English Proficiency Requirements

For applicants whose first language is not English we have a set of proficiency requirements.  Details are on this website (English Language Requirements), but in summary we are looking for TOEFL scores of 90 and higher (with at least 25 Writing and Speaking), or IELTS scores of at least 6.5 overall (with 6.5 Writing and Speaking and 6.0  in other bands) (see that website for other test system requirements).  For Engineering admissions, we’ve been pretty strict about the scores and regularly reject people who don’t meet them (no matter what their other grades are like).  This is because our co-op work experience starts right away in first year, so we need students to be as fluent as possible so that they can have interviews, get jobs and have a successful work term with the employer.  There is no time to try to learn better English as you start our program.

Some universities have programs that you can sign up for to improve English proficiency.  We don’t, but in the last couple of years we have been testing a couple of special programs, called BASE and iBASE .  You can’t actually apply directly for these programs, they are by invitation only, and are for applicants to our engineering programs who have excellent academic credentials but come up short on the English proficiency tests.  So for these applicants, if they successfully complete the BASE or iBASE program they will be automatically enrolled in the engineering program they were aiming for.  Let’s look at these programs in a bit more detail.

Intensive BASE (iBASE)

First, BASE stands for “Bridge to Academic Success in English”.  The name is important, because it illustrates that it is not just an ESL course (i.e. English Second Language).  It contains many elements that will help a student succeed in Waterloo Engineering and co-op education.  Details about the program are given on their iBASE website, but I’ll summarize some of the points I like:

  • It’s a short program, 7 weeks, during July and August, before starting university in September.
  • It’s for applicants who are quite close to our proficiency requirements (for example, 85 to 89 TOEFL), but need just a little extra help.
  • There are engineering-related English language activities like resumé writing, giving presentations, interview skills, writing reports.
  • There are opportunities to meet professors, current engineering students, and do some small projects.
  • There are organized group social activities in the surrounding community, like going to the farmers’ market.
  • It’s a nice way to get to know your way around, make some friends, and get prepared before the rush when university starts in September.

Summer 2015 was our first offering of iBASE, and from the feedback I heard it was very successful.  Everyone passed the English part and went on to start their engineering program, and the students felt very prepared for what was coming.


This is our regular “Bridge to Academic Success in English” program, which for Engineering/BASE students is 8 months long.  Obviously, it’s for excellent applicants that need more substantial help with English proficiency.  However again it is not just an ESL program.  Students also take 3 university courses during the program, which gives them a bit of a head start on their degree program.  Some interesting points:

  • Students take a physics course in the Fall term (September), and then a calculus course and Environmental Studies course in the Winter term (January).  All of these meet the degree requirements.
  • Taking the 3 courses won’t help in finishing the engineering degree any faster, but it opens up more flexibility for those who would like to complete a minor or take entrepreneurship courses, for example.
  • A Tutor accompanies students to the university course, and provides help to understand the material.  The course material will be used as part of the English language development.
  • There are peer leaders (senior students) who help with social activities, learning how to be successful in university, and other such things.
  • The English skills are focused on academic success, such as oral presentations, university report writing, proper citation, avoiding plagiarism, etc.  All things that are important for many engineering courses.

This program has been running for 2 or 3 years, and seems to be very successful.  Students that complete it have generally done very well (above average) once they start their full-time engineering studies.  Although it adds an extra year to the overall program, I would say it is worthwhile considering the long-term success and career impacts.  Anyway, it’s the only route available into Waterloo Engineering if your English proficiency test scores are too low.

That’s about all I recall about BASE and iBASE for the moment, but I’ll see if any of the staff want to comment further in the comment section below.

10 thoughts on “English Proficiency Requirements

  1. We have now also included our planned events in the BASE program to the BASE website at http://www.uwaterloo.ca/base. This will allow students a chance to access a listing of events through their Student Portal, and will also let prospective BASE students know about the type of co-curricular programming available.

  2. I did my TOEFL and my total score was of 103. The problem is that my writing score was of 20 points, which is below the minimum requirement. I don’t know why I got such a lower score, but I did pretty good in the other sections. Can I still apply and be considered for admission?
    I’m also taking IB English at High Level as part of my diploma, and I got 587 points on the paper based TOEFL.

    Thank you for making this blog, is really helpful.

  3. Hello! I have a question related to the TOEFL iBT, I got 92 in overall, 24 and 23 in the speaking and writing section. I read that you must get 25 in those sections and I also read that the university makes consideration in some programs if our grades fall a little bit behind, does this consideration apply for the engineering faculty ( currently applying for electrical and computer program as a first year student ), and as I read the recommendations related to English requirements above, would I have a chance to be accepted or will I get rejected ?

  4. Hi professor, I’ve got a question concerning the english proficiency requirements. Although I am currently in a french CEGEP, …[edited] Thank you very much professor and have a great day!

  5. I am an international student from Egypt, and I am very interested in UWaterloo. Regarding the English Proficiency Requirement, I am in English high school for three years and I was in preparatory school for 3 years. So, I have already completed 4 years of studying in English school, and according to your website; I don’t need to take any exam to prove my English proficiency. Will the students who took TOFEL or ILETS exams have the priority to be admitted more than I? Should I take this Exams or is it enough to send you the English proficiency certificates?

    • If you have had at least 4 years schooling in an English environment, then you don’t need to take the exams. Others who take the exams do not have priority. You either meet the requirements or not.

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