How to choose a program in the Faculty of Science

Waterloo Earth Sciences student

King warrior Written by special contributor 

Choosing a specific field of scientific study — and wondering if it’ll lead to a fulfilling career one day — is a critical step in predicting the you of the future.

According to Lindy Loughran, a former marketing and recruitment specialist for the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Science, the key is to put time into figuring out where your passions and interests lie.

“University is your opportunity for you to become you, not just in your classes but in everything,” Lindy says. “As you start to discover more about yourself and what you’re passionate about, you’ll learn how to apply that to science.”

But given that science is such a broad field, how does she guide students with some very big decisions to make?

On the right path

“It really depends on where they’re coming from,” says Lindy. “Some students haven’t discovered their passion for certain subjects at that stage. With those students, we start off with, ‘What do you find interesting?’ Others have an idea in their head of what career they want, and are searching for the best path to an identifiable career such as a ‘doctor’ or ‘optometrist.’

“If they have a defined plan, we can talk to them about all the different routes they can take to get there. We always encourage them to come talk to us and we can advise them toward their best fit.”

But what if you aren’t sure what area you want to study or what career path you want to take? What options are available to you?

This chart is meant to guide you if you enjoy science but haven’t figured out what you want to study specifically.

Science flowchart on relating science topics and programs.

Waterloo’s Faculty of Science offers 17 majors, many more than the physics, biology, and chemistry offered in most high schools.

However, you’ll quickly realize that most majors connect to those three basic sciences. Waterloo offers majors in all three, of course but other majors branch out from these subjects, such as Medicinal Chemistry, Environmental Sciences, or Biological and Medical Physics.

“If you don’t have a plan and you say, for example, ‘I really love biology but what can I do?’ that’s when we get out the chart,” Lindy explains. “It really helps students target what they’re interested in. If you’re interested in physics but you really love chemistry as well, you can see where those connection pieces come in.  

Pick a program that’s flexible enough to meet the requirements to reach your goals, but also pick one you love because you’ll see more success in something you’re passionate about.

“For many students, we find it’s a little bit of ‘I’m good at this subject’ but we also get ‘I just love science.’

When I hear that I’ll ask, ‘What’s your favourite science class?’ Then I’ll ask: ‘What’s your favourite class that isn’t science?’ If you say business, we might point you to Science and Business or Biotechnology/Chartered Professional Accountancy. If you say math, we start to point you to those mathematically inclined types of sciences, such as Mathematical Physics or Biochemistry.

“I always say, ‘Pick a program that’s flexible enough to meet the requirements to reach your goals, but also pick one you love because you’ll see more success in something you’re passionate about.’”

With the Faculty of Science, you’ll need to choose a program to start in your first year.  But for students who don't yet have a specific area of interest, the Honours Science program is a great option. This program allows you to choose the science courses you’re most interested in, with plenty of electives, as you progress through your degree.

Biomedical student examing mold of teeth.

What if I want to switch my major?

You can absolutely change tracks, but remember that it gets harder the longer you remain in one program. Switching may end up tacking another term onto a degree, but it can be done.

“Once you get here, we encourage you to get involved from day one,” Lindy says.

“Put yourself out there, have conversations with your professors, immerse yourself in the culture here. A lot of interests will start to develop and that’s when you might discover a new path. We also encourage co-op if you’re not sure what to focus on. Through our co-op program, you’ll really discover things about yourself. It’s a great testing ground to figure things out.”

Waterloo Science student working in a lab.

Will I be prepared for the workforce?

One of the biggest questions students ask is how to prepare for a career in a rapidly changing economy. They also want to know how to prepare for jobs that might not even exist when they’re applying to university.

“We talk about skill development,” Lindy says. “That’s the amazing opportunity with a degree in science. Jobs start coming up that are so new, we can’t always say ‘you’ll become this or you’ll become that’ as there’s no standard path to those new jobs. Science, by its very nature, helps students develop the skills that will get them from point A to point B; to really become critical thinkers. That equips them for the jobs of tomorrow because they can analyze, discover, and determine what those new possibilities are.”

Waterloo Science student looking through a microscope

Common questions

Q. What kind of jobs are students saying they want?

A. The health profession is one of our biggest career paths. For instance, students who want to become a doctor, an optometrist, a pharmacist, a radiologist, a chiropractor … it’s not just any one career because there are many popular fields. Environmental and earth sciences are starting to move up in popularity due to climate change and resource shortages, with jobs increasing as well. For chemists and physicists, there’s definitely excitement for the fields of technology, materials science, and quantum computing.

Q. What are the typical enrolment numbers for Waterloo’s Faculty of Science?

A. About 1,200 new students a year.

Q. What majors can I choose from?

A. We have 17 majors that we typically divide into three categories: Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, and interdisciplinary programs.

Life Sciences entry programs Physical Sciences entry programs Interdisciplinary entry programs
Biomedical Sciences
Biological and Medical Physics
Medicinal Chemistry
Materials and Nanoscience
Mathematical Physics
Physics and Astronomy
Earth Sciences
Honours Science
Science and Business
Biotechnology/Chartered Professional Accountancy
Environmental Science
Science and Aviation

The right resources: Follow the path to the right science major

Need some extra help figuring out what major will make you happy? Check out these helpful links.



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