What is a major? What is a minor?

A student pilot in Waterloo's aviation program leans forward as she prepares to land on a runway

A student in Waterloo's Science and Aviation program prepares to land at the Waterloo Waterloo Flight Centre.

Applying to university can mean learning some new terminology. Here are some common terms and ways to tailor your degree to your interests.

What is a major?

A major is the subject that's the main focus of your studies in university.

Majors include Biology, Environment and Business, Health Sciences, Geological Engineering, Pure Mathematics, Psychology, and more. Most of the 40 or so courses you'll take to earn your degree will be in your major. All students normally have a major.

The terms major and program are often used interchangeably. View Waterloo's majors/programs.

What is a minor?

A minor is a group of courses in a particular subject or theme that complements your main area of study.

Minors require 8-10 courses to complete (out of the 40 or so needed for your degree) and can be related or unrelated to the main focus of your studies, i.e., your major.

There are many minors available at Waterloo, allowing you to easily combine two or more subjects. Minors are optional.

What is an option?

Options are available only within your home faculty.

For example, only students within the Faculty of Engineering can choose Engineering options. An option provides depth to your degree and usually requires six to eight courses.

What is a specialization?

Specializations are available only within your major.

These require four to seven courses and will be closely related to your major. For example, only students majoring in English can choose the Digital Media Studies or Technical Writing specializations.


What is a degree?

A university degree is awarded to students who have successfully completed a specific number of courses or credits in a particular field of study.

An undergraduate degree is what you would earn after high school. There are also two levels of graduate degrees: master's and doctoral or PhD.

What is a double major or joint honours?

In some programs, you can choose a double major or joint honours degree. This lets you really focus on two main areas of interest. Of the 40 or so courses needed to earn your degree, nearly all of them would be in your two majors.

You can choose two majors in the same faculty, e.g., Political Science and Spanish (both within the Faculty of Arts). You can also choose majors in different faculties, e.g., Environment, Resources and Sustainability (Faculty of Environment) and Biology (Faculty of Science).


If you choose a minor, option, specialization, double major, or joint honours, it will appear on your university diploma when you graduate.

For example, you might graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in English, a minor in biology, and a creative writing specialization. Minors, options, and specializations aren't available in all programs. And in some programs, you can do a couple of minors, options, or specializations.

If all these choices are confusing, just email our Visitors Centre and they'll connect you to the right person. Or contact the recruitment co-ordinator for your faculty/program of interest and they'd be happy to help.

Other common questions

What next?