How to choose a program in the Faculty of Arts

Students with laptops laughing together

King warrior Written by special contributor 

A career worth pursuing is one you enjoy. After all, you’ll be working for a good part of your life.

For those who lean toward subjects in the liberal arts, the best-kept secret about this kind of education is how it shapes you into a truly marketable employee whose skills are in high demand in a variety of industries.

The journey toward that career begins with choosing a major. The good news is that for the two biggest programs in Waterloo's Faculty of Arts, you don’t have to pick one right away.

Former Undergraduate Recruitment Coordinator, Samantha Boehmer, says her job begins with helping students understand what an arts faculty has to offer. She estimates about half of students aren't aware of what a Faculty of Arts is, let alone know the kinds of programs it houses. After explaining the faculty, the next question on everyone's mind is choosing a major.

“How to pick a major is one of the biggest conversations I have with parents and students,” Samantha says. “Some Grade 12 students know exactly what they’re interested in. But from the time they select their first-year courses in June to when they officially declare their major at the end of first year, 30 per cent change their mind."

Take your time

If you prefer to test the waters before diving in, you'll appreciate the first year you'll get in Honours Arts and Honours Arts and Business. These programs let you slow down the decision-making process and give you a year to explore your options. You can try courses in various disciplines to to figure out which you enjoy and in which you excel.

If a student has an idea of their major in first year and it doesn’t work out, they can just choose another major and still progress to second year.

“In Waterloo's Faculty of Arts, students don't go directly into their major for our Honours Arts and Honours Arts and Business programs because we know so many of them change their mind. If a student has an idea of their major in first year and it doesn’t work out, they can just choose another major and still progress to second year.”

Samantha says she always encourages prospective students and their parents to come to campus and talk to current students to get a feel for the community. It will give you a better understanding of the Faculty of Arts, but it will also help you understand the differences between the majors.

“We have a very strong community in the Faculty of Arts, and we want students to be happy and stay,” she says.

Waterloo students hanging out in Arts Quad

Skills employers want

Samantha asks students what they’re interested in and what they want to do. There are so many avenues they can go down, but it’s very difficult to plan for a specific job. It’s more about building the tools they can use in a job.

We’re really focused on developing human-centred skills — judgment and decision-making — so that students can go out and contribute in the workplace and weather the storm of shifting careers, given that many jobs of the future don’t even exist yet.”

Arts graduates are particularly well positioned to offer what employers want: creativity, collaboration, persuasion, empathy, adaptability, and communication skills.

According to a LinkedIn report, 57 per cent of senior employers are more concerned with these human-centred than traditionally valued hard skills.

With a skill set not easily replicated by artificial intelligence, Arts graduates can be confident that their skills will be in demand in spite of industry changes and automations that are likely to influence the work landscape of the future.

In Waterloo’s Faculty of Arts, you can gain these skills in one of four areas of study: social science, humanities, fine and performing arts, and languages and culture.

In any one of these areas, you can expect to gain deep subject matter expertise, human-centred skills, as well as hands-on professional skills, if you choose a program with a co-op option.


Students dressed in business attire

Gaining admission

Almost every prospective student wants to know how competitive the admissions process is and what percentage of applicants are accepted.

“It depends on the number of applications we get each year, but typically if students meet our minimum cutoff, they’re probably going to get a spot at the university,” Samantha says. “But we always remind them it’s a very competitive program.”

Doing some self-reflection and research is key, especially if you don’t know which subjects you’re interested in. Take time to study the admissions prerequisites and minimum grades as you set your sights on a program. Our article on using your resources and interests to find a program you'll love is also a helpful resource.

Ultimate flexibility

Honours Arts and Honours Arts and Business give you the freedom to explore your passions while postponing the commitment to one of the 30 available majors. You can test the waters throughout first year, sampling courses from the humanities, social sciences, fine and performing arts, and languages and cultures — and discover subjects you weren’t exposed to in high school.

“It’s not just what you do in the classroom, it’s how you get involved and take advantage of the things here on campus,” Samantha says. “There are so many connections you can make to develop accountability skills, team-working skills, and professional development.”

Student using virtual reality goggles.

Common questions

Do you have to choose your major right away in first year?

Because many students change their mind about what to major in, Waterloo gives you time to explore before making a commitment. All students enrolled in Honours Arts and Honours Arts and Business can declare their major at the end of first year.

What majors can you choose?

  • Anthropology
  • Classical Studies (or Classics)
  • Communication Studies (or Communication Arts and Design Practice)
  • Economics
  • English (choose Creative and Professional Writing; Literature; Literature and Rhetoric; or Rhetoric, Media, and Professional Communication)
  • Fine Arts (choose Studio Practice or Visual Culture)
  • French
  • Gender and Social Justice
  • German
  • History
  • Legal Studies
  • Liberal Studies
  • Medieval Studies
  • Music
  • Peace and Conflict Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science
  • Psychology
  • Religious Studies
  • Sexuality, Marriage, and Family Studies
  • Social Development Studies
  • Sociology
  • Spanish
  • Theatre and Performance

Why choose a Liberal Arts degree?

A few fast facts about Arts grads

  • Human skills, such as leadership, communication, and problem solving, are among the most in-demand skills in the labour market.
  • 55% of the world’s professional leaders are graduates of social sciences and the humanities.
  • The average salary for social sciences graduates start at about $40,000 right after graduation, but within 13 years nearly doubles to just under $80,000 — similar to that of math and natural science graduates at the same point in their careers.

A fistful of resources to help pick your Arts major



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