At a certain point quality is quality.
For example, when ranking the 1,400 best universities in the world, being in the top-25 is a pretty big deal. That’s the top 1.7%. We can all agree that the students who come from those programs are of the highest quality and the difference between #5 and #20 is meaningless for your company.
When quality is (almost) equal you have to move onto other measures. What matters most for a scaling tech company? Quantity.
You want great new recruits, but you also need to be able to access new recruits. Competing to hire one of 1000 graduates is easier than competing for one of 100.
We were curious to see which university balances quantity and quality best. To do this, we pulled a list of the world’s top-25 computer science programs from the 2022 QS University Rankings, found their enrollment numbers and – voilà – got our answer.
Here are the top-quality tech schools with the most tech students:
Well, wouldn’t you know it – the University of Waterloo is right there at the top.
Yes, it’s the world’s 25th-ranked university for computer science, and it’s also massive. Nearly 4,000 undergraduate students are enrolled in computer science and computer engineering, which are often combined for enrollment numbers. That number goes up to 4,500 undergraduate students if you include software engineering, as many of the universities on this chart have.
Right there with the University of Waterloo is the University of Toronto**, which is about 100km/65mi away. Combined, these schools have about 6,500 computer science students, which is equivalent to the enrollment at the 10 smallest universities included on this chart. Add in the University of British Columbia and Canada has nearly 7,000 undergraduate students studying computer science.
The country with the largest computer science enrollment is – to the surprise of few – the United States with about 14,000 undergraduates in a top-25 program. But, that’s including universities in seven different states – there’s a lot of geography between them. Next is Singapore, with just short of 5,000 computer science students.
*Universities marked with an asterisk do not provide full enrollment numbers for their programs, but they do provide either new enrollments each year or total number of graduates from a given program. In these cases, we simply multiplied the number by four to give an approximate number for four-year programs. This will not provide a perfect reflection of enrollment, but it does not affect this article’s conclusions.
**This number for University of Toronto only tracks computer science undergraduate enrollment, and only at one of the three main University of Toronto campuses, and does not include computer engineering.
UWaterloo enrollment surpasses all UK schools combined
The United Kingdom has five schools represented on the QS list of top-25 computer science universities, including Oxford at #5 and Cambridge at #8. However, enrollment numbers at UK universities are quite low, on average.
As you can see, the University of Edinburgh has one of the ten largest programs on the list, but the other four British universities are in the bottom seven.
The University of Waterloo has more students enrolled in computer science than all five of the United Kingdom’s entries on the list. It’s not close, either – there are almost 1,000 more students at the University of Waterloo than the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, University of Cambridge, University College London and University of Oxford combined.
Silicon Valley – and California – can’t keep up with Waterloo
Now this might surprise everyone – the University of Waterloo has more undergraduates studying computer science than UC Berkeley, UCLA and Stanford University combined.
Two of the top feeder schools for Silicon Valley, Stanford and UC Berkeley are two of the world’s highest ranked schools at #2 and #4, respectively. However, combined they only have 2,400 computer science students, which is just barely half the number you’ll find in Waterloo.
There’s a reason the University of Waterloo has been one of the most important sources of talent for Silicon Valley over the last 20 years – it’s a school that combines quantity with its incredible quality.
More than meets the eye at the University of Waterloo
The QS University Rankings make an attempt to standardize and rank universities that – realistically – are very different from one another. Their programs are different, their admissions are different and their cultures are different.
Two things that set the University of Waterloo apart that aren’t well-captured in the QS report are entrepreneurship and on-the-job experience.
In terms of entrepreneurship, UWaterloo is the undisputed leader in Canada. About 18% of all Canadian tech founders were students at the University of Waterloo. Velocity – part of the University of Waterloo’s suite of entrepreneurship programs – is Canada’s most productive incubator and has helped produce tech unicorns like ApplyBoard and Faire. The school’s unique inventor-owned IP policy attracts the world’s most entrepreneurial faculty, researchers and students.
In terms of work-readiness, the University of Waterloo co-operative education program provides all computer science students with two years of on-the-job experience at companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, SAP and hundreds of startups and scale-ups. The day they graduate, University of Waterloo students can make a significant positive impact.