Ten reasons to join a University College

 Group of Waterloo students hanging out in a Conrad Grebel residence room

Eric 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: Conrad GrebelRenison, St. Jerome’s University, and United College. Each one has similar offerings but with unique differences.

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 community. 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
  • An all-you-can-eat style meal plan
  • Paid and volunteer 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

1. Home away from home

If you ask anyone who lives in a University College, they'll always tell you about 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.

For instance, 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. All you can eat

Meal plans at all of the colleges provide an awesome variety of food! 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. 
Renison Offers a meal plan with a commitment to locally sourced, sustainable food with an intercultural flair. Regular community events, including themed college dinners, trips to attractions around Waterloo and Southern Ontario, cooking lessons with their head chef Tim — and more!​ My Pantry is also available for DIY cooking anytime.
St. Jerome's University

Offers fresh, from-scratch meals cooked daily. Their exciting customizable meal plan caters to all students! SJU also has an in-house residence kitchen available for students after hours with cooking demos, late night snacks, and community building events like their monthly Community Dinners.

United College Monthly community dinners and toast time to celebrate student’s achievements and success and showcase student talent in the annual Black Forest 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.

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 University or Renison, you'll  take advantage of smaller class sizes, exclusive student supports, and additional scholarship opportunities. 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.

Waterloo student reading a book on their bed in a St. Jerome's University residence room.

4. Academics

The University Colleges offer programs in partnership with the University of Waterloo. Grebel focuses on Music and Peace and Conflict Studies. St. Jerome’s University focuses on Honours Arts and Honours 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. The nice thing about University Colleges is that class sizes are a lot smaller. The University Colleges prioritize small class sizes so 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.The  events put on by the student activities team helped me make friends that I still hangout with to this day.

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 résumé!

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 musicals! These are just a few examples of ways you can get involved at the University Colleges!

Waterloo students in a United College residence room. One student is playing guitar.

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 support you 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, transitioning 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. 

Students playing Jenga

10. Community

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 University, 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. However, because of the strong sense of community that came with being at St. Jerome’s University, 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!


Related articles