How to get into Waterloo Computer Science and U of T Engineering
The following interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Meet the Interviewee: Raina Doshi
Raina is a second-year student at the University of Waterloo, where she is specializing in Computer Science, a program that has consistently been considered one of the top Computer Science programs in the world. Raina also got into Engineering Science at the University of Toronto, another notoriously competitive STEM program.
What sparked your interest in the programs?
“Engineering Science at the University of Toronto (UoFT) is a multidisciplinary engineering program with a rigorous focus on math, science, and engineering. I was interested in it because it offered a unique experience that allowed me to focus on all of these subject areas in depth. It also offered unique projects such as building your own robot from scratch.
Computer Science at Waterloo offers a different kind of focus. Computer Science is part of the Faculty of Mathematics, which means that we have a lot of specialized resources and events for Math students. An education in advanced math also provides a strong foundation for Computer Science, since many concepts stem from Mathematics. Learning the mathematical theory behind computer science concepts allows me to appreciate and understand these applications better.”
What was your grade average upon applying to the programs?
What did the supplementary applications entail?
“Both U of T and Waterloo require you to fill out your extracurriculars. The general idea is that they want to see that you are interested in things beyond academics… that you have a passion for other things that are not required for you. What this shows universities is that you are going to continue these passions and bring in a different perspective to their program and, ultimately, represent them well. In this component, you should include all of the extracurriculars that you have participated in within your high school years, both in and out of school. You are also asked to include dates, so ensure that even if your dates are approximate, they are consistent to your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other places. It also doesn’t matter whether you have extracurricular activities related to the programs you are applying to. In fact, my application consisted of a few extracurricular activities in which I held leadership positions and had been a part of them for quite a few years.”
If there was an essay question, what did you include in yours? If there was an interview, what were some of the questions they asked you?
“U of T Engineering has an online interview component with three parts. Each part gives you a couple of minutes to prepare for your answers and then a couple of minutes to communicate them. The first question is a classic interview question (along the lines of, “Why are you interested in this program?”, “What are your strengths/weakness?”, etc.). The second question was actually a written component. The main goal of this question was to see what kind of student you are and where your values lie. Finally, there was a problem-solving question aimed at understanding your thought process. It was an open-ended question, not based on any subject-area.
Waterloo had an essay question asking about my interests in the program and my academic goals. I talked about what I was hoping to gain from the program and why it was important to me. I also spoke about specific resources and events at Waterloo that I was interested in and explained why I was excited about those opportunities.”
Honestly, why did you think the program selected you? What do you think set you apart from other students who applied?
“Most students who apply are incredibly strong academically, and their grades show it. They also have a plethora of extracurricular activities that showcase their interests and skills. So what ultimately sets you apart from other students is the supplementary component since that is the most standardized method they have to weigh you. Many students find the supplementary application daunting, especially since they have worked so hard to attain high marks and find that even those are not enough.
Yet, in my case, the supplementary application was probably why I got selected for these two extremely competitive programs. The interview process for Engineering Science was an incredible experience for me. I loved the questions I got, and I was also really interested in the program. And my passion was shown throughout the interview. I believe that, combined with the rest of my application package (grades, extracurriculars, etc.), this set me apart and ultimately got me an acceptance.
It was a similar case for Computer Science. My passion for the program shone through my writing (again, combined with grades, extracurriculars, math contest scores, etc.) and got me an acceptance.
If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what would you tell your former self upon preparing for the application?
“For highly competitive programs, there is usually a supplementary application component. Waterloo had the AIF, whereas UoFT had the video interview. Through this process, the university is trying to see who you are. Looking back, I would spend more time preparing for these components by reflecting on my post-secondary goals, interests and thinking about how I would answer classic interview questions. I think this is especially important because supplementary application components are how universities distinguish you from other candidates. The best way you can communicate that in an interview or personal essay is by first knowing who you are and what you want.”
Based on your experience in the program, would you recommend Grade 12 students to apply? If so, what advice would you give them?
“I am currently a second year Computer Science student at the University of Waterloo, and everyday I have spent at the university has affirmed my choice more. I would definitely recommend Grade 12 students to apply. When applying to a program, regardless of what program it is, ensure that it allows you to grow. Research programs of interest and think about how these programs will allow you to develop your skills. Very few students at this point in time have concrete goals about post-undergrad, so ensuring you are applying to programs that will allow you to develop skills that are transferable and interesting to you is key. Research these programs and ensure you understand what kind of candidates they are seeking. That is your biggest indicator as to whether that program is right for you. Having a solid understanding of what kind of student a program is looking for also allows you to market yourself better.”