Your guide to university terminology

Waterloo students walking on campus.

Universities have a language of their own. Here's your guide to some of the terminology you'll encounter!

Key terms relating to programs


A major is the subject that’s the main focus of your university degree. Most of the courses you’ll take will be in your major. The terms major and program are often used interchangeably.

Undergraduate degree

It's the first level of university studies you apply to from high school and normally takes three to five years to complete. Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science are two common degrees. Students pursuing an undergraduate degree (also called a bachelor's degree) are called undergraduate students.

Undergraduate program

An undergraduate program is what you complete to earn your degree. A program will have a certain number of required courses you need to take along with electives that you choose. Visit how to choose a university program for tips on using your interests, strengths, and career plans to pick a program.


In many programs, you can include a minor (usually 8-10 courses in a specific subject) as part of the 40 or so courses for your degree. This allows you to study a second area of interest. Here is a list of minors available at Waterloo.

Option or specialization

Similar to a minor, these usually provide additional knowledge within your program (a minor can be unrelated to your major). Options and specializations add depth to your degree while minors add breadth.


Terms relating to applying

Admission average

At Waterloo, your admission average consists of the grades from your top 6 Grade 12 courses (U or M in Ontario) or equivalents, including all required courses for the program you've applied to. Admission averages are a key factor when we review applications.

Admission requirements

The high school courses, grades, and admission average you need to be considered for admission. For some programs, the admission requirements may include an interview, portfolio, or other assignments.

Admitted student

A student who has applied, met the admission requirements, and received an offer of admission to university.


A student who has applied for admission.

Direct-entry programs

You can apply directly to these from high school. Sometimes direct-entry programs are the same as majors. Other times, you’ll apply to a direct-entry program and then choose your major.

Offer of admission

An official document from a university that lists the program you've been admitted to and explains any conditions you need to meet.

Ontario Universities' Application Centre (OUAC)

The OUAC processes most applications to Ontario's universities. You'll apply to Waterloo through the OUAC, which then forwards your application information to each Ontario university you've applied to.

Transfer credit

These are courses taken in high school, college, or university that you can count toward your Waterloo degree. High school courses eligible for transfer credit include IB and AP.


Financial terminology


Money given to students based on financial need. This does not need to be paid back. Entrance bursaries are for students starting university for the first time.

Financial need

When your costs (tuition, textbooks, housing, etc.) exceed the financial resources you (and sometimes your family) have available. Often there is special funding or jobs for students with financial need.


Money awarded primarily on academic and personal achievement. This does not need to be paid back. Entrance scholarships are for students starting university. There are scholarships available after first year as well.

Work-study job

Convenient, part-time jobs right on campus for full-time students with financial need.


General terms


A group of departments or professional schools that offer programs with similar themes. Like Waterloo's six faculties, they are home for programs, professors, academic advisors, classrooms, and study spaces.

Graduate degree

Graduate degrees are specialized studies you complete after your undergraduate degree. There are two levels: Master’s degree (which often takes one to two years to complete) and Doctor of Philosophy (usually take four years to complete, also known as a PhD or doctoral program). You normally need to complete a Master's before applying to a PhD.

Professional programs

These lead to careers that often require a license. You can apply to some professional programs directly from high school, e.g., engineering, architecture, urban planning.

Other programs, such as law, medicine, teaching, optometry, and pharmacy, require at least two or three years of university studies.


Types of undergraduate degrees

The type of degree you earn reflects the area of study you chose, recognizing that you've gained expertise in that subject. These are the degrees offered at Waterloo.

  • Bachelor of Accounting and Finance Management (BAFM)
  • Bachelor of Architectural Studies (BAS)
  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc)
  • Bachelor of Computer Science (BCS)
  • Bachelor of Computing and Financial Management (BCFM)
  • Bachelor of Environmental Studies (BES)
  • Bachelor of Global Business and Digital Arts (BGBDA)
  • Bachelor of Knowledge Integration (BKI)
  • Bachelor of Mathematics (BMath)
  • Bachelor of Public Health (BPH)
  • Bachelor of Science (BSc)
  • Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)
  • Bachelor of Software Engineering (BSE)

Additional degree types can be found on the degree abbreviation chart from the Ontario Universities’ Info website.

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