With application deadlines approaching, some people will be struggling with the decision of which engineering program to apply to. I had a post on this topic last year, and here are some additional thoughts. As a reminder, Waterloo engineering has direct entry to a specific engineering discipline, so you have to pick one of our 13 programs for your application choice. For those who don’t know where to start, last year I recommended our Quiz for some initial choices, and I still recommend it. However, it doesn’t currently include our new Biomedical Engineering program, so you have to keep that in mind.
With our quiz results or other ideas in mind, you should do some serious research to see which program catches your interest the best. There are plenty of online things to look at, and Google or Bing will help you find it. One that I recently remembered is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics site. It has some interesting information on the nature of various engineering jobs. Be careful on putting too much faith in their projections and forecasts however.
Some other ideas:
- Students at Waterloo will be more engaged with their program and classmates if they are relatively sure and committed to their program. If after doing some serious research and thought about different programs you still can’t decide at all, then certainly consider a university with a general engineering entrance program. Then you can postpone deciding for a little while. There are lots around Ontario, including Queen’s, McMaster, and Western, for example. Other universities offer direct entry as well as an undecided/undeclared option, including Ryerson, Guelph, Windsor and York, for example. Toronto has the “TrackOne” program which is a general first year. Toronto’s Engineering Science is sort of a general first year too, since it looks like about 33% of the students move into other disciplines in 2nd year.
- In spite of what I say in the above point, you don’t have to be 100% sure about your choice. It’s normal to be somewhat uncertain. But you should have some level of comfort and knowledge about the program you’ve picked, and why you are picking it.
- There are potentially bad reasons to pick a program, including: 1) it’s the most competitive for admission; 2) family/friends say it’s the “best”; 3) some website says it’s the best paid, or has the best career prospects. These are bad reasons, especially if your interests and aptitude don’t align with the choice. Imagine sitting in classes where everyone else is keen on the material and projects, and you’re not. It’s probably not going to go well. Every year we get a few of these cases. Sometimes we can help them switch programs, but sometimes it goes so badly that they have to leave the university. We would prefer to avoid this problem as much as possible.
- Always remember that career paths can be very flexible, and choosing a specific discipline does not lock you into a specific career for the rest of your life. Many engineering graduates eventually go into management careers, where the discipline-specific technical knowledge is less important anyways.
- There is a lot of overlap between various disciplines, so it is not critical that you pick the “right” one. If you pick one that you feel some affinity for, you’ll probably be fine no matter how your interests may shift over the coming years. You should expect (and want) to continue learning new things throughout your career.
- There is no such thing as the “best” program.