Submitting Your Admission Information Form 2017

Updated version of a past post for the 2017 admission cycle, as there have been a few small changes.

The Admission Information Form, or AIF, is the primary vehicle for applicants to tell us about themselves.  Our admission decisions are mainly based on grades, but the AIF information can help us distinguish between people who have similar grades, and we award up to 5  points onto the admission average for outstanding applicants.  Let’s go through the various parts of the AIF and see what is involved. Continue reading

Canada versus U.S.

"Flags-of-usa-and-canada" by Makaristos - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -, when Canadians speak of “Canada vs. U.S.” here it is with reference to a hockey series.  However, in celebration of Canada Day (July 1) and Independence Day (July 4) holidays, here I’m going to point out a few differences in terminology and other things that you might run across when looking at engineering programs at Canadian and U.S. post-secondary institutions. (these are based on my observations, and there will be exceptions of course, because this is a huge and complex topic) Continue reading

Admissions 2015: How it’s going to work

Here is an update on past years’ very popular post, with some revisions and clarification for the upcoming September 2015 admissions cycle.

Here is an overview on how the process is going to work and the approximate timelines.  As usual, this is specific to Waterloo Engineering admissions; other programs and universities will have their own unique variations.  Also, make sure you look through our admissions webpages for exact deadlines and official requirements since this is just an unofficial, quick overview and I can’t cover every detail for every variety of applicant and situation. Continue reading

Why Do We Care About High School English?

Although Grade 12 English (or something equivalent) is one of our admission requirements, we sometimes get applicants who question what it’s good for, and why should it hurt their chances of admission if they got low marks in that subject.  After all, engineering is just about physics, calculus, problem-solving, writing code, designing bridges and other hardware, …, isn’t it? Continue reading

Employment After Graduation?

The universities in Ontario contribute data to the “Common University Data Ontario” (CUDO) database, and this can be interesting to look at when considering applications and offers.  You can select several universities and a specific piece of data, and do some side-by-side comparisons.  One of the questions we often get from applicants and parents is about employment prospects after graduation from Engineering.  Everyone worries about graduating and not being able to find a job, so let’s look at that specific piece of information for several universities. Continue reading

How to Get an Early Offer

Lots of applicants are keen on getting an “early offer”, which for Waterloo Engineering is typically in the early March to early April timeframe (the final offer round is in early May).  There is no particular benefit to getting an early offer, other than relief from the stress of uncertainty.  Actually, there is a downside:  a few people with early offers relax too much and lose out on scholarships (which are decided in May) or sometimes even lose their offer when their final grades come out.  But most are OK, so how to get one of these early offers?  Following is a list of things to do: Continue reading

Chance Yourself

On the College Confidential forums, there are whole sections where applicants ask others to “chance me” (a rather odd use of “chance” as a verb, but anyways).  They post their stats and desired target colleges, and want others to tell them how likely they are to get an offer.  It is primarily U.S. college focused, so I thought I would develop a system where you can “chance” yourself for Waterloo Engineering, as an extension of what I discussed in the post about cut-offs. Continue reading

Engineering School Selectivity

When comparing universities there is a statistic that some people like to use called “selectivity”.  This is simply the ratio of (# of offers)/(# of applicants).  So, a school that has a lot of applicants and only sends out a few offers is considered to be “highly selective”, because their ratio will be very low.  Selective schools are sometimes viewed as more “prestigious” by administrators, parents and applicants.

This is not the whole picture however.  There is another interesting statistic called “yield”, which is the ratio of (# registered)/(# offers).  If this number is low, it means that a school sends out many offers that are not accepted by the applicants.  There are various reasons why this might be high or low, but to illustrate let’s look at some real data for 2011.  The following table was constructed using data from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) college profile database, which you can access at this link:   From this database, we can look up the number of applicants, offers, and registrants (i.e. those who accepted the offer and attended that school) for Canadian and select US engineering programs.  Then we can calculate the selectivity and yield for each, as shown below.  I also added the QS Engineering and Technology University Ranking, where available.

First, you might notice that a few Canadian schools are missing from the table.  There was no information in the ASEE database, so I presume they didn’t participate in the survey, and Western was missing one piece of data.  The McGill data was only available up to 2010, so I listed that instead.  For the U.S. schools, I just randomly selected a few well-known ones from the top end of the QS rankings.


Looking at selectivity, we see the hyper-selective U.S. schools such as MIT, Stanford, Columbia, where the ratio is 0.1 or less.  There is nothing in Canada that is quite that low.  It looks like UBC is the most “selective” in Canada, followed closely by Toronto, McGill and Waterloo.  These selectivities are not much different from many of the well-known and highly ranked U.S. schools like Michigan.

Looking at yields, Calgary comes out on top at an amazing 82%, with Alberta not far behind.  The only U.S. school coming close is Stanford.  Why are these Canadian yields so high?  I suspect is has to do with the amount of local choice.  In Calgary, you either accept the offer to your local engineering school, or move away some distance, so the tendency is for higher yields.  In southern Ontario where there are many choices within a reasonable driving distance, the yields are lower.  Likewise in the U.S., the highly ranked UC Berkeley is quite selective, but has a relatively low yield because there are plenty of top engineering schools to choose from in California.

Admission offices in universities are usually quite aware of their yield values.  They usually send out more offers than they actually have space for, knowing that only a certain fraction will likely be accepted.  It is sort of like airlines over-booking their seats, knowing that a few passengers won’t show up or will re-schedule.

Consider also that there is a connection between selectivity and yield.  If a school tends to have a high yield, they will send out fewer offers and that will drive down their selectivity ratio.  And vice versa.  So, although people tend to compare just selectivities, they can’t really be viewed in isolation.  I’ve run across rumours that some universities try to drive up the number of applications they receive, so that their selectivity ratio will be driven down and they will appear to be more “selective”.  Certainly the hyper-selective U.S. schools don’t need to encourage more applicants.  Getting admission there is already more like a lottery than a selection process.

You might think that highly selective schools would be ranked higher, so I plotted the selectivity versus QS Rank.  It looked like a random scatter graph, so there is no obvious correlation between selectivity and QS Rank (which is all reputation based).

Finally, looking under the column labelled “Registered”, we can compare the relative sizes of Engineering programs in a few schools.  Waterloo appears to be the largest in Canada, but is still quite a bit smaller than some U.S. schools like Georgia Tech.  Is a smaller school better than a larger one?  I think that’s more of a personal preference, and there’s no clear correlation between QS ranking (reputation) and the size of the school.  My view is that a larger school offers more opportunities to interact with different faculty and other students.

Choosing An Engineering Program

The online application centre recently opened for our Fall 2013 intake, and we have almost 200 applicants already!  Like all of our applicants, they had to make that tough first decision:  which engineering program should I apply to?  That’s because Waterloo does not have a general first year.  The curriculum is discipline-specific right from the first day of classes.

The reason for this lack of a general first year is simple.  All of our programs are based on the co-operative education model (experiential learning), where you alternate between on-campus academic learning, and paid employment where you learn the practical aspects of engineering and business.  This starts in first year, so to make it work effectively you need to know  where your career interests probably lie.  This doesn’t mean you’re locked into something forever, but you need a starting point at least .

There are a few other advantages of starting in your program right away:  1) the people you meet will be your classmates for the rest of your program (and potential study partners, roommates, etc.); 2) your courses can be flavoured for your discipline, even if it’s a common course like calculus; 3) there’s no need to worry about competing for limited space in popular programs for 2nd year.

The downside of course, is that you have to do some upfront work before applying to Waterloo and decide which program most likely matches your interests.  For some people, they’ve known this for years and this is easy, but for others it’s a struggle.  So, for those people consider this to be your first Waterloo engineering homework assignment.

To help applicants out with this homework, our Management Engineering students created an online quiz a few years ago.  This quiz was developed based on an extensive survey of our current students, using data mining and regression analysis techniques they learned in class. It can be accessed at this website.  Based on your answers, it gives 3 possible choices for a program that might best fit your interests.  It’s not perfect of course, and you might not have any interest in some of the suggestions.  But it can be quite useful for identifying programs that maybe you hadn’t thought about before.  So, it’s sort of a screening tool to help narrow down your search a bit.

Once you identify a few programs of possible interest, you’ll have to do some further research.  A web search can be helpful, but here are a couple of sites that seem to have good information:  and   The more you read, the easier it will be to find some examples of careers and programs that seem like the best fit.  Other information sources include:  family friends or employers, visiting Waterloo or your local university and speaking to students and faculty, or possibly a teacher in your high school studied engineering.

If after going through all this you’re still ambivalent about the choices, there are lots of other universities with general first year engineering programs.  You can postpone your decision for another year by going there.

What if you start a program at Waterloo and then want to change your mind?  That happens, and we do our best to accommodate changes.  But we usually find that after going through this homework exercise, the vast majority of students are happy with their choice (probably 98%+).  So it seems that most people get the “right answer” when they do the homework.

What’s the Cut-Off?

Around this time of year, “What’s the cut-off?” is probably the most common question we get about admission to our engineering programs.  A very reasonable question, and one that helps potential applicants know their chances for admission.  Unfortunately, it’s a question we can’t really answer.  Not because we’re secretive or trying to be coy, it’s just a question without a direct answer for a number of  reasons. Continue reading