Applying Strategically

Our applications continue to flow in at this time of year.  I haven’t seen any detailed information yet, but there are indications that our applicant numbers from outside Ontario are up significantly.  We’ll probably know more in a few weeks, but it seems likely that this year certainly won’t be any less competitive than last.  With competition for limited spaces, it pays to be strategic about your applications.

To assist potential applicants, we try to provide as much useful information as we can about required courses, grades, careers, what to expect, etc.  On this blog I provide some data on likely chances for admission and selecting programs.  Using all this information, hopefully applicants can make realistic and suitable decisions about programs and what to apply for.  Here is a list of typical strategic mistakes that a few people make when applying, based on our experience:

  1. Applying to one of the less competitive engineering, math, science or other programs, assuming that you’ll get an offer and can then switch to the more competitive program you really want.  For Waterloo Engineering, this switch is unlikely to happen and you will probably be somewhat stuck in the program you picked.  There is rarely any space for switching into the more competitive programs.
  2. Applying to a program that you don’t know much about, figuring that you can give it a try and see how you like it.  That’s OK, but if you don’t like it you are again somewhat stuck and may have to lose a year to switch to something else, if it’s even possible.
  3. Applying to the most competitive programs (like Software and Biomedical) just to see if you get an offer, but assuming that you will get your alternate choice because your grades are quite good.  This is one of the worst strategic mistakes.  Why?  We have a limit on how many alternate choice people we will put into a given program.  For example, we don’t want a Computer Engineering class that is full of people who’s first choice was Software and Biomedical Engineering.  We do want a majority of people in Computer Engineering who have researched the program and have decided that it is a good fit with their main interests.  There were a lot of applicants to Software and Biomedical Engineering last year who got no offer to any engineering program because of these factors.
  4. Applying to programs without looking at the full curriculum, especially the upper year courses.  Most engineering programs have some overlap in the first year, so just looking at those courses is not a good indication of what the program is like.  If you look at the upper year and elective courses and they don’t strike your interest, then that’s a warning sign.  It’s better to look ahead before applying than after you arrive and start the program.

So those are a few of the key mistakes we see, and the solution should be obvious for each one.  Carefully research the programs, consider your level of competitiveness, apply to the program that is really the best fit, and keep your options open at other universities too.

20 thoughts on “Applying Strategically

  1. Very helpful. Thank you. I have one question about the OUAC process. While waiting for Waterloo’s decision, if I accept an offer from another university, would you consider my acceptance of the other offer while evaluating my application? Would it impact my Waterloo application negatively? Thank you.

  2. Please suggest if it is possible to change the engineering programme in Quest application format now from Mechatronics to Management Engineering. I notice that only an alternate choice can be offered in AIF and the first choice selected in OUAC cannot be changed here.

  3. Thanks for the advice. I just a question regarding mid-term marks of the second semester. Since they are not posted on the OUAC system for Ontario students, how would the admissions office know weather or not their performance was better in the second semester? And if their grade 11 marks were much worse than their second semester grade 12 marks, would they lose their shot at Waterloo eng.?

    Thanks in advance.

  4. I applied to software engineering with an alternative of computer engineering before this post was published. Due to the deadlines, it appears to be difficult to make amendments to these choices in accordance to what you have said above. What would you recommend in this situation? What do you think are the general chances of getting an offer from computer engineering if not admitted into software engineering.

    Thank you for your time.

    • It’s possible to make changes until the choices close on the OUAC application centre. The application numbers for computer engineering seem to have grown by around 30%, so it may be approaching a similar level of competition as software engineering.

  5. Hello prof,

    Thank you for writing this article, it was very informative.

    1.Can you please let me know how many spots are available in the software engineering program?
    2. I would like to apply to both SE and the computer science program. Am I supposed to add computer science from Waterloo as a separate program choice on my OUAC with SE being the other one? (and also consequently pay the application fee twice)

    Awaiting reply, thank you.

    • Software engineering has around 120 available places. If you want to be considered for both SE and CS, yes you have to apply to both separately through OUAC. Admission is considered separately, and independently, because CS is not part of the engineering faculty.

  6. How much of a negative impact would other students who only applied to software engineering just to see if they can get admitted or in hopes of being deferred or switching out have on students who truly want to get into SE? In other words, to what extent does the artificial competition created by students who don’t truly want to pursue SE negatively impact those who do (want to pursue SE)?

  7. Thanks for the advice! I just have a quick question about the deadlines for submitting the AIF and interview for early admission. I heard it was February 1st from other sources but I’m not entirely sure if it’s true. Can you confirm it?

    Thanks in advance!

    • There is no specific deadline where we can guarantee that it will have some effect for early rounds. It depends on how our internal processes are going, so we just recommend submitting them sooner rather than later. March 1 is a hard deadline, beyond which we won’t accept any more submissions.

  8. If I apply for an Entrance Bursary, would it have any impact on the admission decision? In Engineering or in the Math faculty? Thank you.

  9. In your applying strategically post, you mention that the computer engineering applications have gone up 30%. Is this jump for Canadian applications or international ones?

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