Common American Questions

After attending some U.S. STEM college fairs and talking to lots of students and families, I’ve noticed that there are some common themes and questions that come up.  For all those who we weren’t able to meet, maybe it’s worthwhile summarising them here with our responses (as usual, these are specific to engineering, and it’s not just Americans that ask these questions).

  1. Where is Waterloo?  In Canada, about 1 hour drive west of the Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ), and about 1½ hour drive from the U.S. border at Buffalo, New York.
  2. How big is the university?  About 35,000 students, which is medium-sized for Canada.  At any one time, the actual student population on campus is  lower because a lot are away on co-op work term placements.
  3. Isn’t it cold there?  Perhaps compared to some places.  But the weather isn’t much different from northeastern U.S. cities like Chicago, Pittsburgh, or Boston.
  4. How many international students attend Waterloo?  About 20% of Waterloo students are not Canadian, from over 80 countries including the United States.  In Engineering, the number is a bit lower, about 12 to 13%, due to our limited number of spaces for non-Canadians.
  5. What is the student:faculty ratio in engineering?  This is complicated.  There are about 7,600 undergraduate students and 309 faculty (see our statistics page) so that ratio would be about 25:1.  But at any particular point in time, almost half our students are not in classes but away in co-op employment.  Does that mean the ratio is about 13:1?  I’m not sure how to best express this ratio for Waterloo.
  6. What are your SAT or ACT requirements for engineering?  We don’t have specific numerical requirements.  We ask for those tests and consider them as part of the overall assessment, together with everything else.
  7. What is the GPA requirement?  Unlike some American colleges, we don’t look at cumulative high school GPA (frankly, who cares what happened in freshman & sophomore courses?).  We mainly focus on the senior level English, and required math and science courses.  Generally, straight A’s would be competitive (and some A+’s if the school uses them).
  8. Do you declare your engineering major in second year?  No, we have direct entry into the engineering program of interest.  There is no general education first year common in other colleges, and you start getting right into engineering concepts, projects, and examples from day one.
  9. Do you have a “weeding out” process in first year?  No, our goal is to have as  high a success rate as possible, and we invest in significant resources for extra-help, tutoring, success coaching, academic and personal counseling.  This is available within Engineering’s First Year Office and at the university’s Student Success Office.
  10. Do you give first year credit for AP courses?  No.  Our first year courses may go beyond what AP covers and they include more engineering-specific content (see point #8 above about direct entry).  Missing this content would put students at a disadvantage for the next course.
  11. How many of the engineering classes are taught by regular faculty?  Almost all of our engineering courses are taught by regular, full-time faculty.  We only use part-time contract “sessional” instructors in a few cases where we are temporarily short-staffed.  At Waterloo Engineering, all faculty are expected to teach classes, even the top researchers.  Some of our best instructors and researchers are actually involved in teaching first-year courses (see point #8 about direct entry above).
  12. What is the tuition and fees?  About CDN$42,000 per academic year for non-Canadian engineering students (which is about US$33,000 at present, similar to what some US colleges charge for out-of-state students).  It’s also important to remember that Waterloo’s co-op education structure means that the 4 academic years of tuition are spread out over 5 years, and students earn $75,000+ on average during their paid work term employment.  For comparison, the University of Toronto’s engineering tuition + fees is about CDN$56,400 per academic year for non-Canadians.
  13. Is the Canadian engineering education recognized by the American professional engineering licensing bodies?  Yes, the Canadian (Engineers Canada) and American (ABET) accreditation programs have longstanding mutual recognition agreements.  You’re eligible to apply for the P.E. license in the States with our education.
  14. What sort of student do you think is a good fit for Waterloo?  (from a guidance counselor)  That’s a very good question!    Some generic thoughts might include someone who:
    1. is academically very good in math, science, English and humanities, but also likes a mix of theory and hands-on practical design;
    2. knows about engineering and wants to pursue it for the right reasons;
    3. is willing to commit the time and effort to succeeding, and likes to be challenged;
    4. is not too afraid of constant upheaval (alternating between co-op jobs and campus study every 4 months);
    5. is a bit adventurous and willing to try new jobs and locations;
    6. is perhaps interested in entrepreneurship, innovation, and having an impact on their company, community or country.  Maybe even someday starting their own company.
    7. is well-rounded and not just all about studying and marks.  People who might get involved in the student Engineering Society, a student design team, Orchestra at Waterloo, sports, charities, other clubs.  There are lots of things to do and people to meet.
  15. Are you required to live on campus?  No, although we guarantee on-campus residence for first year students if they want it (and most do).  Most upper-year students live off-campus with friends and class-mates.  Off-campus housing is plentiful and relatively inexpensive.

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