Ten reasons to join a University College

Finding your new community

If you’re like me and want the perks and opportunities of a big university while also getting the more personal and intimate experience of a smaller campus, I have just the solution: University Colleges! There are four University Colleges at Waterloo: St. Jerome’s, Conrad Grebel, St. Paul’s, and Renison. Each one offers similar things but with slight variations.

You might be wondering what's a University College and why should you consider getting involved?

At Waterloo, the University Colleges are smaller communities that offer residence and academic programs within the larger University of Waterloo. Each of our University Colleges has its own character and distinctive programs where you can get involved and feel supported. You'll study and/or live in a close-knit community while having access to all services and facilities at Waterloo. What does that mean? It means you'll have all the benefits of a smaller college community while still being very much a part of a larger university. 

Each of Waterloo's University Colleges offer:

  • residences available to all Waterloo students, regardless of your program
  • an all-you-can-eat style meal plan (and chocolate milk on tap!)
  • opportunities to engage in student life programming and become a student leader
  • smaller class sizes that provide opportunities to interact with both professors and classmates
  • friendly communities for you to call home with additional resources and support

Let's go over some of these points in a little more detail.  

10 reasons you should live and/or study at a University College

Small group of students talking to professor.

1. Home away from home

Many people I know who've lived at one of the University Colleges have always said how homey their college feels. This is mainly due to the smaller scale of the colleges and their focus on community building. Events, such as coffee houses and movie nights, help you to get to know your fellow students.

If you decide to live at Grebel, you can make your room feel even more homey by moving around or stacking the modular furniture to create more space for a couch, mini fridge, plants, etc. It's great for hosting friends! 

2. I'll have what they're having

Although I never lived in residence at any of the University Colleges, most of my friends did, and they always spoke highly of the residence space and of course, the food. Meal plans at all of the colleges provide an awesome variety of food, and the dorm rooms are super-cozy and comfortable.

Here are a few special things I've noted about what each University College offers:

Conrad Grebel... offers a weekly Community Supper–a favourite time of the week for students, staff, and faculty to relax and connect. Be sure to ask about Grebel's fill-up-the-table tradition. 
St. Paul's... is home to the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC). The Centre hosts Soup and Bannock every Thursday in the fall and winter terms. 
Renison... has a mobile food cart for all those times you want to grab a snack while on the go. They also have a fully-stocked kitchen for students to use on their own or attend a cooking class.
St. Jerome's... offers farm-to-table meals that are prepared every day with special care. They also offer special theme menus, and house and floor dinners. 

3. Co-registration = added value

If you're an Honours Arts or Honours Arts and Business student, you can apply to co-register at any time, whether you're an applicant, admitted, or accepted student. When you co-register with St. Jerome's or Renison, you'll have some of your classes (depending on your program) at your University College, and your academic advisor will be there as well, but you're still a University of Waterloo student with access to everything on campus.

4. Smaller class sizes

Often times, one of the more intimidating things about university is the size of the lectures or classes. Large classes can leave you feeling like a number in the system and make it hard to connect with classmates and professors. What’s nice about the University Colleges is that if you take classes at any of them, the class sizes will be a lot smaller.

The University Colleges have only 1,000 students or so registered with them (compared to the 30,000 students registered with Waterloo). Staff and professors are able to focus more on their students by making sure they feel at home in their community and are getting the support they need.

Why not take a blend of large and small classes so that you have the ultimate university experience? Remember, you can take classes at a University College regardless of what program you're in. 

5. Specializations

Another thing the University Colleges offer are academic specializations. Each college has its own program that it focuses on. Grebel focuses on Music and Peace and Conflict studies; St. Jerome’s focuses on Arts and Business; Renison focuses on Social Development Studies and Social Work; and St. Paul’s focuses on minors in Canadian studies, human rights, and Indigenous studies. If you’re planning on majoring in one of these programs, then the respective University College might be the perfect fit for you.   

Even if you're not planning on studying in these areas, the University College residences are open to students from all six faculties. 

6. Welcoming environment

One of my favourite things about being co-registered through and taking classes at a University College is how welcoming and accepting they are. Even though I wasn’t a resident, the events put on by the student activities team helped me make friends that I still hang out with to this day, over three years later!


Dorm room at St. Jerome's University College.

7. Leadership opportunities 

Getting involved is a good way to improve your leadership skills, and there are a number of different ways to do so. For example, at St. Jerome’s, you can apply after first year to be a member of their student activities team, which organizes all the social events you’ll attend, as well as apply to be a residence don. St. Jerome’s also hosts a leadership conference every year that includes a workshop on how to improve your leadership capabilities, and the best part is, anyone can attend!

At St. Paul's, you can join the Greenhouse–an innovation community for students who want to create impactful ideas that generate social or environmental change.

At Renison, there's over 100 volunteer leadership opportunities available, including English Language Institute peer leader or participation in the Walls 2 Bridges program (which is a collaborative course taught inside a correctional institution).

Grebel is a multi-year residence, meaning there are a ton of upper-year students in the building. Students often use Grebel as a home-base throughout their undergrad. As an upper year student at Grebel, you can join the student council, larger leadership team, become a service week trip leader, or get involved in Orientation week. 

Students playing Jenga.

8. Support and connections 

The support you’ll receive as a co-registered student or resident is super-helpful during your time at Waterloo. If you’re a co-registered student, you’ll get your own academic advisor who can answer any questions you have about your classes and can help you map out your undergrad degree.

As a resident, you’ll have a don, an upper-year student whose job is to help you out with anything you need. Dons will also support you by fostering connections between people on your floor, being someone to talk to, answering questions about university life, or helping when you get locked out of your dorm room. 

9. Uniqueness

By living and/or studying at a University College, you'll become a dual citizen–experiencing all that Waterloo has to offer alongside the University College of your choice. Unlike the students who opt to not study or live at a University College, you'll have more opportunities to network and make valuable connections with peers and faculty throughout your stay.

Fun fact: at St. Jerome's, you'll automatically become a member of one of their four houses–Leon, Spetz, Taylor, or Zinger–each with their own crest, story, and namesake. 

10. Community

In this article, I’ve already mentioned how the size of the University Colleges will play into your experience, but I think the biggest reason to join a University College is for the close-knit community they create. I’m co-registered through St. Jerome’s, but I lived off campus during my first year. Before coming into first year, I was extremely nervous about being able to make connections and friends, as I wasn’t living in residence. However, because of the strong sense of community that came with being at St. Jerome’s, I really felt welcomed on campus and was able to find an awesome group of people that are still some of my closest friends.  

To learn more about the University Colleges, check out our handy guide to studying or living at a University College or check out the video below where representatives from each University College explain more about their University College, what they offer, and how they can enrich your academic and residence experiences while at the University of Waterloo.