U of Rochester vs. McMaster vs. Waterloo

Please help us decide! After committing to University of Rochester, my S also got acceptances from McMaster University’s Integrated Science program and from University of Waterloo’s Honors Science program. (They do come in late, unfortunately.) He plans to study physics/chemistry/biology/math and eventually go to a grad school. (He also wants to play in a concert band while in college.) Those special Canadian programs are quite appealing to him, they even make the class sizes smaller, but the schools themselves are huge! Canadian universities are also half the price of UofR, but we’re not considering it as a deciding factor, as we’re ok to pay for either one.

He is also under impression that Canadian universities would be more rigorous, but with fewer “homework”.

What’s the crowd’s wisdom?

Thank you!

First - congratulations to your son for three excellent choices. No bad choices here, just different flavors of college.

Size really comes down to class size, so that is something to think about. I would say that, if those Canadian programs are appealing to your son, that they deserve serious consideration.

Unless you guys are extremely wealthy, paying half price is always helpful, even if you can afford the extra money.

Canadian universities are more like European ones in that a lot more of the grade depends on exams, rather than weekly assignments. Some students prefer to make a serious push a few times a year, and reduce their effort in between these, while other students prefer to have a more constant, lower level amount of work.

I did my undergraduate in Israel, where, for many courses, there is only one midterm, and most of the grade is in the final. Many students preferred that, because it allowed them to establish their own schedule for studying. Other students really did not like it, since it meant that a lot was riding on that exam (though every final was given twice, with the last grade being the one that was entered on the transcript).

What sort of rhythm does your son prefer?

Something else to consider is that “college experience”. Canadian universities have a lot less of the American “college life” culture. Again, some students really like it, others think that it’s a waste of time (my kid likes it, but some of her friends at other colleges really prefer having more of their life off campus).

Maybe your son should make a table on which he will have rows for everything he would like in a college, and then seeing which of these places tick which rows, and which rows are the most important.

Good luck!


This is my view also. I think that these are all very good universities.

McMaster and Waterloo are both very good. The universities in Canada are quite consistently very good, but these two are among the top 10 of a somewhat longer list of very good universities.

I have known several people who got their bachelor’s degree in Canada and then got either their master’s or PhD or both in the US (including one who got a master’s at Stanford and one who got a master’s and a PhD at Princeton). This does not seem to be a problem.

My younger daughter graduated from university in Canada about a year ago, took some time off (eg, traveled), and started looking for a job here in the US right after Christmas. In five weeks she had job interviews nearly every day and got three job offers. The best of the three offers was quite good. This did not seem to be a problem, although I did hear her say “I am a US citizen” multiple times during phone / zoom job interviews. She had earlier found it difficult to find an appropriate job in Canada, which is probably the main reason that she returned to the US.

One thing that we noticed is that university in Canada appears to include more classes in your major or closely related subjects and fewer classes in a range of other less relevant topics. She liked this difference. I think that her classes got into subjects that you would normally expect to study in a master’s degree program in the US, and her bachelor’s honour’s thesis looked to me a lot like what you would expect a master’s thesis to look like in the US.

Waterloo by the way has a pretty good music program. I do not know whether this will make it easier or more difficult to get into concert band. My vague recollection is that Rochester may however be similar in this regard.

I think that you are looking at three very good choices. It might come down to just whatever your son wants to do.

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Canadian universities don’t have less homework in the sciences. There are generally problem sets due each week.

McMaster’s integrated science program is extremely well regarded.

Waterloo is very well regarded for math, computer science and engineering, but not so much for life sciences. Math is a separate faculty at Waterloo, so if he wants to major in math, he would be in the wrong faculty.

Rochester has the Eastman School, so if he wanted to be in the concert band, he would be competing with high level music majors.

McMaster would easily be my pick out of the 3.