How to choose a program in the Faculty of Mathematics

Student looking at data on a monitor.

King warrior Written by special contributor 

There are generally two types of students interested in studying math at Waterloo.

"Some students know exactly what program they’re interested in by the time they reach their senior high school years," says Meghan McLellan, director of Undergraduate Recruitment and International in the Faculty of Mathematics.

"Other students know they’re good at math and have a passion for it, but aren’t sure how to apply it in the real world, or haven’t decided which program is a good fit."

No matter which major you choose, it’s about more than being good at math. It’s also critical that you genuinely enjoy it.

The good news is that no matter what you’re interested in pursuing or where you are in the process of deciding, we are here to help.

Do what you love

“When you tell us you’re good at math, we tell you that you’ve come to the right place,” Meghan says. “Often we ask, ‘What is it about math you love? Is it patterns? Numbers? Are you trying to solve problems as efficiently as possible?’”

No matter which major you choose, it’s about more than being good at math. It’s also critical that you genuinely enjoy it.

“Without a doubt, students have to be passionate about math for any program at Waterloo,” she says. “Our programs are challenging, but our students have built a strong community of people who are excited about math and computing.”

Direct entry vs. general first year

Some Faculty of Mathematics programs are direct entry, meaning you apply to the program you’re interested in and begin your studies in that area beginning in your first year.

This includes most of Waterloo's math, business and accounting, and computer science programs, like our double degree programs offered in partnership with nearby Wilfrid Laurier University.

But for many of our math programs, you’ll apply to Honours Mathematics and declare your major later. You’ll get your feet wet by trying a lot of different things, and you can combine your interest in math with other passions such as science or arts.

It’s your chance to discover everything from combinatorics and optimization to statistics, and pursue the path that interests you most.


Career prospects

Often, students and their families are unclear about what to expect after university. Meghan says the vast choice in math programs and specializations at Waterloo, combined with world-renowned co-op opportunities, are setting graduates up for success. The career possibilities are virtually endless, with employers prepared to pay very well for the skills you’ll bring to the table.

Our job is to help students and parents see the power of a mathematics degree.

“People say to me, ‘I love math. I’m good at it. But what am I going to do with a mathematics degree?’” Meghan says. “Some of our programs, like Math/Chartered Professional Accountancy, have a more defined career outcome. But our job is to help students and parents see the power of a mathematics degree. We try to clarify the path for them by providing examples of what our co-op students and grads are doing.”

A few words about #1: Data has now surpassed oil as the world’s hottest commodity — and data scientists’ skills are in such high demand that the Harvard Business Review says “data scientist” is the sexiest job of the 21st century. (Good thing the University of Waterloo has created a new undergraduate Data Science program to prepare students for jobs in this field!)

Man in a suit in an urban centre.

“There are so many ways you can apply the skills we’re teaching students,” Meghan says. “We’re preparing you to use mathematics to lead advances in a wide variety of sectors, whether that be in medicine, financial technologies, online security and privacy, data science/mining, and the list goes on.”

So how will you decide on the right program for you? The best way to decide on a math major is to visit the campus. There are several event days where you can talk to professors and participate in a mock lecture, and daily tours with current Waterloo students who can share their experiences and answer your questions.

Tools to help you pick a math major


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