How to choose a program in the Faculty of Environment

Environment student on laptop

King warrior Written by special contributor 

Given that our planet and climate change are top of mind lately, there’s more opportunity than ever to embark on a career that’s all about making positive change.

According to Jay Smith, former recruitment and student engagement coordinator for the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, there are many educational and career paths for young people motivated to improve the world around them.

Is the Faculty of Environment for you?

“Faculty of Environment students are advocates,” Jay says. “They’re interested in environmental and sustainability issues, and they’re typically motivated by making the world a better place to live. Their career options can span from conducting oil sands land reclamation to implementing community-level programs to make cities healthier — there are all kinds of ways they could go.”

Jay says many prospective Environment students are already heavily involved in making the world better by volunteering above and beyond the 40 hours of community service required to graduate from high school.

“Whether it’s planting trees, advocating to their local government about sustainable development issues, taking part in recycling programs, instigating cleanups in their parks, these students tend to be pretty selfless,” he says. “They’re trying to see how they can make their communities better places to live.”

Student wearing a Geomatics program jacket.

Choosing your direct entry major

Each of the unique programs in the Faculty of Environment are direct-entry programs, meaning you apply directly to your program of interest and begin studying this subject from day one.

Jay says that when it comes to figuring out a specific field of study, the earlier you start weighing your options, the better.

“A lot of students are trying to narrow in on which program is best for them before they’ve even started their Grade 12 year,” he says.

“It's my job to help them figure out their program major early on. If a student doesn’t know what they want to do or which program is best for them, there’s flexibility to move between programs but we don’t encourage it. I would advise the student take an extra year to be more confident in their choice of program, and then apply.”

The earlier you start weighing your options, the better.

To be confident you’re choosing the right program, you’re urged to visit campus, take a Faculty of Environment tour,  and speak to current students and professors.

Student working in a lab.

What about my career?

“A lot of students are focused on career outcomes,” Jay says. “But it’s less about ‘Here’s the career, here’s the program.’ I prefer to frame it as ‘What issues do you want to solve?’ If it’s climate change, for example, then that allows me to help students explore the different areas they can go into.

“I try to help them understand that studying what they’re interested in and passionate about is what they’re going to be most successful in. If they like what they’re studying, they’re more likely to go to all their lectures and do all their reading. It’s not going to seem like a chore.”

If you have a specific career in mind, Jay recommends doing a LinkedIn search to learn about the backgrounds of people working in that field, or look up career profiles on a site like This can be a helpful way to decide what program you might want to pursue.

Don’t just look at a single career because jobs are always changing. You’re going to discover jobs you didn’t know existed.

“We’re very much an interdisciplinary faculty,” Jay adds. “It’s really about helping our students think laterally and approach problems from a number of different perspectives. If they’re still searching, I tell them, ‘Don’t just look at a single career because jobs are always changing. You’re going to discover jobs you didn’t know existed.’”

Students reviewing the Environment brochure.

Narrowing down the field: What are my options?

There are nine programs in Waterloo's Faculty of Environment, all with a focus on making positive change in the world.

  • New! Climate and Environmental Change: Gain deep scientific knowledge in climate change, master practical tools like computer modelling, and hone the skills to build a low-carbon future. 
  • Environment and Business: Guide businesses to be both profitable and sustainable. Explore the triple bottom line — financial, social, and environmental.
  • Environment, Resources and Sustainability: Study the natural and social sciences, while you tackle some of the world’s biggest environmental challenges, from water and food to energy and biodiversity.
  • Geography and Aviation: Soar to new heights. Earn your Commercial Pilot’s License while you explore the world as a geographer, studying weather patterns, landforms, and GIS technology.
  • Geography and Environmental Management: Explore the Earth’s human and physical environments, their interaction, and how they change over time.
  • Geomatics: Geotag, you’re it! Combine geography with computer programming and environmental analysis.
  • Knowledge Integration: Go beyond a traditional arts or science program.  Design your education and explore the intersections of your many interests.  
  • Planning: Create healthier, more vibrant communities. Study the environmental and social challenges facing our cities and rural areas.
  • New! Sustainability and Financial Management: Become a sought-after expert who can measure profits and planetary health. Through this one-of-a-kind program, you'll gain expertise in accounting and financial management at Waterloo's world-class School of Accounting and Finance, and study sustainability in Canada's biggest Faculty of Environment. 

Did you know?
There are approximately 500 first-year students in the Faculty of Environment each year. The most popular program is Planning, a multidisciplinary program that explores Canadian urban and regional planning, while tackling environmental and social challenges facing our communities. You’ll explore topics ranging from economic and legal issues to design skills and GIS technology.

The right path to picking your major


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