Yet another academic year has started, and with that the topic of Universities has been brought up. Frosh students are sharing their excitement about finally making it to their campus of choice, while those entering the 12th grade are asking what they should do differently in their last year of high school to improve their chances. The medium sized University of Waterloo (located in Waterloo, Ontario) is world famous for its co-operative education program, Math and Engineering, and is a popular choice for those considering to pursue a degree in Computer Science. A number of CompSci.ca moderators and members currently attend UW, many more are asking about it. This is my review for those considering the University of Waterloo.
Program specific information could be found on UW’s website, though generally 80% average will get you accepted into most programs. There are two important things to consider when it comes to your admission average – school weighting and AIF. School weighting essentially refers to the reputation of your high school, and students from stronger schools get bonus marks added onto their admission average. The said weighting is determined by the performance of previous students, and so by example: if a number of students from your high school get accepted with 90s, but perform poorly – that school is now considered to over inflate the marks, and you receive a deduction to be more accurately compared against students from other schools. There is not much to be done about this and many Universities employ this technique, so it might be a good idea to talk to some current UW students that came from your high school and estimate the weighting – perhaps you need to reconsider your target goals, or find out that you have a realistic chance at a stronger program.
Though Waterloo also offers an opportunity to distinguish yourself from others, with what is known as an Additional Information Form (more on AIF).
“When we make our admissions decisions, we look at other factors in addition to grades. The Admission Information Form (AIF) is your chance to tell us more about yourself and what you do beyond the classroom, so go ahead and brag a little!”
This is your chance to explain why your marks are lower than they should be, talk about your extracurricular activities, and any distinctions. For Math and Engineering programs, participation in contests (especially Euclid and CCC) also score bonus points. As well, a recommendation letter from your teacher is attached. All together, it is said that a good AIF could boost one’s admission average by up to 10%. It is important to display your desire and ability to learn, especially if that does not show well in your particular school.
Residence is a big expense, but there is a great academic value in living close to campus of your choice. Social life and collaboration with peers is centred on campus. If tight on budget, I would recommend living off-campus (though preferably a walking or biking distance away), as it is less expensive. A lot of housing surrounding the university is available for rent, and you could probably get a nice deal from renting out an entire house with some friends. Additionally students desperate to sublease their residence for the off-term might give a yet cheaper deal. Personally I enjoy the quiet and privacy of my own place. It is actually nicer and much bigger than university housing, and cheaper too!
Books are another place to save big (as the expense is also big). The Used Book Store sells textbooks on campus at a discount, and also helps you sell them back. You get your money only if sold, but you get to keep 85% of the price. So if you manage to buy a used book and sell it back, the term’s usage has cost you only 12% of the full price; although book editions tend to change every couple of years, so you might have to sell them elsewhere. And although not unique to the University of Waterloo, I have heard that eBay and Amazon offer textbooks for cheaper as well.
If there is one reason to attend the University of Waterloo, the co-op system would be it. Alternating work with study is an ingenious approach that offers a break from lectures, while providing up to two years of real experience in the industry before graduation. It is an excellent way to offset the tuition cost, and together with OSAP it is feasible to graduate with no student debt.
Depending on the program, you would often have a choice between entering Stream-4 or Stream-8 co-op schedule. Stream-4 refers to students who start work in January, after only a single academic term, while Stream-8 students will be off-stream (in school while others work) as to not over-flood the market, and will start work in May. From then on, on campus academics and often away-from-the-city work switch every four months. The stream choice is often a heated debate among the applying students, and while it is perceived that with Stream-8 one would have one more academic term of experience when applying for a job, it is also more difficult to find a job during the summer months as non co-op students look for jobs as well. Ultimately it does not matter after the first year, and some programs do not even give a choice for preference.
Strong industry ties place students on work terms at companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Bill Gates himself has recently visited UW, and Google has aquired an office in the city. RIM is quite literally across the street from the main campus, and hires hundreds of co-op students each term. Some of my friends have had their work show up in RIM’s and IBM’s products, and that is rather cool.
You will get out of university whatever you put in, and clubs are a great way to put in more. From having fun, and meeting cool new people, to learning application and gaining practical experience to show off on your resume – there are many clubs at the university to enhance your overall experience.
A few sample clubs available are:
If you do not find what you are looking for, you will be provided with resources to start your own club! And of course you could just grab a ball, some roommates and head over to play on one of the sports fields around campus – no membership required.
Waterloo is full of wild life. It does not compare to Lakehead U’s bear warnings, but it is a nice change from urban theme of concrete shades. It is not uncommon to see bunnies and squirrels on campus. The adjacent park has a miniature zoo with a llama and more bunnies. And the University of Waterloo just would not be the same without the resident campus geese.
The university town (also home to Wilfred Laurier) is student oriented, and offers many choices for residence, activities, and entertainment to suite your style and budget.
The university promotes innovation, and offers many outlets for such.
The co-op program will let you work at 6 different places before graduation. You will learn as much as you would in a classroom, familiarize yourself with the industry, and hopefully find out what you really want to do in life. And ultimately that is the purpose of attending a university.
If there are any more specific questions, you could leave me a comment.