Understanding admission requirements

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As a student, you want to be successful at university and earn your degree. As universities, we also want students to succeed and go on to meaningful personal and professional lives after graduation.

To ensure students are academically well prepared to succeed, universities have specific requirements that need to be met as part of the application process. These "admission requirements" can include

  • a specific set of high school courses;
  • personal statements where you can let universities know about your goals, interests, and any extracurricular activities;
  • a portfolio of creative work;
  • an interview or audition; and/or
  • English language test scores for students whose first language is not English.

Admission requirements vary greatly between universities and types of programs. Depending on the type of the program, requirements can range from one Grade 12 English course to Grade 12 English, Chemistry, Physics, and two math courses.


A big part of understanding admission requirements is learning about the terminology universities use.

Required courses

Each university program will have a specific set of high school courses (or equivalents) you need to complete to be considered for admission. Programs will have between one and five required courses depending on the nature of the program. Some universities (such as Waterloo) may require a minimum final grade in some or all of the required courses to ensure you're well prepared.

Sample required courses

You can see some requirements are quite broad while others are very specific. If you're applying from outside Ontario, we'll require the courses that are equivalent to the Ontario courses listed here.

Honours Arts and Business Geological Engineering Knowledge Integration

Any Grade 12 U English*

  • Advanced Functions*
  • Calculus and Vectors*
  • Chemistry*
  • English 4U*
  • Physics*
  • Any Grade 12 U English**
  • Any Grade 12 U Math**
  • Any Grade 12 U Science**

* = minimum final grade of 70% required; ** = minimum final grade of 75% required. Be sure to check our admission requirements for the most current and complete requirements for your system of study.

Admission average

Your admission average will play a big role in determining whether you're admitted to the programs you applied to.

At Waterloo, your admission average will be the average of your top six Grade 12 courses (U or M courses for Ontario students) including the courses which are required for the program you're applying to.

If you take more than six Grade 12 courses, we'll use the required courses plus your courses with the highest grades. C and O courses are not counted in your overall average at Waterloo.

If you're not an Ontario high school student, the number of courses in your admission average will depend on your educational system. You can review the admission requirements for your province, country, or system for specific details.


How do you calculate an admission average?

Let's say you apply to a program that requires English, Biology, Chemistry, and a math course. You've chosen to take eight Grade 12 courses with the following final or mid-term marks.

  • English (82%)
  • Music (86%)
  • International Business (81%)
  • Biology (84%)
  • Math (78%)
  • Geometry (75%)
  • Chemistry (80%)
  • Dramatic Arts (83%)

Your admission average would be 82.2%. To get this, we take 82 + 84 + 80 + 78 from the four required courses, add 86 (Music) + 83 (Dramatic Arts) to get a total of six courses, and then divide by six. If you don't have final grades in some of your courses, we'll use mid-term or predicted grades.

At Waterloo, your admission average will be the average of your top 6 Grade 12 courses (U or M courses for Ontario students) including the courses which are required for the program you're applying to.

Admission range / grade range

To give you an idea of the grades you might need to be considered, universities will provide ranges such as mid-80s, 80-84%, or low 90s. This means that most students admitted the previous year had admission averages in that range or higher.

The ranges, which depend on the number of spaces available in a program, the number of students who apply, and their qualifications, vary by program and from year to year.

Recommended courses

Some programs list "recommended" high school courses along with the courses that are required for admission. These recommended courses are not required for admission and whether you take them or not will not affect your application. However, they will be helpful background for understanding some of the material in your first-year courses.


Admission Information Form

Many universities will ask you to complete a supplemental form or written statement about yourself once you've applied. At Waterloo, we use the Admission Information Form (AIF) in place of personal statements or essays that other universities may require. The AIF helps us learn about your interests, extracurriculars, goals, and more. The details you provide can help universities when they make admission and scholarship decisions.

Making your application stand out

For programs where the number of students applying greatly outnumbers the spaces available, universities need ways to distinguish between many students who have similar averages.

That's where personal statements (such as Waterloo's Admission Information Form), interviews, math or science contest results, and portfolios can be used by universities to learn about students' academic and personal backgrounds.

If you apply to a highly competitive program at Waterloo and have opportunities (such as math or science contests, etc.) to make your application stand out, these will only enhance your application and will never work against you if you happen not to do well.


Common questions about admission requirements

What happens if I don't meet the admission requirements?

You may receive a notice that you didn't meet the requirements and your application was declined. Or, some schools (such as Waterloo) may provide an alternate offer of admission to a related program for which you meet the requirements.

How do I find out the specific cut-off marks?

Some universities post a minimum overall average for admission, and some universities post a range. In both cases, these are based on previous year' applicant pool and may change. When a range is posted (like at Waterloo), it gives students a guide to what averages successful applicants have had in the past.

Why do some programs or universities send acceptances earlier than others?

It depends on the program and university. At Waterloo, for highly competitive programs, we want to compare students as fairly as possible and want to see as many Grade 12 marks as possible. This means some programs wait for updated grades to arrive in late April and send acceptances in May.

Are the requirements the same if I attend college or a different university first?

You'll be considered a transfer student in this case. You need to have the high school courses required for your program of interest – or equivalent courses at college or university. You can search the admission requirements for transfer students.

Can I repeat required courses to improve my grades?

It depends on the university and the program you're applying to. At Waterloo, we have a policy regarding repeated and non-day school courses.

I'm interested in attending Waterloo. How do I find the admission requirements for my program?

You can search our admission requirements based on where you're completing or have completed high school.

What if I'm taking required courses late in the school year and my final grades won't be available in time?

Universities can make a "conditional offer of admission" based on final grades in courses you've completed and mid-term/predicted grades for courses you're taking.

Your Offer of Admission would then list the conditions you need to meet, i.e., final grades need in the required courses.

If a program lists "any two of Biology, Chemistry, Earth and Space Science, Math, or Physics" as a requirement, which two should I take?

It's up to you. You can take more than two if you wish. At Waterloo, we would use the two courses in which you have the highest grades.


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