The Canadian magazine “Macleans” does university rankings, and recently they published their “2012 Professional Schools Rankings“. I think you have to pay to see it, or buy a hardcopy. I have a subscription, and can summarize some of the information here.
First, it’s not really a “ranking”. They list a few things about Canadian engineering schools, specifically the proportion of women students in the various schools, and the average entering grade for admitted applicants. There is also a graphic indicating “engineering’s hottest fields” that shows total enrollment in various disciplines in 2007 and 2011. As I would expect, mechanical, civil, electrical and chemical engineering have the largest enrollment. There has been growth in pretty well every discipline. The graphic’s title is a bit misleading: just because a field has a lot of enrollment doesn’t mean it’s the “hottest” field. Those 4 disciplines have always had large enrolments. Anyways, I wouldn’t recommend it as a tool to choose an engineering discipline.
For the proportion of women enrolled, Waterloo comes out at 17%, which is about the same as the national average (18%). At Waterloo this number has been rising in the last couple of years, so I would expect future reports will reflect this. In terms of the total number of women enrolled, Waterloo (839) is #3, behind Toronto (1,024) and Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal (841).
For entrance averages, Waterloo is listed at 90%, which seems about right (this is for fall 2011). Waterloo’s entrance average is 3rd in Canada, after Toronto (92.2%) and UBC (90.1%). Most other engineering programs are in the mid to high 80s, and a few in the lower 80s.
What do these numbers mean? Well first, remember that an average means that half the applicants had grades below, and half were above. So it doesn’t mean that you need at least a 90% to be admitted.
Next, I’m not entirely sure where they get these numbers and there is going to be some variance involved in the calculations. For example, when we report entrance averages we have to convert IB grades (which range from 1 to 7) and British A level grades (which range from A* to D) into percentages. We have our own conversion scales for these and other school systems, and other universities have their own too. Some differences in averages will be due to differences in these conversion scales, as well as differences in the numbers of students from those systems. There may also be local differences in provincial high school grading practices, so comparing across provinces gets complicated. I suspect that differences of a few percentage points are statistically insignificant.
Next, do higher numbers mean it’s a better school? Realistically, no. These entrance averages simply reflect supply and demand. Schools with high numbers tend to have many more applicants than available spaces, and so in the competition applicants with higher grades often win and drive up the overall entrance average. Schools with lower averages simply have lesser competition for various reasons, including location and regional population density.
Finally, how should we use this information? Well, when choosing which university’s engineering program to apply to, this can help applicants decide where their chances realistically might lie. I would still apply to your “dream school”, even if it has one of the highest entrance averages, because you never really know how it might turn out. But if your grades are a little on the lower side, this helps to select some alternate choices where your acceptance will be more likely.