What are Extracurriculars?

When faced with the task of submitting our Admission Information Form (AIF), there is sometimes some confusion over what to list in the “Extracurriculars” section.  According to some dictionaries, “extracurricular” refers to activities at a school, but outside the regular classroom (or curriculum).  While that is true, for university admissions the definition is usually much broader in practice.  So, extracurriculars are not just school clubs and sports.  We look for anything that takes place outside of a classroom, whether organized through the school or not.  This would include activities with community groups, religious organizations, political and activist groups, recreational or competitive sports with community organizations (e.g. hockey and soccer leagues), cultural groups (theatre, choir, orchestra, art), cadets (army, navy and air) and scouts, and many other similar things.

It also includes things you might do on a more individual level, like music (perhaps Grade 8 or 10 RCM exams, or a band or performing group), art/photography, skiing, landscaping, automotive restoration, etc.  It will also include hobby types of activities, like writing poetry or blogs, reading 19th century literature, music, model trains, writing software, raising show dogs or horses, gaming, stock market investing, …

So, for our purposes “extracurricular” means essentially anything outside the classroom.  If it’s something you’re truly interested in and spend some time at, then certainly list it.  This is your chance to show us more about who you are, aside from the grades we see on transcripts.

On the other hand, don’t make a long list of little things that you tried for a few hours now and then.  It is not impressive.  Stick with the significant things you’ve done over a long period, or that required a lot of hours over a short period.

Don’t worry if you only have a few extracurriculars.  That is actually fairly normal and completely understandable.  Also don’t worry if your extracurriculars are not “engineering” related.  We don’t really expect them to be.  Again, this is about you telling us about yourself.  We don’t have any preconceived notions about what people should do in their spare time, so don’t try to second guess what it is we are looking for.

CEGEP Applicants

At our recent Fall Open House I met several prospective applicants who are enrolled in the CEGEP system.  That’s a long trip for a few hours at an open house, but it was nice to meet them.

The Province of Québec has a somewhat unique junior college system that starts after Grade 11, called CEGEP.  We don’t get a whole lot of applicants from CEGEPs, but we certainly admit a few each year and they tend to do quite well in our engineering programs.

The posted admission requirements for CEGEP are:

Linear Algebra; 2 English 603 or 604 series; Calculus I (Calculus II recommended); Chemistry I and II; and Mechanics plus either Electricity & Magnetism; or Waves, Optics & Modern Physics, with a total of 12 academic courses.

It’s sometimes difficult for CEGEP students to complete all those courses in their first year (especially Linear Algebra), so many applicants come from the second year of CEGEP.  Since our programs are designed with to work with the Ontario high school curriculum, CEGEP applicants tend to be over-prepared (which is probably why they do so well), but that’s better than being under-prepared.

The good news is that our generic posted admission averages don’t really directly apply to CEGEP applicants.  Our adjustment factors for CEGEP will allow for applicants with average grades (for the required courses) in the low 80’s to have a decent chance at admission to most programs (but as usual, the higher the grades the better).  So CEGEP applicants should pay no attention to stuff they see online about needing 90s or 95s to get into Waterloo.

Looking at Admission Essays

I came across these examples of admissions essays at Johns Hopkins University a while ago:  http://apply.jhu.edu/apply/essays.html

They are interesting, engaging, witty, nicely written.  But frankly, I’m glad we don’t make our applicants submit essays.  I think I much prefer our Admission Information Form.  Much more brief, to the point, quicker to read  (sort of what an engineering report should be).

I know from other reading that there are various concerns with these college admission essays.  How much of it is the work of the applicant, versus parents or admissions consultants?  Was it purchased or plagiarised from somewhere? (There is a Turnitin for Admissions service that some universities use to check for that.) Does a good essay translate into a good engineering student?  Lots of questions, and not so many answers.

Some of our applicants complain about having to fill out our AIF.  I suspect that they would like submitting an essay even less.

Chances for 2014

The 2014 Admissions brochures for Engineering and other programs have recently been uploaded.  Last year, for the first time, we included a table showing admission probabilities (“chances”) for different programs and grade ranges.  It seemed to be well-received and many people found it to be useful, so we revised and updated a new one for 2014.  Below is a copy of it (sorry about the image quality).  This is based on the 2013 results and as usual we caution that 2014 may be different, since it all depends on the competition level (which is unknown in advance). Continue reading

Switching Engineering Programs

A prior post dealt with transferring into Waterloo Engineering from some other program or university.  More frequently, the question is “can I switch to X Engineering if I start in Y Engineering?” (where X and Y are two of our own engineering programs).  This is an “internal transfer” process, so no OUAC application is necessary and there is a bit more flexibility.  But it is also potentially more confusing, so let’s look at some scenarios. Continue reading

Decision Analysis for Your Offers

At this time of year, applicants have often received two or more offers to a university program so the next step is to decide which one to accept.  You could just randomly pick one, or survey your friends and family to see which one is the most recommended.   But scientists and engineers tend to prefer more evidence-based and rational methods for choosing things, what is sometimes refered to as “decision analysis”.  Most engineering programs introduce this, either formally or informally, at some point because engineers frequently have to decide from among several alternatives.  Let’s illustrate it, as applied to the problem of selecting a university offer. Continue reading

Comparing Scholarship Offers

During our last round of offers in May, we also decide on entrance scholarship awards based on a combination of grades and the AIF score. (These are separate from the $1000 Merit and $2000 President’s scholarships that are automatically awarded based on admission averages over 85%.  Almost all Engineering students get these.)  Our engineering entrance scholarships range in value from $1,000 to $20,000, but the majority are around $3,500.  Some are from the university, but many are gifts from alumni, companies, and other donors (thanks!).  In total, there around  200 spread among the 1500 students that come in September, so I suppose the odds of getting one are about 15%.  For those comparing offers, here are a few observations about entrance scholarships, at Waterloo and in general. Continue reading

Transferring to Waterloo Enginering

Another common question during our admission cycle is whether someone can start a program (let’s assume engineering) at another university, then transfer into Waterloo for 2nd or 3rd year.  These might be people who didn’t get an offer to Waterloo, or maybe want to try another place first but keep their options open.  The short answer is that yes, it is technically feasible, but the likelihood of successful admission to 2nd year is pretty low.  Here are some of the major reasons why: Continue reading

Considering an Alternate Offer

When people apply to Waterloo Engineering, they apply to the program of most interest but can also identify a second and third choice on their AIF.  That way, if they are not quite competitive for the 1st choice, we can still consider them for one of the other two.  We assume that the choices are ranked in descending order of preference, so we try to get the 2nd choice if possible, then the 3rd.  This year, about 300 people got one of these alternate offers to their 2nd or 3rd choice (a typical number each year).  Some people are quite happy with their alternate offer.  Others, not so much.  Those holding an alternate offer will have to decide what to do with it, so here are a few questions that commonly come up. Continue reading