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U of T vs. Waterloo vs. Queen

  1. Sep 17, 2007 #1
    I'm going to apply to university in the next few months, and I plan to go to Waterloo for physics or for their mathematical physics program. my other choice would be Queen's.

    U of T never even occurred to me, reading the thread "physics in Ontario" makes it seem that it should be my one of my top choices.......Should it be?

    Is there a big difference between physics and math at waterloo and U of T?
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 17, 2007 #2
    In terms of coursework, there isn't really much difference between doing a physics major one place in Canada or another, especially if all the universities you look at are med-large or large.

    But living in Toronto is much different from living in Kitchener-Waterloo. Toronto is a huge city with an expensive downtown core. KW has a reputation for being a bit dull. You should think about what sort of living arrangements you would like.

    Toronto is a much bigger university - there are lots of options for coursework (and the upper year physics electives are actually offered every year, unlike some courses at smaller schools). Very bright and ambitious students are attracted to U of T, which means that the atmosphere is somewhat competitive. Classes in first and second year are also large, which means that it's harder to get personal attention from professors.

    I just looked to see who was teaching Phys 140 (which is the first year physics course for intending physics majors). Both the professors teaching the course are relatively new (which is usually a good thing). I don't know anything about Sabine Stanley, but I've seen Stephen Julian give a lively summer school talk.

    Waterloo has a really excellent co-op program and there are good opportunities to do research and get experience in industry. Waterloo is a lot smaller than U of T - the undergrads at Waterloo seem to have a better social experience and interact more with students in other years.

    What attracts you to Queens?
  4. Sep 17, 2007 #3
    UT is more academically demanding because the people that go there are usually top students in their field. UT has this policy of keeping course averages around a C, so due to the high calibre of intelligent students your mark may end up being ~5% lower than in other schools. It has been confirmed by many that it is much harder to get grades in UT.

    Waterloo is very good for math and physics as well, and have many coop professional programs. I really don't know much else about it, but I have a friend and believe me he gets way less work than I do.

    Queens is good, but I dunno how good for physical sciences in general. I really have no info on it, but it is one of the better schools.

    All I can tell you is you will find the hardest math in UT. If your willing to work harder and want to take on a challenge UT will give you it and more. A word of caution, the math profs here suck. They write on the boards w/o really teaching. Perhaps another feature that makes our math so "challenging". Above all though, pick a school that is closest to you. If you have no choice, I would reccommend UT, then Waterloo. And don't be scared about acceptance. Physical sciences aren't that popular, so they will take almost all local students with an A average.
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2007
  5. Sep 17, 2007 #4
    I want to get into graduate school when i'm done and get a phd, would it be better to end up with the ~5% lower mark in U of T or the higher mark in Waterloo?
  6. Sep 17, 2007 #5


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    That's a silly question. Why don't you just compare programs and choose the one you think you'd enjoy more?

    http://www.artsandscience.utoronto.ca/ofr/calendar/prg_phy.htm [Broken]
    http://www.ucalendar.uwaterloo.ca/SCI/physics.html [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  7. Sep 18, 2007 #6
    The math students at Waterloo are generally stronger than those at UoT. It all really depends on the classes you take; if you take advanced honors classes, getting a grade in the top 5% is no easy feat.
  8. Jun 21, 2008 #7
    I am going for Physics and would like to know this as well. Do graduate schools in Canada, US, and UK prefer higher undergrad marks from Queen's or lower ones (say -5%) from U of T?
  9. Jun 21, 2008 #8
    First of all, I believe that as long as you keep your gpa around a 3.4/3.5 (on a 4.0 Scale) and have taken challenging coursework from a good program (!! It should also be noted that same grad schools in the US have a minimum GPA requirement, I don't know how strict that is, but for example, UCLA requires a 3.5 GPA for it's PhD applicants), you need not really worry. Especially since letters of recommendation are the most important things for graduate school. It's probably letters first and foremost, but grades of course do play a significant role as well. I would really try to go to a school that offers challenging coursework, gives me an opportunity to take graduate courses AND get involved with some sort of undergraduate research or has strong enough faculty to get me into some kind of summer research programs.

    It seems like UT and Waterloo both offer these things, in varying degrees. I personally would choose UT because undergraduate is different from graduate school. Undergraduate is very much about the experience of college while graduate is about putting into 50-60 hours a week and what not. But if you prefer closer interaction with faculty and with fellow students, it seems that Waterloo would be a better place for you. If you don't mind the survival of the fittest atmosphere at UT (from the posts I have read) and really want to be in a big city, go for UT.

    Visit both schools, ask current undergrads and grads about the faculties, the facilities and what it's like living around UT or Waterloo.

    Not that it matters much, but I think an undergrad coming from UT with good grades and good letters has a good chance of getting into a US PhD program.
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2008
  10. Jun 21, 2008 #9


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    I'm not sure exactly where this idea that a GPA of x at one institution equates to a GPA of x +/-dx at another institution comes from. I think part of it has to do with school pride, which is understandable. But the fact of the matter is that (in Canada at least) it's a myth. What matters is course content. As long as your program covers the material needed to get into graduate school, and your institution's program is recognized by the school you want to get into, your mark is your mark.

    And marks are, generally speaking, the primary factor in determining entrance to graduate school. Reference letters help. Research experience helps. Even extra-cirricular activities and work experience can help. But marks are usually the determining factor.

    Don't fall into the trap of believing that you can carry a lower GPA because of your school's or program's reputation.
  11. Jun 21, 2008 #10

    Can you back this up?

    Or can anyone else confirm this?

    I so hope this is true.
  12. Jun 22, 2008 #11
    If you like having a class average GPA of 2.5-2.6, then sure, go to U of T.

    You can then boast about having the highest GPA in your class, and it will only be 3.8. Then you get rejected from all the top schools (except for U of T) but the guys in the Engineering Science Physics program who have higher GPAs will get in.

    If you're only in the top 20% and therefore have a 3.3-3.5 GPA then you're going to be stuck at U of T for your Master's and hope to transfer into a better school for your Ph.D.

    I wonder where the original poster has ended up. If he went to U of T Physics or Math & Physics, then he is a fool.

    I think Queen's is the best place on his list, then Waterloo.

    The place where you did your undergrad does not matter. It is how much you impress your professors to get good recommendations and your level of research experience that matters the most, plus a high numerical GPA. Don't listen to phonies who say that U of T is "prestigious". That is only true at the graduate/faculty level. There is a reason why Maclean's Magazine places U of T in the "primarily Medical/Doctoral" category in its rankings.

    Heck, Jackson went to Western (a "party school") for his undergrad. He got accepted into MIT and did his Ph.D. in 3 years and now his textbook is the standard graduate-level E&M text in the world.

    Someone got into Caltech last year who did his undergrad at UPEI (yes, that's Prince Edward Island).
    Last edited: Jun 22, 2008
  13. Jun 23, 2008 #12


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    It also helps to go to a school which does research in the fields of physics in which you're interested, as you'd be able to get good research experience this way. So what are you interested in?
  14. Jun 23, 2008 #13
    I am interested in plasma physics (fusion research is my dream). Apparently the only university in Canada with a tokmak (albeit a small one) is Saskachetwan. It seems fusion isn't a big thing in Canada (more so in Europe); I commented on the ITER in my class and no one knew what it is.

    I was angry for being rejected from Imperial College London (UK) which has strong fusion research activity. I am thinking Queen's with a decent average may be the best way to transfer/go there. I don't think U of T has a plasma physics research group.

    Also, I have been accepted to University College London (UCL). Would I have a better chance to transfer/go to Imperial from there or from Queen's?
    Last edited: Jun 23, 2008
  15. Jun 23, 2008 #14
    I would tend to believe this is true, I am from a "less reputable school" and yet people with top GPA's have gotten into lots of top American and world schools. People with middle GPA's 3.5-3.7/4.5 have had no problem getting into any Canadian schools they want and most American schools. I don't think university reputation means much at all for undergraduate, in Canada at least.
  16. Jun 23, 2008 #15


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    I don't have any documentation off hand, but if there were a correction scale, it would have to be published to make the admissions process transparent. Also it would have to be re-evaluated every year as programs/instructors continually change. To my understanding, most schools have a conversion system that converts between the grading scales (ie. moving from a 9 point system or a letter sustem to a 4 point system), but there's no additional correction based on reputation.

    That being said, some schools may factor in the class average reported in your transcripts. And, in reference letters, it is generally expected that you will be evaluated as to where you stand in relation to your peer group.

    You may want to check out the University of Alberta. They have an active theoretical plasma group within the astrophysics department and I believe they offered an undergraduate plasma physics course (although that may have been through the electrical engineering department).
  17. Jun 24, 2008 #16
    If you decide to go to Waterloo (being a graduate myself) I would recommend doing physics through the mathematical physics program (the program that does takes all the AMATH courses). IMHO the AMATH courses can be more helpful then the PHYS equivalent courses (since they are more mathematically rigourous (NOTE: this assumes you want to do theoretical)). It's also a good idea to take advantage of Waterloo's excellent Co-op program and CS courses. However, I have to say that Waterloo is probably the least 'party-type' school in the country if that's a deterent for you.
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