Attending University in Canada

Print Media Assistant, York University

A popular destination for students from around the world, Canada offers globally recognized, exceptional academic institutions, boasting world-class scholars, cutting-edge research, and sophisticated technology. The result? Top-caliber, in-demand graduates equipped with both theoretical and practical expertise.

Bolstering its academic reputation, Canada is repeatedly selected by the United Nations as one of the best places in the world to live, especially when it comes to standard of living, health care, and education. The country’s diverse population and welcoming culture makes Canada a particularly attractive choice for international students wanting to study abroad. Since the quality of postsecondary education in Canada is consistent from coast to coast, students need not worry about making a bad decision when selecting a Canadian university to attend—they are all held to the same quality standards, so it simply comes down to determining the best fit.

Canada is the second-largest country in the world in terms of landmass and has a population of more than 34 million people. Made up of 10 provinces and three territories, with six different time zones among them, the country’s land accounts for 25% of the world’s wetlands, 10% of the world’s forests, 7% of the world’s renewable freshwater supply, and the world’s longest coastline.

Living in Canada

Multiculturalism—the idea that all citizens should take pride in their ancestry and have a sense of belonging—is enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada is a democratic country that values all races, ethnic groups, and religious faiths and supports two official languages: English and French.

Known not only for its natural beauty, rural farmland, and tight-knit communities but also for its vibrant metropolitan areas, Canada’s major urban centers are modern hubs for business, fashion, fitness, and entertainment. Canada is truly at the forefront of global relevance, with Vancouver’s booming film industry and forward-thinking sustainability efforts, Calgary’s energy sector and annual Stampede, Montreal’s niche in aerospace and apparel, and Toronto’s financial district, Waterfront Marathon, and world-renowned Toronto International Film Festival.

While the entire country experiences all four seasons, with generally warm summers, snowy winters, and pleasant springs and falls, the specific weather conditions within each season vary significantly from one end of the country to the other. Students can make the most of Canada’s changing temperatures by getting outside and participating in various seasonal sports, from hockey and skiing in the winter to hiking and mountain biking in the spring and fall, and jogging, swimming, soccer, and baseball in the balmy summer months.

Canadian universities

Canada has more than 200 degree-granting academic institutions, the majority of which are located in the country’s most heavily populated provinces, Ontario and Quebec. Whether students are looking for a small, intimate campus community or a large, comprehensive institution offering undergraduate, postgraduate, or professional-level degrees, Canada has it all, with more than 10,000 programs to choose from.

Spending more per capita on its education system than any other country in the world, Canada’s focus on quality academics provides students with an affordable, portable, and career-focused degree. The cost of study in Canada is also considerably less than in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Canada’s academic year typically goes from September until late April, with a more limited course selection in the summer term (May through July).

Canada has one of the world’s highest rates of postsecondary degree completion, with both domestic and international enrollment rates growing steadily each year. In keeping with the increasing international student population, Canadian universities are continuing to expand the global aspects of their academic offerings, through both course content and opportunities to study abroad.


Depending on province, institution, and program, tuition fees at Canadian universities can vary significantly. While the average undergraduate tuition for international students at Canadian universities was $16,768 for the 2010–2011 academic year, graduate-level and professional programs, such as engineering, law, business, and medicine, usually have much higher fees. International students should also be prepared for fluctuations in the international exchange rate that could impact the price of their tuition over the course of a four-year undergraduate degree.

When it comes to funding, more than half of the universities in Canada offer entrance scholarships to their first-year students, both domestic and international, based on academic standing. At most institutions, international students will also be permitted to compete for other merit-based awards once they are enrolled. Need-based funding for international students covering both living costs and tuition is much less common but is available at some universities.

Students with Canadian citizenship and permanent residents can apply for Canadian government loans, while American citizens and permanent U.S. residents can apply their U.S. monies (FAFSA funding) to all Canadian academic programs, provided the institution is recognized by the U.S. Federal Department of Education.

To ensure international students are maximizing their academic funding, they should look into options in their home countries by researching scholarships provided by government and private organizations or companies. When beginning this search, some Canadian resources students will find helpful include the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the Canadian Bureau for International Education, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.

Permits and visas

International students enrolling in programs longer than six months will be required to obtain a study permit before entering Canada. Permits can be applied for upon acceptance to a Canadian university. When entering the country, students will also need a valid passport, a letter of acceptance from a Canadian institution, a certificate of language proficiency, in some cases a health certificate, and proof of financial means to support themselves while in the country. Students from certain countries may also require a temporary resident visa. Additionally, students studying in Quebec must obtain a Certificat d’acceptation du Québec before arrival to Canada. Refer to the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website for further details and application forms.


Students can take advantage of the many co-op programs, internships, experiential learning, volunteer opportunities, and work-study positions that are available at most postsecondary institutions, providing real-world skills and hands-on training to prepare students for life after graduation. Canadian work experience is highly desired by multinational companies that actively recruit on Canadian campuses.

During their studies, all international students can work part time on campus, but they require a work permit for off-campus employment of up to 20 hours per week. After graduation, international students can apply for a work permit that will allow them to remain in Canada to work full time for up to three years. New government policies are in place to make it easier for out-of-country graduates who wish to call Canada their permanent home.

Graduates from Canadian universities have access to the country’s increasing job opportunities, competitive wages, excellent living standards, and employers that excel in industries such as aerospace, business, digital media, manufacturing, medicine, engineering, and renewable energy.


Admission requirements vary based on school and program, but Canadian postsecondary institutions generally require the equivalent to secondary school graduation in Canada and proof of proficiency in either English or French. Many programs have more competitive requirements, including specific courses and higher grade-point averages, as well as standard aptitude tests, portfolios of work, or auditions. Since Canadian universities are competitive, meeting the minimum requirements will not guarantee admission. With the exception of provinces that have central application centers (e.g., the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre and the Post-Secondary Application Service of British Columbia), most Canadian university applications can be completed online, directly from the universities’ websites.

Upon arrival to Canada, international students are often welcomed by university representatives at the airport and invited to attend various social and academic orientation activities to help ease the transition to a new and unfamiliar country. To further aid the adjustment and support students’ academic journeys, most university campuses provide convenient and affordable on-campus housing, counseling and disability services, career counseling, study-skills workshops, and international student clubs. All institutions provide access to gymnasiums, sports facilities, libraries, food services, computer labs, and quiet study areas.

Making the decision to pursue postgraduate studies in Canada means meeting students from all over the world with similar interests, learning from inspirational professors, and being part of an open-minded, multicultural community where all students have the opportunity to get involved and shape their own futures.

Learn more online!

For more information regarding studying in Canada, check out these official government resources.

Note: Did you know you could win a $10,000 scholarship for college or grad school just by registering on CollegeXpress? This is one of the quickest, easiest scholarships you’ll ever apply for. Register Now »