Ignore the Rankings

A group affiliated with the Stanford University Graduate School of Education has put out an interesting analysis and report “A ‘Fit’ Over Rankings:  Why College Engagement Matters More Than Selectivity”.   Basically it says that college rankings are not a useful indicator for quality or outcomes from a student’s perspective.  Students and parents would be better off ignoring rankings when choosing a college or university.  “Selectivity” (how hard it is to get an offer) is not a reliable indicator either.

What is important is “engagement” inside and outside the classroom.  Opportunities for internships (or co-op), mentors, long-term projects (maybe like student design teams?) are all examples of “engagement” that they cite in the report.  There are lots of other interesting details and observations, so I highly recommend having a look at it if you’re thinking about applying to university.

Engineering Failure Rates-Redux

Here’s an update on a popular old post, with some new data and comments.

I’m never quite sure why people ask about failure rates, or what they are expecting.  Do they want to hear that the failure rate is high, so they are convinced it’s a tough (and therefore good) program?  Or maybe they don’t want the failure rate to be high, because they are concerned that they won’t be successful?  I’m not sure what the motivation for the question is, but anyways let’s examine failure rates.  Continue reading

11 Surprising Things to Keep On Your Resume – Glassdoor Blog

Some interesting ideas in this article.  Although written for permanent job seekers, it could also be very applicable to co-op students and high school students applying for university programs.  Some of those things are what can make you stand out from the crowd, in my experience on the hiring and admissions side.

Stand up comedian? Competitive athlete? Find out what surprising skills should stay on your resume.

Source: 11 Surprising Things to Keep On Your Resume – Glassdoor Blog

Applying to University Should be Like Applying for Jobs

As high school students return to class, here is some key advice for those planning to apply to university or college.  I strongly suggest that when applying to a post-secondary program, it should be treated like applying for a job or career.  There should be some significant self-reflection and “selling yourself” to the university.  The self-reflection part is derived from Prof. Larry Smith’s book, which I have briefly reviewed before.  It’s very important to know why you’re doing something before doing it.  The “selling yourself” part builds on this, and can be illustrated with an example that is a composite of stuff we see for Engineering applications.  For this example, let’s consider two hypothetical applicants to Mechanical Engineering, both with similar grades (say low 90’s) and similar other activities.  Each applicant writes something in their Admission Information Form, along the lines of the following… Continue reading

Is there grade inflation?

I get asked about the grade inflation that I’ve seen over the years.  I know that there is anecdotal evidence of grade inflation from various sources.  For example, the GCE A Level exams (based in the UK) had to introduce a new top grade (A*) because so many people were getting the previous top grade (A) that it was becoming somewhat meaningless.  Likewise, as I mentioned in another post there are reports that over half of U.S. high school graduates have “A” averages.  However from my side I can’t make any conclusions based on our admissions data.  Here is why… Continue reading

Countdown

The deadline is quickly approaching for accepting offers on the OUAC application site.  Our deadline for Engineering offers is Friday June 1 at midnight (Toronto/Eastern time).  As a word of advice, don’t leave it to the last few minutes.  If you have computer problems and miss the deadline there aren’t any extensions available, the system closes.

Preliminary data indicates that we will likely meet or exceed our targets for the programs but we won’t know for sure for a few more weeks while we check the data and ensure that all the offer conditions have been met.  However, if you’re accepting an offer with the intention of transferring into Computer Engineering, it is pretty clear now that there will be no spaces.  If Computer Engineering is your true goal, you’re better off accepting an offer at another university if you have one.  This likely even applies to students in Electrical Engineering looking to switch to Computer.  In the past this has been straightforward, but the numbers may make this switch difficult from now on due to upper year course space limits.  Computer/Electrical Engineering transfers are generally possible in the early part of the programs, but there are never guarantees.

Overall, our general advice still applies:  don’t accept an engineering offer with the intention of immediately trying to change programs.  Generally, this is not going to happen because our lab and class facilities are full and going any further impacts on the quality we can offer the current students.

 

Admissions Decisions Finished

All offers and rejections for our Engineering programs have now been posted on our Quest system and the offers eventually show up on the OUAC system too.  Every year’s admissions seems to get a little more challenging and complicated and this year was no different with about 13,000 applications and the launch of our new Architectural Engineering program.  As usual, there are a few happy people and a lot that are not so happy.  For perspective, a few statistics might be helpful:

  1. Applications overall were up between 5 and 10%, but a few programs stood out.  Namely, Computer and Systems Design Engineering applications were up about 30% each, and Biomedical up about 15%.  Increased applications means higher competition and more rejections since the available spaces didn’t change.
  2. Overall, about 75% of our applicants did not receive an offer.  For some programs like Software and Biomedical Engineering, closer to 90% of applicants didn’t receive offers since there were so many applicants and a very limited number of spaces.
  3. As usual, we gave out some alternate choice offers in a number of programs, although there are limits to how many we will offer in any one program.  This year, a lot of Software applicants put Computer Engineering as an alternate, which makes some sense.  But with the 30% increase in Computer applications, there was quite a bottleneck and many were no doubt surprised to get no offer.

At this stage, all of our spaces are now allocated and we wait until the summer to see if the predicted number of people accept the offers.  We don’t have an appeal or reconsideration process, because the spaces are filled to the limits (and beyond).  We make more offers than there are spaces, with the assumption that a certain fraction will choose to go somewhere else.  Generally our predictions are accurate within 1 or 2%, and there are usually no spaces opening up during the summer.

For those with offers to engineering and are thinking about wanting to change programs, our suggestion is to forget about it.  Recent experience suggests that it is not likely to happen because of space limitations in most programs, even after first year.  The engineering programs have no obligation to take transfers, and lately many have refused to do so.  Therefore, if you’re not reasonably sure that you will be satisfied with the offer you have, you should seriously consider another offer.  Our open house event for admitted applicants on Saturday May 26 is a good last chance to visit and discuss your potential future program with faculty and students.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence, or AI, seems to be the popular topic in media these days, and I have had a number of questions about it from prospective students and families over the past year.  The short answer is yes, we do have AI in our Engineering programs.  In fact, we have an “Option in Artificial Intelligence”  available for students in any engineering program.  This is essentially like a “Minor” in the topic, a package of courses related to the field (at Waterloo our terminology is a bit different, so we don’t call it a “minor”).  If you complete the package of courses, you’ll have the designation on your transcript and diploma when you graduate.

Although AI seems new and exciting, the roots and development are actually fairly old, having a basis in  ancient philosophy and mathematics.  Even the more modern versions and applications of AI go back over 50 years to the initial developments in  computational machines.  One misunderstanding is that AI is all about programming, but it is actually highly mathematical at its core.  Programming is just a tool for implementing the math and various algorithms.

Some people may be surprised to know that the mathematical tools and foundations for AI are not even limited to computer science or computer engineering.  My colleagues in Chemical Engineering have been using them for decades for various purposes, and here are a few quick examples with links for further information.

Optimization methods are often a part of chemical plant design, scheduling, cost minimization, and various other things like this example on planning electricity generation.  The control of complex chemical plant processes has been researched using artificial neural networks, like this simpler example of crude oil desaltingBayesian inference methods are employed for dealing with the significant uncertainties in chemical processes, even by me many years agoKalman filter techniques are used to help us handle the noisy data coming from chemical processes, including this example from biotechnology.  And there are lots of other examples, just in Chemical Engineering alone, not even looking at Civil, Mechanical and others (where I know they also use these advanced mathematical techniques).

Just another example of how broad and diverse the engineering fields are, and how concepts and tools are spread and shared across all these disciplines.