Exchange Study Abroad

Exchange study abroad can be a rewarding experience. An important part of planning your exchange study abroad is course selection. 

The SE Associate Director is the person who approves exchange study plans.

Note that SE students are members of both the Faculty of Mathematics and the Faculty of Engineering. However, as a practical matter, SE student applications are routed throgh the Faculty of Engineering. Let the SE Associate Director know if you think it's important for your desired exchange university to know that you are also part of the School of Computer Science in the Faculty of Mathematics, and we can pass that message along to your target university.

Getting your Study Plan Approved

  • The Faculty of Engineering requests that you get your study plan approved by the SE Associate Director for your first choice school by the November 1st application deadline.
  • The Faculty of Engineering also recommends that you formulate study plans for your subsequent school choices before the November 1st application deadline, but does not require you to get those plans approved at that time.
  • The SE Office policy is that if all of the courses on your study plan are already on the SE pre-approved list, then that is good enough for the November 1st application deadline: you do not need to ask the SE Associate Director to approve your plan at application time; you can wait until you are matched with an exchange school in February.
  • If you want to take a course that is not yet on the SE pre-approved list, then please ask the SE Associate Director to add it to the list. The list grows based on student requests.

Pre-Approved Exchange Courses

There are three resources to show you exchange courses that have been previously approved:

These lists get built based on student requests: if you want to take a course that you do not see on the list, or if you see a discrepancy between the lists, then ask the SE Associate Director about it and we will modify the list if appropriate. If a course has been approved by CS, ECE, MTE/Tron, SYDE, or some other Math or Engineering program, then SE will probably approve it too --- but ask just to be sure. The main exception to this is likely to be the courses at other schools that mix SE463/SE464/SE465 might be appropriate for other UW students, but are not appropriate for UW SE students --- you must take our core curriculum of SE463, SE464, and SE465 (or equivalents of those courses at your exchange university).

UW Course Alternatives

If you are going on exchange, then we are more flexible about which term you take certain courses in, and whether you take the regular course with your cohort or take a local alternative.

While it's good to try to match the courses that your cohort is taking at home at UWaterloo, it might not be possible to do so, and in that case you might need to take some core courses at UWaterloo in a different term than the rest of your cohort.

List of UW SE courses, when they are taught, and possible local alternatives.
Course Terms Offered UW Alternatives
SE350 Operating Systems W CS350, ECE350
SE380 Feedback Control F ECE380
SE390 Design Project Planning F  
SE464 Software Design & Architecture F CS446, ECE452
SE465 Software Testing W CS447, ECE453
CS341 Algorithms F, W, S ECE406
CS343 Concurrent & Parallel Programming F, W  
CS348 Databases F, W, S ECE356
CS349 User Interfaces F, W, S  
MATH213 Advanced Math for SE W AMATH250, ECE205, MATH211, MATH218

Notes about some specific courses:

  • CS343 is fairly unique to UW. Some schools might not have a match.
  • SE390. We often facilitate students participating in this course remotely while on exchange. Some schools have acceptable alternative courses, and some do not.
  • SE464. Some schools have an acceptable alternative, but some schools have a courses that are a mixture of of SE463, SE464, and SE465. We prefer that you take our UW courses (or an equivalent at your exchange university) instead of these mixture courses.
  • SE380. If you plan to take Advanced Technical Electives at UW that require SE380/ECE380 as pre-requisites, then you should take one of those courses here. If you do not plan to take such ATEs, then you could take a controls course at your exchange university. 
  • MATH213 ~ (ECE205 + ECE207) / 2. All of the alternative courses listed above are the differential equations side of MATH213. If you take one of the alternatives, you would be missing the signals and systems side (ECE207). Be aware of that gap in your knowledge when you go in to SE380. You could also take a differential equations course while on exchange.


Electives that you take abroad do not have to match UWaterloo courses exactly. In other words, if your exchange university has an interesting course with no similar course at UWaterloo, that's ok: we can potentially approve it in the appropriate elective slot (e.g., "ATE-CS" or "ATE-ECE" or "ATE-ALL" or "NSE", etc.). Part of the opportunity of going on exchange is to study things that are not available at your home university.

For ATEs that are approximate matches for UW courses we could potentially approve under the UW course code (e.g., ECE429, CS488, etc), or under the generic ATE-ECE / ATE-CS / ATE-ALL umbrellas, depending on various factors.

Co-op and Scheduling

Your one term away on exchange is typically surrounded by two co-op terms. So you will be off-campus for 12 months. It is possible to move things around within this 12 month period. For example, you could do an 8 month co-op term, instead of two 4 month terms. Alternatively, if you do not need the co-op credit, you could spend 8 months at the exchange university. Or 6 months of co-op (for one co-op credit) and 6 months of exchange study. Speak to the SE Associate Director about what is possible and how to accomplish it.

Which term to go on exchange?

SE students usually go on exchange for 3A or 3B. 

When going on exchange in 3B, students are required to participate in their team's capstone design project remotely (SE390). 

With the sole exception of SE 390, students do not take UW courses while on exchange.

Grades from Abroad

You will be graded by your exchange university according to their system. Different countries and different universities have different grading systems and norms.

When you return to UW, we will interpret your exchange transcript on a credit/no-credit basis, and this is what will appear on your UW transcript. While on exchange, you are representing UW & SE, so it is important that you present a positive and respectable impression. In terms of UW norms, we are looking for you to earn grades abroad that are at least a C (70%) and above. Perhaps we will give you UW credit for lower grades if your exchange average is sufficient --- similar to how UW Engineering considers a 50% to pass a course, but requires a 60% average to pass the term. Students on exchange are held to a higher standard than our local bare minimum.

Also note that we will interpret your exchange transcript according to the norms of the country and university you studied at. For some universities, nobody is ever awarded a grade over 70%, so we would understand "C" differently in that kind of context.

Finally, a large part of exchange is cultural experience. You should not spend all of your time abroad studying. The extra effort to go above 85% should probably be directed elsewhere, unless you really enjoy that particular course.

International Studies in Engineering Option

If you go on Exchange, you can earn the International Studies in Engineering Option by taking a few extra courses and writing a reflective report about your experience. Up to three of these courses may be languages.

Last updated fall 2019

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