University of Toronto Engineering Science vs Track One

Looking to study engineering at the University of Toronto but haven’t yet decided on a specific discipline?  Luckily for you, the U of T offers two entry options –Engineering Science – that allow you to take “foundational” studies in the first one or two years before deciding on a major or speciality.

This allows you to get a taste of the various engineering disciplines before committing to a major.  Today, we take a look at the two offerings to help you decide which one is a better fit for you.  Here’s how University of Toronto Engineering Science stacks up against Track One.

Engineering Science

Modelled after the eponymous program at Oxford, University of Toronto Engineering Science program is considered the crown jewel of the faculty’s undergraduate offerings.  Notorious for its high selectivity (entrance averages perennially hover around 93%) and academic rigor (a more lighthearted overview of the academics can be found here), the program combines two years of foundational studies in a wide range of subjects, from maths to computing to systems biology to civil engineering.

With tremendous breadth, however, comes a higher-than-normal workload.  First year schedules often exceed 30 hours of class a week, which means you’re looking at regular 90+ hour weeks when assignments and readings are factored in.  Surviving the first year of EngSci has often been compared to drinking out of a firehose, but those who are able to handle the workload/stress – it should be pointed out that only about 1/3 of the starting class does – are afforded a solid theoretical foundation to build upon in upper years and majors.

The Majors

These foundational years are capped off by the Aero 201 design project, where students in groups of three work together (and pull countless all-nighters) to build an autonomous robot from scratch, including building all circuits, electromechanical assemblies and programming.   Afterwards, students choose one of 8 majors:

– Aerospace Engineering

– Biomedical Systems Engineering

– Electrical and Computer Engineering

– Energy Systems Engineering

– Engineering Mathematics, Statistics and Finance

– Engineering Physics

– Infrastructure Engineering

– Nanoengineering

Historically, the bulk of students elect for the “Big Three” of Aerospace, Biomedical and ECE majors. Those who choose the smaller options have the benefit of extremely small classes (my class for Infrastructure had 9 students), which pays dividends in the form of closer mentorship/guidance from professors.

The most common knock on the EngSci from current students and alumni alike is that despite this academic rigor, the program focuses too much on the theoretical side of things and not enough on practical, employable skills.   While this harkens back to the days where the primary intent of the program was to prepare students for graduate studies and a career in research, employers are also beginning to realize the value in students that have a solid quantitative and analytical background that allows them to pick up things really quickly on-the-job.

My graduating class had solid placement among a range of coveted employers including Bloomberg, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Accenture, Deloitte, BMO Capital Markets, BAML, Qualcomm, Salesforce, etc (not intended to be an exhaustive list).  In fact, the majority of those who didn’t land offers before graduation were not actively seeking employment and got into some of top graduate programs  such as Stanford, Cambridge, Cornell and Caltech (again, not intended be an exhaustive list).

The toolkit you get from EngSci is equally beneficial if you end up pursuing a “non-traditional” engineering career such as consulting, or if you are planning professional studies after undergrad (although the caveat here is that your lower EngSci GPA may also hinder your chances of getting into Med/Law/Business school).

Track One

Track One is a relatively new offering that gives students one year of general studies before transferring into one of the “Core 8” programs:

– Mechanical Engineering

– Industrial Engineering

– Civil Engineering

– Chemical Engineering

– Mineral Engineering

– Materials Engineering

– Electrical Engineering

– Computer Engineering

While admission to Track One is relatively competitive, it is a lot less selective than admission to EngSci (entrance averages are around the mid-80s).   Since foundation studies last only one year, you are taking courses related to your chosen major starting from second year, which can be advantageous when trying to secure summer internships after second year.

On the flip side, this means that students are not exposed to the theoretical side of things as much as their peers in EngSci, which may be a concern for those considering graduate studies.  However, faculty members also regularly hire 3rd year students for summer research projects, so this option may also be a way to alleviate those concerns.

Another difference between Track One and EngSci is that Track One students are absorbed into their respective disciplines after the first year, which means there is a less of a “community” among Track One students.

Engineering Science, on the other hand, is considered a discipline on its own and executives of the Engineering Science Club (student government) also represent the program’s student body on the broader Engineering Society.  However, the specialized courses for EngSci students means that while there is a sense of community amongst EngSci students, it also presents a barrier to mingling with students from the Core 8 (+ Track One) programs.

Final Thoughts

University of Toronto offers two compelling entry options for incoming students interested in engineering but unsure of the ultimate career path to pursue.  Both programs are top-notch and have their respective strengths and weaknesses.  The Engineering Science program is definitely tailored for students more so looking to develop a broader analytical skillset in preparation for either a career in industry or graduate studies, albeit at the expense of immediately employable skills.  If your plan is to land a job as an EIT right after graduation, or if you want a little more school-life balance, then Track One is something you should definitely consider.

One last note is that students may also switch to another Core 8 program (such as Chem -> Mech, or EngSci -> Chem) after the first year provided that they maintain an 80% average (transfer requests from students with lower averages will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis).  Thus, those that apply to either Track One or EngSci, but end up being admitted directly to a Core 8 program as an alternate need not worry that you are “married” to that discipline.

Alex Dorward

Alex Dorward

Alex is the co-founder of UniversityHub (now CampusRankings) and current Technical Director for CampusRankings. Alex grew up in Ottawa before attending St FX in Antigonish, NS. After graduating, he joined Accenture and is currently a Manager in Accenture Digital.

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