In engineering, you will be taking a lot of courses specific to your program, most of which are required courses. Some programs may have their first electives as early as their 1B term (ECE has their first elective in 2B). These electives are usually chosen from a specific list as listed on the undergraduate calendar for your program. While you must satisfy these requirements, you can also take certain courses that can satisfy the requirements of certain “Options”.

What are Options?

Options are similar to a minor:  a package of courses that you can take to customize your own degree before graduation. The difference between an option and a minor is that an option usually requires six to eight courses, whereas a minor usually requires significantly more courses. These options are usually courses taken outside of your discipline. These are pretty useful in a sense that you can take courses outside your home department or outside the Faculty of Engineering that one would not be able to take since you are not enrolled in that program. Furthermore, taking the initiative to build a well-rounded education other than your technical courses may be important when it comes to applying for jobs (co-op or after graduation). Some of the options are usually designed so that they can overlap with courses from other programs or count as your CSE electives, reducing the number of additional courses required to complete it.

Minors and Options in the Faculty of Engineering

The Faculty of Engineering does not offer any minors, only options. This makes sense, considering that engineering schedules are already packed enough, adding more course requirements would usually mean that you would need to take extra courses online on work terms or overload your schedule on study terms, which could be bad. Options are somewhat manageable, depending on the option you would like to take, since some of the courses are required are part of your core courses for your program anyways. For example, if you are in ECE, you could potentially complete the Software Engineering option by taking courses that count for both the option and your technical electives or core courses for your program.

There are a variety of options offered by the Faculty of Engineering, and I will briefly go through them:

  • Biomechanics – this option requires seven courses, and it prepares engineering students in various roles that deals with health care problems, embryo development, ergonomics, and much more. It is available to all engineering students, and requires various science courses from the Faculty of Science, Applied Health Science, or Engineering. This option has a a project component, in which fourth year students complete a fourth year project required for both their program and biomechanics.
  • Computer Engineering – This option is only available to students in Electrical Engineering or Systems Design Engineering, an expanded view on computer hardware & software, and how they interact with each other. The course requirements vary depending if you are in EE or SYDE, some of which are either part of the core program or can be taken as a technical elective from their respective departments.
  • Entrepreneurship – This is a new option (just started in Fall 2014!), which focuses on venture creation and corporate entrepreneurship. This option provides students with the business skills required move ideas from a concept to commercial success. This is pretty much what the University of Waterloo is known for: co-op and startups. There are five required courses, and students enrolled in this option are required to complete a E-Coop term (where students run their own business), or a fourth year design project.
  • Environmental Engineering – This option teaches students about the environmental concerns, the assessment of new products and how it affects the environment, and more. This option is will be of specific interest to Chemical, Civil, Mechanical, and Systems Design Engineering since it includes courses from these disciplines. There are seven courses required for this option, and is not available to Environmental Engineering students.
  • International Studies in Engineering – This option is pretty unique, where students can learn things that is not taught in lectures. Usually this would require international experience at another university outside of Canada after your 2B term. This can include study terms or work terms in an academic institution. There are course requirements, but must be approved by the option coordinator.
  • Life Science – This is one of the two options offered by the Faculty of Science, and not from the Faculty of Engineering. In short, you specialize in a certain theme for your option, and you complete  the courses required for it. This option is geared towards students in Chemical, Environmental, Nanotechnology, and Systems Design Engineering.
  • Management Sciences – This option prepares engineering students in various business technology management roles in organizations. You take a variety of courses about economics, organizational behaviour, and more. This option requires six courses, three of which are mandatory courses for the option.
  •  Mathematics – basically more math than what you need to do, from linear algebra to various calculus and graph theory courses.  You need eight courses to complete this option.
  • Mechatronics – This option bridges components from Mechanical, Electrical, and Computer Engineering that design products from these interdisciplinary topics. This is more geared towards the programs mentioned earlier (and SYDE), since most of the courses are from their respective programs. Similar to the biomechanics option, your fourth year design project must consists of both topics from mechatronics and your core program.
  • Physical Sciences – This is the second option offered by the Faculty of Science. Similar to the Life Science option, you specialize in a certain theme (Physics, Chemistry, or Earth & Environmental Sciences) and take the courses accordingly. It seems that the Physical Science option requires more courses than the others, which is weird that it is considered an option.
  • Software Engineering – Mainly geared towards ECE and CS students, this option teaches you about software development and other programming courses such as real time operating systems, logic, algorithms and data structures, software requirements, testing, and design. Most of the courses comes from the ECE or CS departments so if you are  an ECE student, you can potentially complete your technical electives by taking these courses and meet the requirements for your option.
  • Statistics – the undergrad calendar doesn’t explain too much, but it seems that its just a bunch of courses from various departments mashed together. You need seven courses for this option.
  • Water Resources – For students interested in the development, management, and protection of water resources. You will learn about fluid mechanics, hydraulics, pollution control, and more. Usually geared towards Civil, Mechanical, and Systems Design Engineering students as  a lot of the courses comes from the Civil engineering department.

So, why am I bringing this up? It’s because students can have their first elective as early as their 1B term, and planning beforehand will allow you to decide on which electives to take to satisfy both your option and program requirements. Sure, you could just choose electives that satisfy your program and not any option, but if you do decide that you want to do an option later on in your undergrad career, you might run into problems such as not having enough electives to take these courses, resulting in overloading your term schedule to fit the courses required for your option. And maybe you might prefer that, who knows. Lastly, if you do decide to take any courses (for your electives or for an option, or both), make sure that you are taking it in the right term. Some courses are only offered in a certain term (Fall, Winter, or Spring). Bottom line is that it proper planning beforehand will help you in the long run.

To declare or remove an option, complete the plan modification form on the Waterloo website. Then, either email or hand it into your home department for approval.

My Plans

As for myself, I’m leaning towards the Management Science option. I was planning on completing the Software Engineering & Management Science option together (the ECE website states that you can complete both of these options together if you are in Computer Engineering, which I am). However, after taking ECE 155 (Engineering Design with Embedded Systems, which covered software design patterns, software requirements, software development cycle, software blah blah blah…), I don’t feel too motivated doing this option anymore because the stuff you learn in this course was just purely understanding user requirements, development cycle, and unit testing, which was pretty boring. The Software Engineering option requires you to take three courses which is basically ECE 155 expanded, and I’m not down to do that. At one point I also considered doing the Mechatronics option, however there were a couple courses in that option that I had no prerequisite for, and even if I do it takes up a lot of my technical electives spaces. At the end, the Management Science option was the most appealing to me, since it was rather easy to fit into the courses I want to take. Three of the courses (see below) satisfy my CSE electives, and the ECE department allows us to have two non-ECE technical electives from the MSCI option, which worked out perfectly. Lastly, with all the technical courses I will be taking, I feel that I’m lacking the business concepts in a organization, so hopefully with this option I can get an insight into the business world.

All good things have a flip side to it: I ran into issues in terms of scheduling my remaining technical electives since I wanted to take a lot of the fourth year courses offered. As of now, I hope that I can overload my schedule then to take these courses, but who knows…we shall see how things go. But as of now, I’m certain that I’m going for the MSCI option.

David Vuong