The online application centre recently opened for our Fall 2013 intake, and we have almost 200 applicants already! Like all of our applicants, they had to make that tough first decision: which engineering program should I apply to? That’s because Waterloo does not have a general first year. The curriculum is discipline-specific right from the first day of classes.
The reason for this lack of a general first year is simple. All of our programs are based on the co-operative education model (experiential learning), where you alternate between on-campus academic learning, and paid employment where you learn the practical aspects of engineering and business. This starts in first year, so to make it work effectively you need to know where your career interests probably lie. This doesn’t mean you’re locked into something forever, but you need a starting point at least .
There are a few other advantages of starting in your program right away: 1) the people you meet will be your classmates for the rest of your program (and potential study partners, roommates, etc.); 2) your courses can be flavoured for your discipline, even if it’s a common course like calculus; 3) there’s no need to worry about competing for limited space in popular programs for 2nd year.
The downside of course, is that you have to do some upfront work before applying to Waterloo and decide which program most likely matches your interests. For some people, they’ve known this for years and this is easy, but for others it’s a struggle. So, for those people consider this to be your first Waterloo engineering homework assignment.
To help applicants out with this homework, our Management Engineering students created an online quiz a few years ago. This quiz was developed based on an extensive survey of our current students, using data mining and regression analysis techniques they learned in class. It can be accessed at this website. Based on your answers, it gives 3 possible choices for a program that might best fit your interests. It’s not perfect of course, and you might not have any interest in some of the suggestions. But it can be quite useful for identifying programs that maybe you hadn’t thought about before. So, it’s sort of a screening tool to help narrow down your search a bit.
Once you identify a few programs of possible interest, you’ll have to do some further research. A web search can be helpful, but here are a couple of sites that seem to have good information: http://www.tryengineering.org/become.php?page=majors_eng and http://www.egfi-k12.org/engineer-your-path/ The more you read, the easier it will be to find some examples of careers and programs that seem like the best fit. Other information sources include: family friends or employers, visiting Waterloo or your local university and speaking to students and faculty, or possibly a teacher in your high school studied engineering.
If after going through all this you’re still ambivalent about the choices, there are lots of other universities with general first year engineering programs. You can postpone your decision for another year by going there.
What if you start a program at Waterloo and then want to change your mind? That happens, and we do our best to accommodate changes. But we usually find that after going through this homework exercise, the vast majority of students are happy with their choice (probably 98%+). So it seems that most people get the “right answer” when they do the homework.