Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Thoughts on Admissions and Applications...

It is that time of year when grade 12 students are anxiously waiting to hear if they have been admitted or not. This has made me reflect on when I was in grade 12 and what I've learned since then.

I remember when I was in grade 12, everyone told me that UW Engineering was so hard to get accepted into and that once you were there it was an extremely difficult program. I was worried that even if I was accepted, it would be too difficult and that I wouldn't be successful. I was so worried about this, that for a while I almost chose to go into science instead. Looking back, I am so glad that I faced my fears and accepted my offer!

That was a few years ago now. So I have a much different perspective on UW Engineering than I did when I was in grade 12 and there are a few things that I wish I could have heard.

1. Engineering is challenging but it is not impossible and you can still have other interests!
The people who study Engineering are regular people. We all have lives and interests outside of engineering (as you can see from all the awesome things that people are posting about on this blog!) Engineering will make you work hard but it will also help you to learn so much about the world around you. Most importantly, if you are struggling there are so many people watching out for you who are willing to help if you need it.

2. Extracurricular Activities really do matter!
UW really does read every admissions information form that they receive. Engineering is so broad that all different skill sets and abilities bring different assets to one's experiences as an Engineer.

3. The guys who apply for engineering don't actually know any more than you do!
I remember for the first couple of months in Engineering I was so worried! All of the guys in my class could go on and on about engineering things that I had never heard of - so I figured that they all knew so much more than I did. I was so shocked when midterms came and I did just as well as them. Eventually, I came to realize that most of those guys didn't know anything more than me - they were just better at pretending. If you speak with confidence it is amazing how many people you can convince! So don't be scared off by people who are good at pretending to know more than you.

4. You won't be just a number!
I remember in high school all of my teachers and guidance counselors tried to prepare all of us for becoming 'just a number' in university. In engineering this is not the case! At UW, you will have almost all of your classes with the same group of about 50-100 people. That may seem like a lot of people, but you will be surprised by how quickly you learn everyone's name. Everyone in my class knows each other - which is really helpful whenever you have a question with homework or a project! Also, professors really care about their students. Whenever I pass by a professor in the hall, she or he always recognizes me and says hi.

5. Engineering is full of group work!
This was a huge surprise to me. In high school, I always thought that engineering would be such a solitary degree and that I would always be working by myself. I couldn't have been more wrong! Every term we have tonnes of group projects (probably more group projects than individual projects). This is really important to being an Engineer because at work I am always working as a part of a team!

Some final thoughts...
As a Women in Engineering Director, I participate in meetings with the Women in Engineering Committee. One of the past members of this committee was the UW Engineering Admissions Director. One of the things that she would frequently talk about was that girls in high school tend to "self-select" themselves. Meaning that if a program required an average of 80%, girls would generally only apply if they had an average of 82% but lots of guys with an average of 78% would end up getting accepted. These guys will then go on to be completely successful in the program. So my final piece of encouragement is that "you can do it!"

So.. if you're in grade 11 - apply next year! If you're in grade 12 - accept your offer!


  1. So many good points! No self selecting, girls!

    Also, though many people do fail a year of engineering (which isn't the worst thing in the world; you just redo a year) I find that only a very small percentage of the girls I know have failed out! Interesting!

  2. There is actually a bit of an expectation that the girls do better. No pressure or anything of course...

    Percentage wise, I think there's slightly fewer women in the top of my class than men. Of course, when that means that there's 2 in the top 15 or 20, it sounds like a statistical anomily to me.

  3. When I graduated from Civil Engineering at Waterloo in 1990, each class (civil, mechanical, electrical etc) recognized its top-ranked students, and all but one of these was a woman. The overall top-ranked graduating student that year (out of all the classes) was also a woman. Women can certainly do just as well as men.

    But I agree there's some self-selection going on. At the time, I figured only the women with the best marks were applying to engineering whereas lots of men with average marks applied. Almost 20 years later, I hope that has changed. Remember: yes, you can!

  4. I am thinking about graduating in engineering some day

  5. Hi, what was your high school average when you applied? :)

    I'm interested in civil engineering at Waterloo, and I get high 80s/low 90s in my classes, except I'm expecting about a 75 in English this year.

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