for long hours in front of a computer.  In my home office, my chair is probably my weakest link.  A good office chair is something you will definitely appreciate when working long hours.  Keep in mind that there are ways to purchase chairs affordably.  There are stores that sell used office furniture where you can get a very good deal.  With businesses closing, you may find that there is a reasonable supply of lightly used office furniture.  Regardless of whether you are purchasing a new or used chair, make sure you try it out before buying it.  Stores like Staples and IKEA have chairs that you can test out.

On the computer front, make sure you have the peripherals you will need to be successful:

  1. Webcam
  2. Headphones
  3. A full-size keyboard
  4. A nice monitor (or two)

You will note that I did not specify a computer.  Almost any computer will work with the online teaching tools used by the university.  Unless your existing computer is very old or you do not have a computer at all, upgrading to a new computer may not be necessary.  Most computers (even old ones) are capable of running office software and browsing the internet.

If you need to acquire any peripherals, now is the time to do so.  Things like webcams can be hard to find.  Demand for technology has outpaced supply over the past 4 months.  Also, back-to-school sales have already started.

If you are planning a move, think about the things you will need to take with you.

Remember your business attire.  You will never forget to pack your favorite t-shirt but it is easy to forget that you may have a job interview in your first month of co-op studies.  Even if you are not in a co-op program, you should always have one outfit suitable for a job interview or a special event.  Working from home hasn’t eliminated the need for business attire completely.  If you are interviewing for a job, you should still show respect to an employer by dressing appropriately.

Another good thing to remember would be some memories of home.  If you have a photograph, a poster, or something that just sits on your desk and makes you happy, remember to bring it with you.  It is important that you make your “new home” feel like home.

If you need anything to help you sleep better, bring it with you.  A pillow or a blanket might turn a residence room into a much more welcoming environment.  But also remember that you will need something to wake you up in the morning.  When I was a student, a dedicated alarm clock with a battery backup was a great investment.  It also doubled as a radio which was nice.

Finally, keep in mind that space is likely limited.  You cannot move an entire house into residence.  Choose things wisely.  A bean bag chair might not fit comfortably in your new place.  Only bring things that you really need.  After a few terms of packing and unpacking, you will get very good at recognizing what you need to pack.

To figure out what you really need, you can do the following over the next week.  When you use something over the next week, make a note of it.  At the end of this week, things not on the list are probably things that you can manage without (at least for 4 months at a time).

Develop healthy living habits prior to the start of university.

Eating right, exercising, and developing healthy sleeping habits will boost your productivity.  All of these are tough things to do well but every effort you make will help. Most importantly, try to develop a good schedule now while you are not in university.  Once you develop a schedule, it will be easier to stick to it when you start your studies.  I would suggest going to sleep no later than 11 pm in the days leading up to you starting your studies.  Also, try to wake up by 7 am the next day.  Remember that classes start as early as 8:30 am.  In a normal term, you need to be at class by that time which means waking up, cleaning up, getting dressed, having breakfast, and going to class.

I have been guilty of having some very bad sleeping habits lately.  The long hours of teaching remotely have been taking a toll on my sleep.  Again, when you fall out of good habits (and this will happen), do everything you can to get back on schedule.

Connect with your classmates and instructors as early as possible.

There are ways that you can connect to your classmates already.  The Waterloo Ready program is just one of many ways to connect.  There are Discord servers and other online forums for students to interact with their classmates.  While many of these channels are unofficial, they are great ways to get to know other students in your program.  E-mail also works.  Feel free to reach out to your instructors.  Many of them will gladly e-mail you back.

Reach out for help when you need it.

Isolation is not healthy for anyone.  We have already seen anecdotal evidence that excellent students are struggling with remote learning.  While some students strive in a remote learning environments, students who have traditionally done very well in their studies are struggling the most.  Our university has been doing everything it can reasonably do to help students with stress, anxiety, and depression.  We realize that students are worried not only about their studies but also about many important societal issues and health concerns.  While we have resources to help students, many of the resources require students to take the first step.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Knowing your limitations is a sign of strength, not weakness!

A final note…

There is still time to defer your university studies by a year (or two) if you are not ready to start classes in the Fall.  The deadline for submitting an Admission Deferral Request Form was extended until August 14th this year.  Our university extended the deadline from August 1st in recognition of the fact that many students are likely undecided on how to proceed this year.

Deferring is not a decision that you should make lightly. 

This year, more than ever, there is a strong case to be made for deferring the start of your studies.  Students starting this year will be studying remotely in the Fall.  You are making a huge investment in your future.  You need to maximize the return on your investment.  If you do not think that remote learning is a good fit for you, deferring may be a very good option.  However, if you typically spend a fair amount of time in front of a computer watching videos, remote learning may be ideal for you.  Some students are thriving in remote learning.  Others are struggling.  It is difficult to predict how any individual will react to remote learning.

Another reason to defer may be that you cannot come to the university and you are studying in a different time zone.  We have approximately 300 international students who have actively enrolled in first year studies for engineering programs in Fall 2020.  While travel restrictions are always subject to change, the current restrictions do not appear to allow new students on a study permit to travel to Canada for remote learning.  There are a few exceptions but travel may be impossible for new students.  While it is possible to study remotely in the Fall, it may be difficult to justify paying over $30,000 in tuition and incidental fees for one term of remote studies.  For those students studying remotely in different time zones, know that the University of Waterloo has been developing ways to support you effectively in your remote studies.

Of course, recent data suggests that students who graduate from our engineering programs often get very lucrative employment offers after graduation so studying this Fall may still be a very good investment in your future.  A recent survey of Management Engineering graduates suggests that the starting salaries of the graduating class are very comparable to the salaries of the faculty members teaching them.  About a third of our recent graduates in Management Engineering report making more than $160,000 CAD.

On the subject of investment, keep in mind that university tuition typically increases every year.  This is one of the disadvantages of deferring.  From a cost perspective, it is always best to start your studies as early as possible and to finish as early as possible.  For international students, first year tuition sometimes increases by as much as 15% per year so this can be an important consideration.  For domestic students, first year tuition increases are typically around 5% so it plays a much less significant factor in decisions.

As a final comment, I should point out that even if you start this Fall and you find that you are overwhelmed, the last day for a full tuition refund is September 28th.  If you start classes and decide that you are not ready after a few weeks, you always have the option of getting your tuition refunded.  While it is clearly better to defer now than to pay and then ask for a refund, this does provide students with a bit of time to better assess their situations.

I will finish by thanking everyone for the positive feedback on the photos from my garden.  Here are a few more photographs from my garden to brighten your day:



21 thoughts on “Preparing for University”

  1. Thanks for keeping us updated during the summer months.
    I do have some questions, though.
    You mentioned that the last day for a full tuition refund is September 28. What are the conditions of that? Is it considered dropping out? Could I request a deferral at that point, or would I need to reapply for the next year?
    Thank you!


    1. That’s a great question.

      You must withdraw from your academic term to receive the 100% tuition refund. Withdrawing from an academic term is not equivalent to dropping out. A student that withdraws from an academic term is simply inactive.

      To return to active studies, a student that has withdrawn from an academic term must fill out a re-admission form. The purpose of the form is to notify the Faculty of Engineering that you intend to return to active studies. Re-admission is typically a formality. In rare circumstances, re-admission can be denied but there would have to be a very good reason for doing so. For example, if a student withdrew from academic terms multiple times or was inactive for too long, time limits could come into play.

      A student fresh out of high school that withdraws early in their first academic term would be granted re-admission for the next Fall term.


  2. I fully agree: a good chair, headphones (reduces feedback in online meetings), and decent monitors to reduce eyestrain. Frequent breaks to change your focal plane are good too, although I often forget to do that.


  3. Would office chairs/desks be covered under the “academic readiness” bursary? Would two monitors be covered under that as well or would it be limited to a single monitor?


    1. There is a reasonably good description of the Academic Residence Bursary on the following website:

      A monitor is clearly indicated as being eligible. An office chair is not mentioned in the examples but I think an applicant could make a clear case for purchasing one. I do not believe the university will be too strict on the expenses given reasonable justification for them.

      It is important to remember that there is no guarantee of funding, even if an expense is deemed eligible. I have no doubt that this bursary was created with good intentions. It is unfortunate that the university didn’t simply award $500 to any OSAP eligible student. Doing so would have reduced the amount of work required by both students and administrators while also ensuring that funds get to those who need them. The hurdles of submitting a written statement of expenses and submitting the original receipts were likely designed to ensure that only students with clear need apply for the bursary.


  4. Hi Professor, I am going to be in grade 12 starting September. I was wondering if I chose to take online school because of covid-19 instead of the hybrid version, would that affect my application grades? Thanks a lot.


    1. It is impossible to predict how the choice of course delivery will affect the grades of our applicants.

      When we assess applicants, we simply do not have access to enough data to make any informed assessment of whether a particular course offering is easy or hard. For that matter, we may not even know how a course was actually delivered. If an applicant registers for an in-person course and it transitions quickly into an online course, it will likely still show as an in-person course on a transcript.

      We only perform adjustments in cases where we know that there is a statistically-significant correlation between student performance in our engineering programs and their educational experiences in secondary school.


  5. I thank you for all the work that you put into this blog! It is a very great resource for a lot of highschool and incoming students, and you have our absolute gratitude.

    I am just curious as to how the admissions department will approach this upcoming cycle. These are unprecedented times for everyone. With the TDSB allow students to choose in class or full remote, it seems there will be an advantage in marks for students opting online.

    Will students taking all classes in person be scored more leniently versus those who may be doing all evaluations and exams online?

    I understand there is also the issue of safety, so there may not be a fair solution for all in terms of scoring


    1. The Waterloo Engineering Admissions Team recognizes that the global pandemic has had a profound impact upon the educational opportunities available to high school students as they prepare to apply to university. In many regions, access to courses, educational activities, testing, and extra-curricular activities have been limited. We will consider all applicants in the context of the current situation and endeavour to assess each applicant fairly.


  6. Hello Professor Bishop,
    Have there been any engineering offers for individuals enrolled on the wait-list?


    1. This is a great question. The answer is yes. We gave a waitlist offer last week to a student for an engineering program that missed its target.

      We had expected a lower confirmation rate and a higher deferral rate. I looked at our active student list today and we are still above target for most engineering programs. Additional waitlist offers will not be possible, unfortunately.

      Student numbers are very difficult to predict this year. Our first year engineering student intake for domestic students is projected to be between 110% and 111% of target. Our first year engineering student intake for visa students is projected to be between 72% and 103% of target.


    1. Applicants must select a program when applying through OUAC. We do have target numbers for each program but these target numbers are designed to ensure that the applicants to one program are qualified for the other. COMPE students may easily change to ELE and ELE students may easily change to COMPE in the first year of their programs.

      There is no advantage to applying to one program over the other. You need the same qualifications for both programs.


      1. Hey Professor,

        Considering the circumstances this year and how most eng programs, presumably including CE, are over their target enrolment, would the switch between EE/CE still be made available to students. Will there be no mark requirements, as long as you pass? As an incoming first year student to EE, I worry that I may end up finding that CE is a better fit for me, but not having the possibility to make the switch.

        Thank you.


      2. Computer Engineering is not above target this year. Electrical Engineering is slightly above target but this may change by November 1st.

        Transfers between Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering are quite common during the first year of studies. We have a common first year for all students in Computer Engineering and Electrical Engineering so transfers between these programs can be easily accommodated. There are no grade requirements for this particular transfer.


  7. Hey Professor Bishop! Love your blog, it really is a game-changer for those who are anxious about admissions.

    I understand that there are a lot of people who have decided to defer their offers until fall 2021 amidst the current global situation. As I and many others will be applying next year, I am concerned if this will affect my chances of getting into the esteemed Waterloo Engineering program. If you are comfortable with disclosing, will the number of deferrals you have received increase competition drastically for this upcoming admission cycle?



    1. We actually expected more requests for deferrals than we received this year. The total number of requests for deferrals in the Faculty of Engineering was 48 according to the report I received on August 17th. This report was produced after the deadline for requesting deferrals so we do not expect the number to change. It is my understanding that the number of requests for deferrals was very similar to previous years.

      The deferrals are distributed proportionally across all of our engineering programs. I do not expect the deferrals to have any significant impact upon the upcoming admission cycle. To put the number of deferrals into perspective, the deferrals represent somewhere between 1% and 2% of all admission offers processed in a given admission cycle.


    1. The answer depends upon the exact course taken. In the Ontario curriculum, BAT4M (Financial Accounting Principles) could be used as your 6th course but BAN4E (Accounting for a Small Business) could not be used. In general, any 4M or 4U course is sufficient for your 6th course.

      If I assume that Accounting 12 refers to the Accounting 12 course from the British Columbia high school system, it would not be suitable as your 6th course as it is part of the Applied Design, Skills and Technology (ADST) curriculum. The only courses from the ADST curriculum that are accepted are Economics 12 and Financial Management 12. I actually tried to change this rule two years ago but I was informed that it is a standard rule applied to all University of Waterloo admission decisions.

      There are quite a few ADST courses that should probably count, in my opinion. There is a concern that students will use “easier” courses to boost their admission averages. I do not view technical courses as “easier” and I think that the amount of boosting that a high school applicant could do to their average is minimal even if an applicant takes the easiest course a school offers.


  8. Hi, professor
    I would like to ask how much would adjustment factor change over the period of 2 or 3 years?
    I am applying to SE, and according to my research, the adjustment factor plays a huge factor in admission to SE.
    My school has an adjustment factor of about 12 or 13 from 2016 – 2018. A pattern emerges from the adjustment factor form the internet that some schools have a low adjustment factor for one year but then suddenly switch back to the normal Ontario adjustment factor. I am worried that my school may be kicked out of the list as we don’t have any students going to Waterloo in 2019.
    From my knowledge, we don’t have anybody going to SE before as the program requires a high level of intelligence. I am worried that this adjustment factor will be a downside to me. Our school really marked hard on students. The highest English 4U score last semester is like 91.


    1. The adjustment factor is an attempt to improve the fairness of our admission assessments. An adjustment factor is only applied when there is statistically significant data that shows recent students from a particular high school (or jurisdiction) do substantially better or worse than the typical applicant to Waterloo Engineering. Adjustment factors are only applied to a very small number of Ontario applicants. As you indicate, an adjustment factor is more likely to matter for admission to engineering programs such as Software Engineering. The Software Engineering program has a high number of qualified applicants to available spaces. A low adjustment factor does not guarantee admission to any of our engineering programs nor does a high adjustment factor prevent admission to any of our engineering programs.

      Adjustment factors change every year based on recent student performance. Every year, a few schools are added to the list and a few other schools are removed from the list. Individual students have no control over the adjustment factors. This is one of the reasons why we do not publish the list of adjustment factors. Worrying about your school’s adjustment factor is unproductive. The adjustment factor system that we use is designed to help ensure success in our engineering programs. If you transferred to a high school with a different adjustment factor, your grades would likely reflect the new adjustment factor.

      A school that marks hard is usually a very good thing. Not only does it motivate you to study more but it also teaches you that you can’t always be perfect. A grade of 91 in English 4U is a very good grade. It is also a grade typical of applicants to our Software Engineering program. I look forward to reading your application this admission cycle.


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