Chances of Admission for Fall 2021

It is once again time for my most popular blog post of the year. In this blog post, I will attempt to answer the question:

“What are my chances of receiving an offer of admission to an engineering program?”

This is never an easy question to answer since every applicant is different.  For the purpose of selecting applicants, good grades are the most important consideration but we also look at many other factors including previous employment, volunteer work, extra-curricular activities, skills, and notable achievements.  We use grades as a starting point for any assessment but we look beyond grades to select applicants who we feel 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 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 brochures.  I continued this transition with my blog posts in 2018 (Chances of Admission for Fall 2019) and 2019 (Chances of Admission for Fall 2020).  The graphs in these blog posts are based on admission data from the previous admission cycle. The graphs only consider applicant data from the Ontario Secondary School system. If you are an applicant applying from outside Ontario, the admission offer probabilities may be lower or higher.

Using the Ontario Secondary School applicant data for the Fall 2020 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

These groupings are the same as the previous two cycles. Clearly, not all programs grouped together have exactly the same admission offer probabilities. However, programs included in a particular group tend to have similar admission offer probabilities.

The first graph summarizes the probability of an admission offer for Canadians and permanent residents applying from the Ontario Secondary School system.  The admission offer probabilities seem to have decreased slightly this year but this may be an artifact of noisy data and curve fitting. We did see a slight increase in applications from Ontario Secondary School students last year so this might also have contributed to the change. The resulting graph is shown below:

The second graph summarizes the probability of an admission offer for visa students applying from the Ontario Secondary School system.  The admission offer probabilities for visa students increased substantially this past year. Due to the global pandemic, we gave out more admission offers in an attempt to meet our admission targets for visa students. The admission offer probabilities are very similar to those for Canadian and permanent resident applicants this year. I expect this trend to continue into the foreseeable future.   The resulting graph is shown below:

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 similar approach to the one I used last year. I used a free software add-on to Excel from SRS1 Software to interpolate data points throughout the admission average range of 85% to 100% using a one-way spline function.  This year’s range of admission averages was reduced since we did not accept any student with a decision average below 85% this past year. Using this approach, I was able to produce relatively smooth curves that are monotonically increasing as the admission average increases.

It is important to remember that these graphs may not accurately reflect the Fall 2021 admission cycle as the Fall 2020 admission cycle was highly unusual due to the global pandemic. Until we receive our final application data in February 2021, we won’t know if the application pool is similar to last year’s application pool.  I do expect our application numbers to be slightly lower this year than last year. This will likely mean that applicants will have a higher admission offer probability this year than last year.

We are unable to recruit students the way we normally do. Our best recruitment tool is a visit to our campus. Prospective students often comment that they made their decision to come to our university after visiting the campus. Often, prospective students do not realize how much the Region of Waterloo has to offer. The campus is within walking distance of restaurants and cafes. The ION light rail transit connects our campus to shopping and entertainment venues as well as the vibrant Uptown Waterloo area.

We are known for having state-of-the-art classrooms and the Adel Sedra Student Design Centre. Our engineering buildings are so new, many of them haven’t been named after anyone! We simply call them E5, E6, and E7. Here is an interesting piece of trivia for you. Carl Pollock Hall was previously known as E4 and Douglas Wright Engineering was previously known as E1.

We also find that our students are our best ambassadors. We really wish you could meet them in person. Our university has so much more to offer than just academic programs with a strong reputation. While the co-op program certainly does result in a degree of competitiveness among our students, it is important to remember that our students do find ways to socialize, relax, and have fun. It is a university where everyone finds a way to fit into the community. Our annual Engineering Day is a perfect example of some of the activities unique to our Waterloo Engineering Community.

Applicants should not attempt to not read too much into these admission probabilities. The data can be scary if you don’t fully understand it. It is important to remember that a significant percentage of the applicants not given offers of admission are applicants who did not complete their required Admission Information Form (AIF) or attempt the optional interview. It may also be the case that applicants were not considered for a reason (other than grades) or that applicants withdrew their application for admission prior to an offer being granted. If I eliminated applicants with incomplete applications or withdrawn applications from the data set, the probabilities of admission would shift upward dramatically.

18 thoughts on “Chances of Admission for Fall 2021”

  1. What do you mean by “It may also be the case that applicants were not considered for a reason (other than grades)” ? Does this usually apply to visa students because we may not get the study permit? I suspect because there are so many risks of accepting a visa student, even though a student may have good grades and ECs, they still may not be considered

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The ability of an applicant to get a study permit is irrelevant. This is not factored into an admission decision. Study permits can only be obtained after receiving an offer of admission.

      There are many reasons why an applicant with a high average might not receive an offer of admission. Some that come to mind are software applicants lacking software development experience, applicants not providing requested documentation (transcripts, test scores, etc.), or applicants failing an integrity check.

      Over the past two years, I have had a few applicants apply for Software Engineering with very high averages and no programming experience. The Software Engineering program makes it clear that some software development experience is required for admission. An applicant without programming experience will not be offered admission, regardless of average.


      1. Just a follow up
        What do you mean by “failing an integrity check?” There are always some innocent students in the universities who didn’t pass the originality test for their essays simply because they didn’t do the references and bibliography the right way. So I want to ask how should I properly record my ECs to make sure they pass the integrity check? What kind of proof do I have to provide to the admission committee? Do you have any tips?

        Some of the EC I did have very little proof. For example, the results of a competition I did was listed in a huge list on a website with thousands of other international teams. It is very difficult to find our team without the team code. So if I state our prize on AIF, you might not be able to find it on the internet. I emailed and they tell me I don’t have to provide any proof for the ECs I did.

        I also noticed that UW doesn’t have a system to upload reference letters or to record any references. In US, they have a common app system for professors and employees to upload proof and reference letters for a particular activity. Can you provide some suggestions on how to upload proofs and reference letters for my application

        My very best regards


      2. When completing the optional interview, there is a check to ensure that you do not attempt to manipulate the system to extend the duration of the interview or select a question that you prefer. The system records browser refreshes and elapsed time. Using this data, we can tell if an applicant has gained an unfair advantage.

        Our university also checks for falsified information on transcripts, tests, and admission information forms. There are checks and balances to try to ensure that we do not falsely accuse an applicant of misconduct. We are very conservative with our assessments. We must have substantial proof that an applicant has done something wrong.

        We do not use references in our admission processes. It would be impossible for us to verify every extra-curricular activity. We have over 12,000 applicants and most applicants list several activities on their application. We can do spot checks or we can investigate if we are informed of a reason to do so. Ontario universities share information on integrity issues so if one university reports an issue, it can affect an applicant’s chances at all universities. This is a strong motivation to only provide truthful information on your application.

        It is my understanding that there have even been a few students kicked out of programs at universities during their first term of studies due to application integrity issues. The cases often involved the falsification of transcripts and/or test scores.


    1. There are applicants who are accepted without completing the interview. In this sense, the interview is optional.

      Applicants who attempt the interview improve their admission scores. The interview score is added to your admission score. For highly competitive programs, it would be a mistake to not complete the interview.


  2. what are the percentage of international students in the SE program. I heard that the cap for the government is 10% or 15%, but I am not sure. Can you give some details on this?


    1. There is no cap on international student enrollment in our programs to the best of my knowledge. We certainly have a smaller percentage of international students than competing universities. In many respects, our co-op program is the limiting factor for increasing the intake of international students. While we have many co-op placements that will accept both domestic and international students, some co-op employers have positions that are limited only to domestic students. Often, this is either due to security concerns or funding concerns. The government offers grants to co-op employers to subsidize employment of domestic co-op students.

      During the Fall 2020 admission cycle, our target for international students in Software Engineering was set at 15 students. This represented approximately 14% of the incoming class. I believe we exceeded our target but the final numbers are not yet known.


  3. I’ve been trying to ask Waterloo admissions through email but haven’t received a response. I know that Waterloo doesn’t prefer courses taken outside of school, if I took one elective out of school (summer) just for learning and for knowledge, and in terms of percentage marks if it tends to be in my highest 6 average. Is there some way for me to let Waterloo know to look at my next highest mark instead of the elective taken in the summer.


    1. We would automatically calculate your admission average in the way that benefits you most. If we felt we needed to apply an adjustment to a summer school grade, we would use another course in your average if it benefited you. In many cases, we do not apply adjustments to summer school grades. We look at whether the grade is consistent with other course grades when making our assessments. The same is true for courses taken outside of regular day school. We, of course, need to reserve the right to apply an adjustment in cases where we see strong evidence that an applicant has taken a course in the summer, online, or at a private school for the sole purpose of improving the applicant’s average.

      With the ongoing global pandemic, we expect many students to have challenges taking courses during regular day school. Online courses taken through an accredited school or school board will not be subject to any adjustments this year. We will look carefully at summer school courses but most are unlikely to be subject to adjustments. Repeat penalties will be applied in cases where they are warranted for courses that have been retaken.


  4. Followup on the integrity issue.

    Let’s say it was an honest mistake, and I misremembered what I had scored on a contest (ex. Waterloo math contest) and wrote a number that was not my actual score on the AIF. If it was checked that the numbers didn’t match up, would my application be discarded immediately/suspended immediately? Or would I have a chance to explain myself?


    1. We would typically look for a pattern of significant mistakes. Honest mistakes happen. Typographical errors happen. Of course, if you said you were the top student on the Euclid Competition and we found out you didn’t even participate, that might be a problem. Code of conduct issues can also be a problem these days. There have been cases in both Canada and the U.S. where admitted students have had offers revoked due to conducting unbecoming of a student.

      In most cases, the types of things that catch our attention are things like forged transcripts and forged English language tests. Extra-curriculars have an impact on admission but the impact is still relatively minor. Forged grades on a transcript could have a major impact on an admission decision. We try to look for anything that would make a big difference.

      Also, while I mentioned the Euclid Competition, it is only an example. In practice, we don’t get to see the scores prior to making our admission decisions in the Faculty of Engineering. We can only view scores from previous years.


  5. Why do you believe the averages jumped so high this year? Do you think it has to do with the fact that high school grades couldn’t drop after march of last year during the lockdown?


    1. The averages reported on the graphs are decision averages, not final averages. The global pandemic would have had at most a small impact on most of the averages reported. The final averages would likely have been higher.

      Also, I would not characterize the increase in averages as high. The slope of the curve is steep in the range of interest. A 1% increase in average can often result in a 10% to 20% increase in the probability of admission.

      I also think it is important to understand that while the admission probability for higher averages seemed to drop, the admission probability for lower averages was largely unchanged. What this shows is that we are placing less emphasis on grades and more emphasis on other things. As I indicated, we always have a number of high average applicants who do not feel the need to complete the Admission Information Form or attempt the optional interview. We do not consider applicants that have not submitted an Admission Information Form.


  6. Great Blog. Have you seen a drop of in applications for the 2020 year due to students deciding to take a gap year due to Covid? Do you anticipate higher competition for acceptance for 2021 admissions due to this? Any advice on adapting to these circumstances?


    1. During the 2020 admission cycle, we saw a slight increase in domestic applications and a decrease in visa applications. Overall, the total number of applications was similar to the previous year.

      It is very difficult to predict the future but my current expectation is that we will likely see a decline in the total number of applications for the 2021 admission cycle. I think it is likely that visa applications will decrease substantially since we are unable to recruit internationally. I think it is also likely that domestic applications will decrease slightly as more Grade 12 students decide to take a “victory lap” to avoid the possibility of starting their undergraduate studies during a pandemic.

      Also, it is important to understand demand from another perspective. Many universities missed their admission targets for Fall 2020. Demand for students will be high in Fall 2021. This essentially means that the 2021 admission cycle may be a very good one for applicants looking to get into university.


  7. Hi Mr. Bishop,
    I am writing to ask one question about admissions.

    I attained almost a 95% overall average in grade 11, and I have perfect results in grade 12 so far. Also, I have lots of volunteering experience and I participate in community events. I also plan to complete the AIF, optional interview and participate in some Waterloo contests.

    Based on my description above, do you think I have high chances to get admission into computer engineering or computer science at the University of Waterloo?

    Thank you.


    1. Based on what you have described, I would expect the chance of receiving an offer of admission for Computer Engineering to be very good. An applicant with a 95% average and some extra-curricular activities would typically receive an offer of admission. Last year, we admitted many applicants to Computer Engineering with averages below 95%. If you complete your admission information form (AIF) and attempt the optional interview, an offer would be highly likely.

      I cannot comment on the chances of acceptance into Computer Science. The Computer Science program is offered by the School of Computer Science within the Faculty of Mathematics. I only review applications for engineering programs.

      Liked by 1 person

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