Competitiveness

Over the past two weeks, I have received a number of comments on my blog asking about the competitiveness of our programs.  Many variations of the following questions have been asked:

  1. How many people applied to each program?
  2. How many people were offered admission to their first choice program?
  3. How many people were offered admission to their second choice program?
  4. How many people were refused offers of admission?
  5. What was the cutoff for each program?
  6. Which program was the most competitive?
  7. Which programs are likely to accept students on a waitlist?

While I can appreciate why you want to know this information, I also hope you can appreciate why some of this information is not typically disclosed.  One of the challenges is that application data from a single year is not necessarily a good representation of what typically can be expected.  However, the biggest challenge is that it is often very difficult to produce accurate data.

I am regularly asked for admissions data from applicants, parents, guidance counsellors, faculty members, and university administrators.  It is not always easy to figure out how to count applications.  As an example, if a student applies in November to Software Engineering but switches their application in February to Mechatronics Engineering, how should the applicant be counted?  At first glance, it would seem obvious that the applicant at the time of consideration was an applicant to Mechatronics Engineering.  Would you change your mind if the application was subsequently cancelled in March?  Would you change your mind if the application was cancelled in May?  What if the applicant did not receive an offer of admission and then cancelled the application?  What if the applicant received an offer of admission to another program and then cancelled the application?  Clearly, there are many scenarios to consider.  To produce useful data, the questions must be answered consistently from year to year.

As another example, should we count an application that is only partially complete?  Waterloo Engineering requires completion of the Admission Information Form.  Some applicants failed to complete this form.  Applicants who do not complete this form are ineligible for an offer of admission.  Should these people be considered applicants?  Would your opinion change if instead of completing a form, the applicant failed to enroll in the courses necessary to meet the entrance requirements?  Should this applicant still be counted?  This applicant would be ineligible for admission but arguably, this applicant did apply.  There are data sets where this applicant needs to be included in the count and other data sets where this applicant needs to be excluded from the count.

Some other universities and faculties double count applicants.  For example, if an applicant applies to two programs in the same faculty, the applicant is often counted twice.  Waterloo Engineering only allows you to apply once to an engineering program but you are able to specify a second choice engineering program on your Admission Information Form.  For this reason, when we indicate we have over 11,000 applicants, this means we have applications from 11,000 different people.  This may not be true in other universities and faculties.  If you were to blindly compare our applicant numbers to another faculty we might seem low for this reason.

Of course, we do need to provide a means for future applicants to assess their chances of success when applying to our engineering programs.  Our best method for doing this is to present a table of probabilities.  This table is produced by calculating the percentage of OSS applicants in a particular grouping of programs who received offers of admission to their first choice program in the previous admission cycle.  The percentages are rounded to the nearest 5% or 1%, depending upon the grouping.  I have just finished this table for our upcoming engineering brochure.  Here is the result:

ENGINEERING PROGRAMS GRADE RANGE PROBABILITY
Biomedical, Software 95+ 40%
90 to 94 12%
85 to 89 1%
Computer, Electrical, Mechanical, Mechatronics, Systems Design 95+ 70%
90 to 94 45%
85 to 89 10%
Architectural, Chemical, Civil, Environmental, Geological, Management, Nanotechnology 95+ 85%
90 to 94 75%
85 to 89 50%
  • All courses and grades are normalized to Ontario Secondary School requirements.
  • Stated grade averages do not include adjustment factors, admission information form assessments, or interview assessments.
  • Grade averages reflect admitted student averages in 2019.
  • Visa applicants typically have a slightly lower probability of acceptance.
  • English language requirements often play a significant role in visa applicant decisions.

Effectively, this answers the question about which programs are most competitive.  Biomedical Engineering and Software Engineering were the most competitive programs in the 2019 admission cycle.  A keen observer would note that it is now a bit harder to get into engineering programs than it has been in previous admission cycles.  Of course, it is very difficult to predict the future.  Next year, acceptance probabilities may be higher or lower.  The fact that fewer Ontario Grade 12 students are applying to engineering programs gives hope to applicants that these probabilities may be a bit conservative.

Another important observation is that the Admission Information Form continues to play a significant role in the admission process.  The percentage of students being accepted with high averages has decreased slightly while the percentage of students being accepted with slightly lower averages has increased slightly.  In other words, grades are important but other evidence of excellence in the form of extra-curricular activities continues to be a significant consideration in our admission process.

Here are some other interesting facts that I calculated based on offers given out for each of our programs.

  1. We gave out offers to some students with averages of less than 90% in all of our engineering programs, including Biomedical Engineering and Software Engineering.
  2. The median average for all of our programs was in excess of 90% regardless of the engineering program.
  3. Four engineering programs gave out offers to applicants with an average of 100%.

If you sent me a blog post comment on program competitiveness, please note that your comment was read.  There are simply some things I cannot reasonably disclose publicly.  I will continue to read your comments and respond to as many as I can.

Go Raptors!

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Waitlist Inquiries

The Engineering Admissions Office has received quite a few inquiries over the past week regarding our waitlists for admission to engineering programs and our waitlists for transfers to other engineering programs.  We have added many applicants to our waitlists.  It is natural for some applicants to immediately question whether they have made the right decision.  Applicants often benefit from having some time to think about the choice they have made.  To facilitate this cooling off period, we have not begun to process our waitlists.

In practice, very few students get an offer from our waitlists.  We will be able to satisfy a few requests to transfer from programs that are over target to programs that are under target and we may be able to satisfy a few waitlist requests to under target programs.  If we find that a large number of applicants cannot meet their offer conditions, additional spaces may become available later this summer but this is a rare occurrence.  If you are selected from one of our waitlists, you will be contacted by a representative of our university.

This year, we experienced higher than normal acceptance rates for certain applicants so 11 programs are above target and only 3 programs are below target.  While we know that some students will not meet our offer conditions and some students may not be able to secure student visas, we do not anticipate many waitlist opportunities to be satisfied this year.  Overall, I estimate the Faculty of Engineering is about 10.2% above our official targets for incoming students.  Despite being slightly over target, Waterloo Engineering  will still be able to meet our commitments and deliver a high-quality education to all students who have accepted our offers.

Parents and students might be concerned that we will try to fail out more students than usual since we are over target.  This is simply not the case.  Waterloo Engineering does not attempt to shrink programs by enforcing failure rates.  Professors have a great deal of autonomy when creating, delivering, and assessing courses.  Professors set exams and expectations independent of class size.  Waterloo Engineering does not have the ability to enforce failure rates (or success rates) in engineering programs.

When Waterloo Engineering accepts students into an engineering program, we guarantee a place for them in their program of study through to completion.  Students must pass their courses but we will not make courses more challenging to shrink class sizes.  Logically, since the university is mostly funded by student tuition fees, there is no  motivation for failing students.  Thankfully, most professors do take their jobs and academic integrity very seriously.  The tenure process also ensures that professors have the autonomy they require to ensure academic integrity.  Otherwise, universities would probably be strongly motivated to pass everyone.

I am not able to disclose which programs are below target as doing so would perhaps give the wrong impression that these programs are either less popular or less desirable.  Programs can miss targets for a number of reasons.  Even high demand programs sometimes miss target.  For a high demand program, we expect most students to accept our admission offers.  A slight drop in acceptance rates can make it very easy for a high demand program to miss target.

A few applicants have already asked for the lifting of offer conditions.  Unless there are extenuating circumstances, we will be strictly enforcing our offer conditions.  These conditions have been established to ensure the success of applicants in our programs.  Our hope is that all students admitted to Waterloo Engineering will eventually graduate from their chosen program and become proud alumni of the University of Waterloo.  Shown below is a photo of the Graduate House taken late last week.

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Difficult Decisions

All admission decisions have been made for Fall 2019 for Waterloo Engineering.  By now, all applicants should know if they have been offered admission to Waterloo Engineering and they should know if they are receiving scholarships.  If you are an applicant, hopefully you have received very good news.  We are currently preparing for You@Waterloo Day being held this Saturday.  Our welcome banner has already been hung on South Campus Hall to welcome our future warriors.

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The process of selecting students is incredibly difficult.  This is especially true for Waterloo Engineering since we do not simply use a cut-off system where top averages are selected for admission without consideration of other factors.  Much time was spent reviewing Admission Information Forms and online video interviews in an effort to find exceptional future students.

By February 20th, we had received over 11,289 applications to just 1,699 available spaces.  In other words, we had 6.6 applications per available space.  For high demand programs such as Software Engineering, the competition was fierce.  As an example, we had 9.4 applications per available domestic space in Software Engineering and 30.4 applications per available visa space in Software Engineering.  We had 124 available spaces in Software Engineering and 198 applicants with averages in excess of 97.0% this year.  For Software Engineering, programming experience was an important consideration for admission this year.  Successful Software Engineering applicants often had several years of practical programming experience, knowledge of several programming languages, and a track record of success in programming.

The final round selection process took about two weeks from start to finish.  This time was necessary to perform individual selection in highly competitive programs such as Software Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, and Mechatronics Engineering.  The total time was slightly longer than it was supposed to take but quite reasonable given the large number of applications to consider for each program.  I recognize that delays increase the stress of applicants, their families, and the many staff members working in admission roles.  It is certainly not our intention to induce stress.  I would like to thank everyone for their patience throughout the admission process.

Now that our difficult decisions have been made, applicants face a June 3rd deadline for making their difficult decisions.  I am sure that some applicants and their families are very concerned about making the right decision.  The important thing to remember is that you can’t really make a terrible decision with respect to attending university for engineering programs.  All engineering schools in the Province of Ontario have accredited programs.  Regardless of which engineering school you attend, you will get a great education.  Regardless of which engineering program you choose, you will have great career prospects.  There really is no wrong decision to make in most cases with one possible exception…

If you already know that the program you have been offered is not a good fit for you, don’t accept the offer!  Accepting an offer to a program you are unhappy taking will only lead to a year of misery and likely very few options at the end of the year.  If accepting an offer of admission to a program does not excite you in any way, don’t accept the offer.  You need to be motivated to succeed in a university program, particularly an engineering program.  The workload is much higher in university and there are many demands on your time.  If you do not enjoy some portion of the work you will be doing, you will not do well.

If you are undecided on whether you will like the program you have been offered, don’t worry!  Choosing the wrong university or the wrong university program is a mistake that can be fixed with some hard work.  The consequences are reversible so you should not fear making a poor decision.  At most, you might spend one year of your life realizing that another path is a better one for you.  In fact, you might even learn some valuable skills along the way.  A few of our future warriors initially chose a different path but they have been accepted (a year later) to pursue Waterloo Engineering starting in the Fall.  So relax, take some time to think about it, and know that whatever choice you make with respect to university programs, it will likely be okay.

One thing to keep in mind is that once you choose a university program, transferring into another university program is not always an easy process.  You will need to get good marks (80% or greater) in your current program and you will need to be willing to start over.  Transferring into engineering from another faculty can be a difficult challenge.  Some applicants mistakenly believe that they will be able to easily transfer into a different program if they make the “wrong” choice.  Transfers are difficult, but not impossible, to obtain.  Obviously, transfers into high demand programs such as Software Engineering, Biomedical Engineering, or Mechatronics Engineering are extremely rare.

Rather than transfer programs, a better approach is to customize your university program to your liking.  Most university programs offer access to elective courses, options, and minors that allow you to specialize in other areas while completing your major.  For example, you do not need to be a Software Engineer to study programming.  In fact, many of our engineering students have programming duties in their co-op jobs, regardless of their chosen discipline.  You do not need to be a Management Engineer to study management sciences.  You simply need to have a desire to learn the topic and a schedule that fits the classes you wish to take.  Before giving up on a program, think about ways you might be able to make it work.

In the media, you often read simplistic advice that suggests you should follow your passion.  While there is some truth to this message, it is important to realize that what people really mean is that you should choose a path that allows you to pursue your passion.  You do not need to be passionate about everything you do in life to be successful.  You just need to pursue a path that allows you to do the things you are passionate about and that the positives outweigh the negatives.  You won’t like every class you take in university.  You won’t like every aspect of your co-op job.  But if doing a few things you dislike will allow you to do the things you are passionate about, you will always find a way to succeed.

Sometimes, students ask me why we don’t teach how to write computer games or mobile application development as a core part of Computer Engineering.  My response is always the same…

At university, we teach you the things you need to study that you wouldn’t otherwise study.  We need to teach you Calculus and Physics because these subjects are important and I know very few Computer Engineering students who would willingly rush home at night to study these subjects.  I do know many Computer Engineering students who willingly self-study writing computer games or mobile application development.  The role of a university program is to ensure that you receive the breadth and depth of education necessary to succeed in life.  We teach you the things you need to know that you don’t already know or can’t easily learn elsewhere.  It won’t always be fun but it will always be educational.

Tomorrow, I will be on campus for You@Waterloo Day to answer your questions.  For our future warriors, you might want to know that our W Store which sells university apparel will be open from Noon to 4:00 pm.  It will be a great opportunity to have your parents buy you a hoodie, a pair of track pants, and a backpack for the Fall term.  Also, don’t forget to check out our residences so that you can decide how to prioritize your residence selection.  I look forward to seeing some of you tomorrow.

Quick Admissions Update

A few final round admission offers have now made it out from our university but be assured that many more will be processed over the next week.  It is my understanding that many staff members are working throughout the weekend to expedite the process.  I expect that all offers will be communicated by the end of next week at the latest.

We have been working around the clock to make admission decisions and to communicate them.  The image below is an image of the parking lot when I left the university last night at 12:47 am.  It was the first time I have every seen an empty parking lot on campus and I have worked many late nights over my career at the University of Waterloo.

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Usually, we manage to get out engineering admission offers to all Ontario Secondary School students by the 2nd Friday in May but we ran into some issues that delayed processing.  Please be patient with our staff.  They are doing the best they can under very difficult circumstances.  It is a huge effort to code and communicate all of the admission offers for our university.

My best advice is to try to focus on your studies and other activities.  Knowing the answer as soon as it appears on Quest will not change the outcome.  Knowing the answer a few days earlier shouldn’t change your decision.  I suspect most applicants already know what decision they will make if they get accepted and what decision they will make if they get denied.

Of course, if you are still on the fence, we will have an event on campus called You@Waterloo Day that will give admitted students another opportunity to visit the campus with their families and learn more about university life.  You will hear more about You@Waterloo Day after receiving admission to the university.  I am scheduled to be on campus for the entire event to help answer questions.  I look forward to meeting with you.

Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair.  This fair attracts students from Grade 7 to Grade 12 to compete for awards and opportunities to represent the region at the Canada-Wide Science Fair organized by Youth Science Canada.  I have volunteered to help out with the running of the regional fair for approximately 15 years now.  A few years ago, I accepted the role of Division Co-Chair for the Engineering Division of the fair.  Essentially, this means that I co-ordinate the judging of the engineering projects and I participate in selecting the award-winning projects.

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This year’s fair was the largest in recent years with 250 projects on display.  Locally, there has been a renewed interest in science projects.  I have no doubt that this is likely related to Donna Strickland receiving a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2018.  For many years, she has served as a judge at the fair, inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers.  For an idea of what the fair looked like, check out the following image of the display booths at the fair.

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I was impressed by a number of projects that I had an opportunity to assess including two projects by Grade 12 students who have both applied to Waterloo Engineering.  Both of these students were looking forward to attending the University of Waterloo and I have no doubt that they will be highly successful here.  There were also some exceptional junior and intermediate projects.  One project that I particularly liked was a project that implemented a “Multispectral Detector for Non-Destructive Testing of Food”.  The project involved the design of electronics, software, and 3D printed casings for a handheld device to assess the freshness of fruit (in particular, pears).  Using the ingenious device, a person could quantitatively predict the ripeness of a pear.  It was an amazing project made even more impressive by the fact that it was designed, built, and tested by a Grade 7 student.

The complete list of 2019 Grand Award Winners is now available online.  The Award of Excellence for the best overall project at the fair was given to an engineering project entitled, “Random Forest Classification of Histopathological Images”.  This project attempted to automate detecting cancer in medical images.  The tool was not designed to replace a pathologist but rather to assist a pathologist in detecting false negatives (i.e., missing potential signs of cancer in a patient).  It was an impressive project from a student who has previously represented the region at the Canada-Wide Science Fair.

On behalf of the University of Waterloo and the over 200 volunteers from the community who assist with the operation of the fair, I would like to congratulate all participants on a great event celebrating science and engineering.  All of the students who participated should be very proud of their accomplishments.

I would also like to point out that regional fairs such as the Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair without generous donations from local companies and individuals.  If you are interested in supporting the Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair, you may do so easily using Canada Helps.  The Waterloo-Wellington Science and Engineering Fair is a registered charity in the Province of Ontario.

Capstone Project Awards

I haven’t had an opportunity to post to my blog lately.  This is the busiest time of the year for anyone working in admissions.  However, it is also a very busy time of the year for all faculty, staff, and students.  Here are a few of the highlights from my last two weeks.

Every year at the end of March, the Faculty of Engineering showcases the capstone design projects of our 4th year engineering students at a series of symposiums.  For many years, I served as the coordinator of the ECE Capstone Design Symposium.  It is a challenging task to solicit sponsorship, attract a team of volunteers, and plan logistics for a graduating class of ECE students.  My involvement is now limited to serving as a judge for various competitions and assessing ECE student work for the purpose of grading.  Shown below are the members of a medal-winning ECE capstone project team that I advised this year.  They developed a game to encourage students to learn American Sign Language.

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For an idea of what one of the symposiums looks like, shown below is an image of a symposium taken this year in our Engineering 7 (E7) atrium.  This image shows roughly one third of the projects on display at this symposium.  There were events like this one held every couple of days for a period spanning approximately two weeks.  Graduating students, including those from our first class of Biomedical Engineering, displayed their projects at one of these many symposiums.

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For my fourth consecutive year, I was a member of the judging panel for the prestigious Palihapitiya Venture Creation Fund which provides $50,000 for up to two capstone project teams to pursue commercialization of their projects.  This year, two teams were selected to receive funding.  The Stacktronic team from Mechatronics Engineering developed an innovative Li-ion battery module to build modular battery packs of different capacities for mining, farming, and industrial use.  In addition to the $50,000 cash prize, the team also receives space in the Velocity incubator and mentorship from some of the best venture capitalists in the business.  The Project Beacon team from Systems Design Engineering developed a software platform for universities to better inform and assist students struggling with mental health issues.  Their software enables universities to provide students with timely and accurate information about mental health and the many counselling options available to students.  This team also wins $50,000, space in the Velocity incubator, and mentorship.  On behalf of the judging panel, I wish the teams all the best on the creation of their new ventures.

I also served as one of two judges for the Autodesk Canada Capstone Award which is given to a capstone project team for demonstrating an innovative and practical design solution to a problem.  The project must include a significant software component but the team can be from any engineering discipline.  Thirteen teams from engineering competed for the award this year.  The winning team was Inspeksi from Mechatronics Engineering.  They developed a robotic system to automatically identify surface defects in fabricated materials.  The system used software to control the positioning of the cameras and software to perform extensive image processing.  The team received $5,000 cash to be split among the team members for their efforts.

Most recently, I attended the Norman Esch Entrepreneurship Awards for Capstone Design where six project teams received cash awards of $10,000 and one team received the Adel Sedra People’s Choice Award.  This year’s recipient of the Adel Sedra People’s Choice Award was the Compr team from Management Engineering.  They were also the recipient of one of the $10,000 awards.  Other award winning teams included Atlas Medical, Stacktronic, Stellar Care, Augeo Medical, and Reka.  Although I did not participate in judging this competition this year, I did attend the pitch competition and I was thoroughly impressed by all of the teams competing.

Most recently, I attended the Toast of the Graduating Class of 2019.  This is an event that we hold annually to celebrate the achievements of our graduating class.  This year’s event was the largest ever held with over 600 people attending the event.  Shown below is an image of balloons dropping on the graduating class after the toast.  It was a great event that gave faculty members, like myself, a chance to personally congratulate students on their many achievements.

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Over the past two weeks, the Engineering Admissions Team has also been assessing interviews and AIFs in preparation for our next round of admissions.  Applicants who have requested early consideration will learn whether they will receive an offer of admission to Waterloo Engineering on April 17th.  We received 310 requests for early consideration from applicants who have offers at other universities or colleges requiring acceptance by May 1st.

All other applicants will learn whether they will receive an offer of admission by the middle of May.  Scholarships will also be decided during the final round of admission.  For those who are interested, our prediction models suggest we have filled 493.2 domestic spaces out of a total of 1470 domestic spaces and we have filled 61.5 visa spaces out of a total of 203 visa spaces.  In other words, 66.4% of all domestic spaces are still unfilled and 69.3% of all visa spaces are still unfilled.  The majority of our spaces will be filled in the final round of admissions.

Requesting Early Consideration

I have been contacted by a handful of applicants who currently have offers of admission to excellent engineering programs at out-of-province institutions.  As you have probably discovered, out-of-province institutions often have different acceptance deadlines and some of them are earlier than the Ontario deadline.  At the University of Waterloo, we offer applicants the opportunity to request early consideration of their application in such circumstances.

If you have received an offer of admission from another university that is requiring you to accept or decline the offer by early May and you do not currently have an early offer of admission to Waterloo Engineering, please contact the Engineering Admissions team by e-mailing enginfo@uwaterloo.ca.  When sending your e-mail, attach proof of your offer and the acceptance deadline from the other institution.  If you e-mail us prior to April 1st, we will review your application and make a final decision on your application by April 17th.  This will allow you to make an informed choice about your future university studies.

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Please keep in mind that applicants who request early consideration will not be reconsidered during our final admission round in mid-May.  We request that only those applicants requiring a final decision in mid-April contact our office to request early consideration.  This allows us to prioritize those applicants who have earlier deadlines to meet.