First year

First year engineering and architecture sets a learning foundation to support you throughout your undergrad years and prepares you for a successful career. But it is not all work. It's also a great time for making life-long friends (and maybe future business partners!), learning the ropes of being a university student and gaining new independence.

Your classes

In first year, all students take 5-6 courses per term, mostly based in maths and sciences, along with a concepts course focused on giving you exposure to learning in your field of study.
You will be automatically enrolled in all of your required courses each term. View your full class schedule on Quest approximately 6 weeks before the start of the next term. Visit the Important Dates page for more information.

The First Year Office is here to help you manage the transition from High School and home to a new and exciting learning environment at the university.

What to expect in your first term

Within the first few days of class you will notice many differences between high school and university:

High School University
Class size:  20 – 30 students Class size:  70 – 150 students
Student progress closely followed by parents and teachers.  Teachers offer help directly Students must be proactive and seek help
Moderate teaching pace Faster teaching pace
Majority of learning occurs in the classroom Learning continues outside of class
Little to moderate work outside of class Expect 30 hr/week of work outside of class
Studying the night before or shortly before exams can lead to good results For good results, exam preparation starts weeks in advance
Many smaller stake assessments

Two large stake assessments:

Midterm exam week

  • 1A Software Engineering students should review their class homepage for fall midterm dates
  • 1A Systems and Biomedical Engineering students can consult with their program instructors for fall midterm dates
  • For all other 1A Engineering students, fall midterm week is after Reading Week in October

Final exam period will be most of December.

Courses and work load

How to get the most out of your classes

  1. Review your notes from the previous day or pre-read the section you’ll be covering in the textbook before going to class.
  2. While in class, take notes and ask questions. Avoid distractions like using your phone or chatting with a friend.
  3. Review your notes at the end of the day. If anything is unclear, go see your professor or TAs as soon as possible to clear up any doubts.
  4. Start working on your assignments as soon as possible. You won’t be able to finish them in one sitting, but breaking them into smaller chunks will help in the long run and will make the material covered in lectures more meaningful.
  5. Get to know your TAs, and ask the them any questions that you have about the course material covered in the past week.
  6. Complete the problem set, if given, as they are the best way to see if you understand the concepts.

Helpful tips from upper year Engineering students:

  • "Before coming to Waterloo, re-read your high school notes. Everything ramps up quickly, so remembering the basics helps."
  • "Plan out what to do and when to do it and don't avoid the subjects you dislike for the ones you do."
  • "Relax. While studying all the time can help, not sleeping and over stressing will ruin you. You will know the stuff better and have a better chance with a good night's sleep."
  • "Just because you don't consider yourself a perfect student, or smart enough, or whatever doubt you're having about yourself, it doesn't mean that you can't go through this program. What really matters more is how you approach school NOW."
  • "As a third-year student, I can tell you this:  getting through Waterloo Engineering is worth it.  It's one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had.  There are probably going to be more than a few times when you will question why you're going through all of this.  Keep pushing through.  That being said - you may also find that Engineering isn't for you.  And this is okay too!  But if the only thing holding you back is the perceived difficulty, then consider trying just a little bit harder.  You'll be surprised by what you can accomplish if you don't give up. I know I was."

Absences and Extenuating Circumstances


Your first co-op term

Additional Resources

Not sure where to find something? Need to connect with an academic advisor? Need personal support? Want to understand more about co-op? The First Year office has the resources to support you in every way.