What is a major? What is a minor?

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 degree.

Most of your courses will be in your major and you'll graduate with a degree in that major, e.g., Bachelor of Science in Public Health, Bachelor of Arts in History, Bachelor of Environmental Studies in Geomatics. Major and program are often used interchangeably. View Waterloo's majors/programs.

What is a minor?

A minor is a secondary subject that complements your major.

Minors require 8-10 courses and can be related or unrelated to your major. There are many minors available at Waterloo, allowing you to easily combine two or more subjects.

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.

Waterloo offers six faculties: Arts, Engineering, Environment, Health, Mathematics, and Science.

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 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 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's the difference between program and major?

At Waterloo, your major is your program when you apply to it directly from high school, e.g., Kinesiology, Geomatics, Civil Engineering. These are also called entry programs because you "enter" university through them.

In other cases, you'll apply to a program such as Honours Arts or Honours Science and then choose a major such as History or Biology.

However, program and major are often used interchangeably.

How do you choose a major, minor, option, etc.?

If you have questions about majors, minors, options. or specializations, contact the faculty that offers your program for advice.

Once you're a Waterloo student, academic advisors can help plan which courses you'd like to take, including any minors, options, or specializations (if those are possible with your major).


What is an undergraduate program?

An undergraduate program is the first level of university studies and what you study after finishing high school.

It normally takes three to five years to complete and leads to a Bachelor's degree, e.g., Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Mathematics, Bachelor of Science. Students pursuing an undergraduate degree are called undergraduate students.

Once you finish your undergraduate studies, you can apply to a graduate or professional program (e.g., Master's degree, law school, medical school, PhD). Waterloo offers more than 180 graduate programs.

What is a faculty?

A faculty is made of up academic departments and professional schools that are home to programs, professors and advisors, research labs and classrooms, as well as study and social spaces.

There are six faculties at Waterloo: Arts, Engineering, Environment, Health, Mathematics, and Science.


What next?