Scoring Your AIF

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.

The Process

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

The Scoring

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:

AIF Score HistogramAs 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.

69 thoughts on “Scoring Your AIF

  1. Hi, professor,

    For the extracurricular involvements, is it limited to all throughout secondary school (Grade 9-12)? And would joining the University of Waterloo contests mean anything even if I do not get a certificate of distinction? Should I state in my AIF that I’ll be joining the contests held on April/May? And, would there be a difference on admissions chances if I sent my AIF on February 2 or on March 18 next year?

  2. hi professor,
    I’m a grade 10 student, I’m planning to do engineering from Waterloo university. I’ve just immigrated to Canada. Till grade 9 I was in India. So,Is hat going to be a backdrop for me?

  3. Hello Sir,

    I’m currently a Grade 12 student and English is my second language. It’s been 8 months that I’ve moved in to Canada, due to which I could not take part in any extra curricular activities other than volunteering. Can this affect my chances of getting accepted? Moreover, should I include this reason in the AIF? I also had to take some courses in summer school to complete all my credits in a short period of time. Will my average be affected because of that? In addition, I completed my IGCSE back in my home country and got the Edexcel High Achiever’s Award(Pearson). Should I include them in the AIF?

  4. Hi Professor,

    I was just wondering if the “Additional Information” section on the application is visible to the AIF evaulators. I know that you said the “Circumstances” is not viewable so I was wondering the same for the “Additional Information”.

    Thanks for your help.

  5. Hi, Mr.Anderson. I’m very appreciate that you started such a helpful blog. I’m currently applying to university and there are some questions I hope I can find an answer from you.

    1. I don’t have all my 6 grade 12 credits ready yet, still have to take one at the upcoming semster, so will I be consider for the first round of offers?

    2. For employment history, is reference letter nesscessary?

    3. Does every program have a different AIF? For example Computer Science and Software Engeneering?

    Thank you very uch

    • 1. We consider everyone for the first round (if an AIF has been submitted). It’s just that very few actually get an offer.
      2. no references are required, unless we specifically ask for it
      3. there will be some common sections and different sections on the AIF if you apply to Engineering and another faculty, like Math.

  6. Hey Professor,

    I was planning to take part in the University of Waterloo math competition which is occurring after my AIF is due. Can I incorporate the test which I have not taken but am positive I will take on my AIF? This will be my first year taking the test.

  7. Hi Professor,

    In this article, you mentioned that the scoring is meant to be blind, so they would not know my gender. However, I had attended this one engineering symposium which is gender specific in its name. Is it alright if I included that in my AIF?

    Thank you!

  8. Hi Professor,

    For the AIF Reading interest, If my book was part of a series, do I have to write about a particular one in the series or is it fine to talk about the series in general?

  9. I accidentally wrote something on the optional Additional Information box, and saved it. When I noticed it later, I deleted it and saved it again. However, the thing that I had written was still there and the text is impossible to be deleted. Will I have a penalty for having a useless letter in an Addition Information box, or will it just be ignored?

  10. Hi Professor,

    Can I trouble you for 2 quick questions?
    1) For the part about extenuating circumstances (that may have affected academic performance), If do decide to disclose that the legal prescription of a certain medication was found to have a negative effect on my performance in grade 11, how soon would I be required to provide documentation proving it?
    2) Should competitions taken during grade 10 but were of a senior level (CCC, Grade 12 Uni Bio competition) be included in my AIF?
    Thanks for creating this ever so helpful blog!

  11. Hi Professor,

    Under the section on the AIF where you fill in dates for employment and extra curriculars, there is an option for end dates. What date are you supposed to put if you don’t know the end dates for these activities?

  12. Hello,
    I’m a college student in Jamaica.
    I have a city and guilds certificate in construction management.
    I would just like to know if I’m eligible for the management engineering coarse.

  13. You mentioned that the “Circumstances” section will not be reviewed alongside most of the other sections, so I was wondering how exactly any extenuating circumstances are going to be taken into account in the admissions process? Will they be completely ignored during the Early Admission period?

  14. I took a full semester of our school’s CO-OP program at an IT company. It accounted for 4 school credits so I’m wondering if you can list it as outside “work” experience on the AIF?

  15. Hello Professor

    I am a new immigrant to Canada “Syrian Refugee”. And I’ll start high school after a week.
    I have a lot of certificates and awards in different field such as (Robotics,Programming,Business) but all were out of Canada. SO
    1- can I mention them in my AIF or not?
    2-I might not exceed 70% in my English courses”which is the minimum grade to applyr” because I used to study in Arabic. Even though I have a valid IELTS certificate that suits the requirements.
    Would that make it impossible for me to apply? Or you take my situation into consideration?
    Thank you.

    • In Engineering, we don’t solicit recommendation letters and generally won’t put much weight on them if they are submitted (unless they are addressing some special circumstances).

  16. Hi professor;
    there is a section on the aif form which states “In addition to the specific information requested in all of the AIF questions, please tell us anything else about yourself that you would like us to know when we review your application”
    This is in Part B so is this question specific to issues/circumstances I experienced in high school or can I talk about anything (i.e extracurriculars)

  17. Hi Professor,
    First of all Thank You for your guidance in this blog
    I did two months of work during last summer to gain a work experience but it was unpaid, would it be count in work experience or in extra curricular activities? Also I have done more than 300 hours of volunteer work shall I out in the extra curricular activities?

  18. Hi, Thank you for your article, I found it really useful for me!
    Can I trouble you for a Waterloo University question?
    The question is:
    In addition to the specific information requested in all of the AIF questions, please tell us anything else about yourself that you would like us to know when we review your application. Please make sure to complete all sections of the AIF before submitting this page. (900 character limit)

    I really confused by this question. Should I introduce myself, talking about my interest and experience? Should I be specific to one experience or saying something general?
    I want to know it is ok if I tell a short stories about my interest?

  19. Hello Doctor,

    First of all thanks for this amazing blog. I have a quation concerning earning award before grade 9. I earned more than four national sports awards, Can I mention them? I know that it stated in the blog that extracurricular activities before grade 10 will not be taken in consideration, but these are sports national awards!

  20. Hi Prof. Andreson,

    Thanks for your blog, it’s immeasurably helpful. I was just wondering, if I submit my AIF this friday, February 3rd, and do not receive an early offer, will I have the opprtunity to use the additional time until March 17 to further improve my application?

    Could this be done in any way other than the “ammendments” option which as I understand is rarely taken into consideration?


  21. Good evening professor. I had a doubt regarding the AIF form. I have applied in two different programs, Chemical Engineering as well as Applied Mathematics. so do I need to fill tow entirely different forms? or if some sections are the same, can I copy and Paste from my own AIF?

  22. Hello Professor,

    I have studied in an English language school in India since grade 1 so as per Waterloo’s website, I do not need to write the TOEFL or any such test. I speak English fluently.

    However, I have written the TOEFL and have already sent the results to Waterloo. Fever and a blocked nose that morning, affected my Speaking score. I received 24 which is below the required minimum of 25. I would like to know what impact it will have on my application. Should I give the TOEFL again?

    Thank you.

  23. Hi, I’m from the Caribbean and I wanted to know since we don’t have a “grade” system. Should I tick the boxes that apply to grade 10-12 in Part A – the extra curricular section? I have been doing these extra curricula for years. As well as, if an activity/ extra-curricular is still being practiced, should I indicate an end date? Or should I leave that field blank?

    • Yes, check all the boxes if it has been an on-going activity for the past 3+ years. Putting in an end date is not necessary if it is an activity that is likely to continue indefinitely.

  24. Hello Sir,

    I am currently pursuing 1st year of Computer Engineering course in my home country. However, my family is moving to Canada soon.

    I am very keen to join Waterloo and would be applying for Sept 2018 intake. I have heard that Universities give more weightage to the grades obtained in the Last attended course. If so, would the university consider my 1st year Engineering score (Only 1 semester score will be available by Feb 2018) or my Secondary school score?

    I scored very well in my Secondary exam but not sure of my performance in Engineering as I am yet to take the exam.

    Would it be beneficial to me to join as fresher and not claim any credit for the year spent in college? Is it possible that I am evaluated only on my Secondary school performance?

    Would appreciate your help.

    • You give us all the information and we will decide how to evaluate it, but we do usually put more weight on the university/college grades. Most applicants from universities have to start in first year at Waterloo, because of our curriculum and co-op structures. You must declare all the post-secondary information, or your application will be considered fraudulent and you may be subsequently barred from all Ontario universities.

  25. Hi Prof Anderson,
    Just a question about the “FIRST Robotics Participation” section for Engineering applicants. If we had been a part of an active team Grade 9 to 11, Are we still considered active on a team?

  26. Hi Prof Anderson,
    I was reading up on the admissions process and I read that if you have repeated a course, that affects your chances of getting into the Math faculty.
    During my last year of high school I repeated a course that I had done well in, and through repeating it I did even better (this was to increase my chances of a national scholarship from my home country. I won the scholarship). Will this affect my chances of getting into Math because I repeated this course?

  27. Hey Prof! If I link my personal website which contains my portfolio of projects, or my Github, will AIF graders take a look at it for engineering?

  28. Hey Professor.
    Good afternoon.

    I’m planning to apply to Waterloo for engineering, and I just had a couple of questions about the sixth optional course and the AIF if you don’t mind:

    1) Do you think universities (like Waterloo) prioritize a University course over a Mixed course for the last optional one? I’m asking because usually, it’s easy to get a really high mark in those Mixed courses and they can act as a potential mark booster. Just to let you know, I’m aware that you are allowed to use either a Mixed or a University Course for the 6th one.

    2) I have looked at the AIF from previous years and I was just wondering if it would be the same (completely)? Also, on the Employment Background section in the AIF, it asks us to list the “most significant part-time or full-time employment in the past 2 years”. Does that mean we could add the part-time jobs we had over the summer or certain holidays? Or is it restricted to only during school-time (as in after-school or weekends)? And, is there a limitation as to how many ECAs we can list on the AIF?
    Waiting for your reply.

    Kind Regards,

    • Our systems automatically pick the highest U/M course (in Ontario) for the 6th course, from the electronic grade data the schools upload.
      The AIF is pretty much the same as in previous years, as far as I recall. Significant employment includes any time of the year. There is some space limit for listing stuff, so you may have to be selective.

  29. Hello Professor!
    I was wondering when you say that the score given from 0.5 to 5 is relative within the applicant pool, does that mean it is relative to all engineer applicants or within the applicants within a specific engineering program (such as Computer engineering).

    thank you!

  30. Thanks for the post professor!
    I was wondering if it is necessary to state that I took grade 11 and 12 computer science courses on the AIF for it to be acknowledged as Software engineering related experience. Will the admissions committee take this into account without it being listed?

  31. Hi,
    The admissions requirements on the engineering undergrad website say that the highest mark for science and math courses will be used, whether it be the class mark or blended mark with the final exam. When filling out the AIF, which mark should I put down?

  32. Hi Mr. Anderson,
    The Programming Knowledge question specifies “at least four months of programming experience”.

    How strict is this?
    I completed ISC3U online during the summer in one month. I also wrote code a coop placement during one month in the summer.
    Should I include these?

  33. Hey professor,

    I was wondering how bonus scores on the AIF (past 5) are justified and what kind of activities and involvement warrant for more than 5 points to be added to the admission score?

    Appreciate it!

    • In the past, bonus points might be awarded for anything that really stands out. The total score doesn’t usually exceed 5 though. To get 5 requires some good work/volunteer experience and recognition at a national or international level in some way, or some other rare accomplishment.

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