There is lots of interest in the Admission Information Form (AIF) and how it is scored (or probably more accurately, how to get the best score). Therefore let’s review how this process works. The actual AIF content was discussed in another post, so I won’t repeat that. Once we get enough AIF submissions to get started (around mid-January), this is generally what happens.
- We assemble our team of AIF Readers. These are primarily Waterloo Engineering alumni who are now working in business/industry, but are willing to spend a number of hours to help us out. Since they’ve been through our programs and are now mature professionals, they have good insight into the types of qualities that can lead to success at Waterloo and engineering in general.
- We split out specific sections of the AIF to send to our Readers. They get the sections on “Why Waterloo”, “Engineering Interests”, “Reading Interests”, “Extracurricular Activities”, “Employment Background”, and “Awards”. They do not get any of the sections about courses, grades, schools, personal circumstances, nor do they get any information about names, gender, locations, etc. The scoring system is designed to be “blind”, so that the focus is on activities and interests, and not affected by any other factors.
- The Readers review the materials, and send us back their scores from 0.5 to 5. If you have submitted an AIF, the minimum score will be 0.5 (we reserve a score of zero for those who don’t submit it, and they are flagged for rejection). This is the score that is then added to your admission average for ranking purposes, as described in another post on how admissions works.
- This process continues, with Readers getting batches of a couple of hundred AIFs at a time. Since there are over 8,000 AIFs to review, it takes a while. Usually most are finished by early April, and certainly all are finished before our major round of offers in early May.
So how do Readers come up with their scores? Well, the most important thing to realize is that the scoring is relative within the applicant pool. There is no checklist or rubric, where if you match everything on it you will get a 5/5. Instead, you are being evaluated against the many other applicants and given a score that shows where you stand. This score will be a holistic combination of several factors, in the judgement of the Reader:
- Quality of the presentation: what is the writing and grammar like? Was there much thought and effort put into it? What is the overall impression it conveys?
- Purpose: does the applicant seem to have some realistic ideas and expectations about engineering, and why they are interested in pursuing it?
- Commitment and engagement: are there things that suggest ambition, long-term commitment, high level achievement, leadership/responsibility, maturity, self-motivation, time management?
- Employability: are there indications of work, volunteer or other experience that will be helpful in getting the first co-op job? Is there evidence of activities requiring good interpersonal and communication skills?
- Excellence: is there evidence of significant achievements in one or more areas, such as academics, sports, music, volunteering, business, etc.?
So, after thinking about these factors and how the AIF compares with the hundreds of others the Reader has reviewed, he/she picks a number from 0.5 to 5 to represent their overall impression. Here is an example from past years of the scoring results:
As you can see in the histogram, when we use a relative scoring system the results are approximately Gaussian in distribution (which is what we are aiming for). The majority of applicants score around 2.5 to 3.5 out of 5, which represents the typical high school student applicant, with a few awards and activities. Very few score a 5, which will typically mean a provincial or national level award winner, or some other accomplishment that is very rare. (A bunch of people scored 0.3, which means that they filled out and saved some parts of the AIF but didn’t finally submit it. Many of those probably withdrew their application before May anyways.) For quality control, scores from various Readers are compared to ensure that they are consistent.
For those who are filling out an AIF, there are a few things you can do to make the best of it, even if you are not a national-level award winner.
- Space is limited, so spend some time carefully crafting what you want to say and make it meaningful to your personal situation. This is your one and only chance to tell us about yourself.
- Be sure to proofread for grammar, punctuation and spelling. A couple of minor errors won’t be disastrous, but why not make it perfect? Make it professional (after all, engineering is a professional program). Do not use texting language/spelling!
- Use the space to highlight some key points about your activities, especially if there are uncommon things that the Readers might not be familiar with. (However, they are quite familiar with all the usual high school clubs and activities, so there is no point in trying to describe everything.)
- Ignore all those online college essay suggestions, like telling us how you’ve wanted to be an engineer since you were 7 years old and played with Lego. Keep it believable, sincere and relevant to your own situation.
So even if you’re a typical/average applicant with just a few activities and/or awards, you can come out towards the upper end of the score range if the AIF is well-crafted and impresses the Reader.