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The 5 toughest undergrad programs in Canada to enter

Nisean Lorde

Despite being one of the most sought-after engineering programs in North America, Waterloo’s Software Engineering program peaks at number two on our list. One top admissions support specialist admits he’d be “intimidated” by the fact that if he had up to a 95% average he’d still only have a 10% chance of getting in

UBC commerce program receives about 4,500 applications each year but only takes on about six percent of applicants, while U of T’s Engineering Science program had a cutoff rate of 91% this past year

The toughest undergrad program to get into receives approximately 3,500 applications each year—but only accepts about 160 students

Canadian universities attract hundreds of thousands of applications each year, but acceptance rates into a few “elite” programs can be a bit trickier to get into.

“McGill typically has really high entrance averages, I think it’s the highest on average in Canada,” Alex Dorward, co-CEO of *University Hub, Canada’s leading provider of university admissions support, tells Yahoo Canada News. “I believe 89.7% is the (approximate) entrance average across all of their courses. Engineering specifically, and within that mechanical engineering, has a top six admissions average minimum for the program of 95%.”

Dorward and University Hub co-CEO Joel Nicholson further help break down the top five most difficult undergrad programs to be accepted in Canada—purely from a perspective of acceptance rates and entrance averages:

5. Mechanical Engineering, McGill University: McGill’s mechanical engineering program has a top six admissions average minimum for the program of 95% (“a pretty high average just to get in,” noted Dorward) —but it’s based on the top six grade 12 level grades using McGill’s calculations.  Applicants have to have taken a minimum of six pre-university courses, but four of these courses (and all pre-requisites) have to be taken at the 4U—fourth-year University-preparation courses—level. Typically students have eight grade 12 level classes, and many universities calculate the average based on their best six grades and drop the two worst ones.

“Basically, if your program requires calculus, even if calculus is your worst mark—it will still include that calculus grade as part of your top six,” said Dorward. “So that 95% is even a greater accomplishment than the typical top six 95%.” 

4. Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) | Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia: UBC’s four-year Bachelor of Commerce program gets about 4,500 applications each year, but they only accept about six percent of applicants. And given the acceptance average last year was 92.2%—it’s one extremely difficult program to get into.

Let’s compare it to Queen’s Commerce program—this is also considered to be one of the hardest business programs to get into, but it has a nine percent acceptance rate compared to UBC BCom’s six percent.

“The reason for that really is that all of the top business student candidates from the West coast would typically go to UBC; whereas in Ontario you’d have competition from Queens, U of T, Western and McGill,” said Dorward. “Queens is very competitive, they would often argue they’re the best undergraduate program in Canada—but in terms of acceptance rates, UBC is the most competitive.”

3. Engineering Science, University of Toronto: The cutoff average—the lowest possible average you can have to even be considered in this program—was 91% this past year (it changes every year depending on the applicants).

“So if you’ve got a 90% average—too bad, you’re not getting in,” said Dorward. “So 91% is the cutoff, (but) the average acceptance rate hovers around 94%. So if you’ve got 92%, it’s possible, if you’ve got 97%, it’s possible, but it’s not guaranteed either.”

According to Dorward, the University of Toronto also weighs extracurriculars, whereas with McGill Engineering it’s purely grade-based.

“The reason why (McGill Mechanical engineering) was number five vs. U of T Engineering Science is because U of T also weighs things other than grades; (and it’s) typically tough to maintain a 94% average and have extracurriculars,” Dorward added.

2. Software Engineering, University of Waterloo: Waterloo’s Software Engineering program is considered to be one of the most sought-after engineering programs in North America—and it’s number two on the list for a number of reasons: Even if a student has between a 90 – 95% average, they only have a 10% chance of getting in to the program this year.

“That’s pretty scary,” noted Dorward.  “If I was a grade 12 student, I would be intimidated by the fact that if I had up to a 95% average, I’d only have a 10% chance of getting in.”

If a student’s average is above 95%, they’d still only have a 70% chance of getting in to the program—so a slightly higher chance, but still no guarantee by any means.

Waterloo also makes students fill out the Admission Information Form (AIF)—this is taken into consideration when it comes to admissions decisions, alongside grade averages.

“Basically it’s a supplementary application and it’s pretty exhaustive, it asks you a bunch of questions ranging from your extracurricular activities, your programing knowledge and even your reading interests,” said Dorward. “So if you’re in that 95% plus range, (and) if you have a good AIF, your chances would go from 70% probably upwards, but there’s never any guarantee, because it’s so competitive.”

Interesting note: Bill Gates once praised Waterloo students for their innovative thinking, particularly in science, engineering and other fields. Justin Trudeau recently gave a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, referencing the reputation of Waterloo and specifically referring to its engineering students; praising student diversity, entrepreneurship and their high-intellectual standards.

1. Bachelor of Health Sciences, McMaster University: This was a tough one since the numbers are pretty convincing for Waterloo’s Software Engineering program.

“For engineering in general, there’s quite a bit of competition between Waterloo, Queens, the University of Toronto, UBC—lots of universities are pretty strong in engineering; however, with Health Science, one university really sticks out and that’s McMaster,” said Dorward.  

The minimum average to be considered this year is 90%, and students are also required to fill out a supplementary application, which are rated considerably in the application process.

“So it is somewhat common for people who might have a 95% average to get rejected. By the numbers, at least 3,500 people apply each year. The number of people in that class is 160. We are looking at, at most, a 4.5 percent acceptance rate,” said Dorward. “As a result of the considerable demand and their supplemental application, it is very difficult to get in and be one of the four percent of people who get accepted.”

Honourable mention…

Bachelor of Commerce, Queen’s School of Business: It has a similar approach to McMaster Health Science in terms of application—they weigh extracurriculars very heavily. The cutoff average is 87% and the acceptance rate is nine percent.

When it comes to university admissions, does it matter what high school you go to?

According to University Hub, it really depends on the university, but with public schools it doesn’t make much of a difference. It is common, however, for some private school students to get an additional boost when it comes to admissions; particularly students from big, international private schools.