Ten reasons to join a University College

Written by Eric (he/him), student

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, United College, and Renison. Each one has similar offerings but with slight variations.  

You might be wondering: what is a University College and why should I get involved?

At Waterloo, the  University Colleges are smaller communities that offer residence and academic programs within the larger University of Waterloo. Each of Waterloo’s 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. This means you'll have all the benefits of a small community while still being part of a large university.   

What do Waterloo's University Colleges offer?

  • Residences available to all Waterloo students from every academic program.
  • An all-you-can-eat style meal plan
  • 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  
  • Financial aid and award opportunities, accessible only to University College residents and academic students  

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 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 peers.  

 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 end of term banquets  and weekly Community Suppers – these special meals allow students, staff and faculty to connect, and relax. Be sure to ask about Grebel's fill-the-table tradition and other meal plan perks.     

United College

Monthly community dinners and toast time to celebrate student’s achievements and success and showcase student talent in the annual BlackForest Café held every year. Their all-you-can-eat dining is full of options and they are home to the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC) where soup and bannock is offered every Thursday.  


Takes an intercultural approach to meals. They also have a fully stocked kitchen for students to use on their own or to 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 along with dinners dedicated to the different college houses and floors.   

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 take advantage of smaller class sizes, and exclusive student support services. Students who co-register at a university college are also University of Waterloo students and will have access to the same clubs, sports, and amenities. These students will also graduate with a University of Waterloo degree.  

4. Specializations

Another thing the University Colleges offer are academic specializations. Each college houses different Waterloo academic programming. 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 United College focuses on minors in Canadian studies, human rights and law, 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.   

5. 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. The nice thing about University Colleges is that classe sizes are a lot smaller. The University Colleges prioritize small class sizes so staff and professors are able to focus more on their students by making sure they feel at home in their community and get 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.   

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.

A residence room at Renison University College.

7. Leadership opportunities   

By being part of a University College, leadership opportunities abound, and the small community make these positions accessible and easy to find! There are a number of different ways to get involved, like becoming a club leader, residence life Don, joining student council or more! A lot of leadership positions at the colleges are even paid and all of them add skills to your resume!  

 At Renison, you could be a Peer Leader working with international students attending programs in the English Language Institute, at United College, you can join GreenHouse an innovation community for students who want to create impactful ideas that generate social or environmental change. St Jerome's has a student activities team where you can plan community wide events, and Grebel has a team of student leaders who run residence wide musical! These are just a few examples of ways you can get involved at the University Colleges!   

Students playing Jenga.

Hanging out between classes at St. Jerome's University.

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 benefit from additional academic supports including academic advisors, peer leaders, drop-in help, and workshops to support you with your classes and as you navigate 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 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.   

Additionally, the university colleges have paid staff that support students in relation to mental health, transition to University, and residence life programming.   

9. Opportunities for spiritual nurturing   

University Colleges are an opportunity to choose your own adventure. If tackling questions relating to faith and spirituality is something you enjoy, then Renison, Grebel, or St Jerome’s, might be a good fit for you! All three of these University Colleges have chaplains on staff, and offer optional programming related to spirituality.  However, you do not need to have a specific faith background (or any faith background!) to live at a University College. The University Colleges are open to everyone and taking part in the faith component of the University College is completely optional.    

10. Community  

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! 


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