What’s the first thing that comes to mind when hearing “the University of Waterloo?” For some it might be “engineering” or “innovation,” or one of the many buzzwords the school’s recruitment teams use. However, for myself personally, I’m more likely to think “geese,” “ugly buildings,” or “too many red lights”: the cornerstones of a local student’s perspective on UW.
In my short amount of time in university so far, I’ve been asked where I’m from more than I ever have before in my life. I understand why; everyone’s coming to Waterloo from different places, and it’s an easy question to ask when meeting new people. However, my seemingly boring answer of, “I’m from here,” appears to be more surprising than I’d expected.
I should clarify that “here” is not technically the city of Waterloo. I am from Kitchener ‒ and, yes, there is a difference.
With the University of Waterloo attracting people from all over the world, it’s common to meet people from many different places. That being said, one would also expect to often meet students from the surrounding area, right? To an outsider, it’s easy to assume that students from the Waterloo Region would be inclined to choose their local university, especially if they were pursuing an engineering program. While that is logical to assume, people who grew up here might think otherwise.
Going to high school in K-W, when it comes to students’ opinions on the University of Waterloo, there are two extremes: people who really want to go to Waterloo, because they’ve been hearing about it their whole life…or people who really don’t want to go to Waterloo, for that exact same reason. I sometimes would say that those closer to the first extreme had “Waterloo tunnel vision.” I personally was neutral on that spectrum, at least I liked to think, and a lot of people I knew in high school were like that too.
One thing I’ve heard a lot of people talk about is the prestige surrounding UW. It’s inevitable that practically everyone considering Waterloo as a potential school will bring up the fact that it’s one of the top universities in Ontario, if not Canada. Of course I know about that, but being from here, I don’t consider the school a “big deal” in that regard because I’ve seen the place many times before.
To anyone who lives here, it’s not consciously thought of as one of the top engineering schools in Canada; it’s just a university. A university with ugly buildings, insane traffic (complete with the ION that seems to be approaching every time I drive up to the crossing), and as mentioned before, the geese.
To explain this to the majority of readers who are likely non-local students, I talked to four of my friends from high school: two who are also in their first year of UW, and two who chose other schools. Both of my friends at UW had similar reasons for their choice: convenience. “Moving is costly,” my friend in the Life Physics program said, as that was one of her main reasons for choosing UW. On the other extreme, my friend at Sheridan College said being from the area “changed [her] decision to even apply,” as she “didn’t want to go to school close to home.” The closest opinion to mine while applying to university was that of my friend at the University of Guelph, who said, “I don’t think that [being from K-W] influenced my decision in any way.”
Of course, these different opinions aren’t unique to the K-W area – lots of students choose a school in their home city, and lots choose to move somewhere else. However, as a local student, my decision to go to UW seems to have been made without major consideration of one aspect that everyone else always talks about: the status and the reputation of the school. It had little factor in my decision, because being around the place my entire life, I’ve never really cared about it. I’m not sure if that means I’ve taken UW for granted, or I just became desensitized from hearing about it constantly.
Do my high school friends at UW care about the prestige? “It’s nice knowing that we are at one of the top universities,” my friend in AFM told me, “although [it] was not the reason for my choice of school.” This pretty much sums up my perspective on UW as well: the fact that it was close to home held much more importance to me. The high ranking of Waterloo’s engineering program didn’t affect me as much as it might have affected someone who chose the school without ever having been to the campus in person, or someone who knows nothing about the city our school is in.
With that being said, though, I’m still happy with my decision to come here. Waterloo isn’t an entirely new place to me like it is to so many first years, but the experience being there as a student still is.
Special thanks to my friends (who are all proud Kitchener natives): Cathy (Life Physics), Kady (AFM), Kirsten (U of Guelph), and Isla (Sheridan) for letting me quote them.