The Waterloo Ranking System: Explained


This September, thousands of Canadian high school students have returned as the eldest of their peers, to be subjected to the looming pressures of university applications. For those interested in applying to the University of Waterloo, specifically their renowned undergraduate engineering program, applicants from certain schools could be under further scrutiny.

In fact, it was disclosed that the University of Waterloo had created a list that was able to determine which high schools inflated the marks of their students. According to the data, which was calculated by comparing the final high school marks of the students to their marks at the end of their first year in university, students of an average Ontario high school saw a drop of 16 per cent.

Students from Grimsby Secondary School had a significant gap of over 27 per cent, while those from L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute had a drop of under 10 per cent. Considering international and out-of-province applicants, the gaps between final high school grades and first-year university marks ranged from as low as 5.2 per cent in Quebec to almost 30 per cent in New Brunswick.

Future admissions decisions are partially influenced by the discrepancy between high school and university grades, as it supplies an unbiased and statistically-supported perspective on grading inconsistencies. Not only is the transition from high school to university challenging due to the need to develop more effective study habits and a general increase independence, but students are also expected to be capable of succeeding in their desired program. Students who are not well prepared for the expectations and the content of such courses will experience unnecessary stress and shocking grade deflation during their first year.

Despite the common high school curriculum established by the Ontario Ministry of Education, the manner in which students are assessed at different secondary schools may cause a student to receive a lower, or even higher, grade.  As necessary, the data from the same list is utilized to apply grade adjustments to students from different schools, provinces, and even countries. The university has admitted that other factors were not considered, such as teaching quality, but it does provide useful insight into the likelihood of student success in one of its most competitive programs.

Fortunately, academic performance is not the only feature that appeals to universities. Students cannot be defined by numbers or statistical evidence, and there is more to an applicant than the scores they received from a standardized test. According to Global News, Waterloo’s engineering admissions seek students who have participated in extracurricular activities, who have been invested in volunteerism, their interest in the program and if they appear to be a good fit for the environment of the university.


Cain, Patrick. “One University's Secret List to Judge Applicants by Their High Schools – Not Just Their Marks.” Global News, Global News, 13 Sept. 2018,

Outhit, Jeff. “High School Grades Are Inconsistent, University of Waterloo Data Suggests.”,, 19 Sept. 2018,

Thompson, Peter J. “Grade Inflation? University of Waterloo's 'Secret List' Suggests It's Not the Case with Ottawa Schools.” Ottawa Citizen, 20 Sept. 2018,