Last Updated: Jul 25, 2011
Canada enjoys a well-earned international reputation for the strength and quality of its political, economic, and educational institutions, ranking high on the United Nations’ list year after year for being one of the very best places in the world to live and work. Canada is a multicultural nation, officially bilingual in English and French. Canadians across the country understand the value and benefits of living harmoniously and productively within a culturally and linguistically diverse society.
More than 100,000 students from around the world are welcomed to Canada’s public and private universities each year, drawn by the consistently high quality of education and the country’s cosmopolitan communities and campuses.
The second-largest country in the world in terms of landmass, Canada offers geographic and climatic diversity, from the temperate rain forest on the Pacific West Coast to the rugged coastline of Canada’s Atlantic provinces to the High Arctic. Though well known for majestic snow-capped mountains, wide plains, sparkling lakes, and thick forests, Canada also boasts some of the most exciting and cosmopolitan cities in North America, offering a wealth of cultural attractions and affordable and extensive public transportation systems.
About Canadian universities
Education in Canada is the responsibility of provincial (not federal) government. Each of Canada’s 13 provinces and territories establishes, funds, and assures the quality of public universities within its jurisdiction. In addition, approximately 90 of Canada’s universities are also recognized through membership in the national Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), headquartered in Ottawa, the nation’s capital. However, international scholars can choose from more than 160 degree-granting colleges and universities located in cities large and small across Canada, with programs, tuition costs, and living experiences to suit every student’s needs.
Research of global significance is conducted in Canada’s major universities, and not just at the graduate level. Increasingly, students are invited to participate in research projects as part of their undergraduate experience. Some of the most sophisticated laboratories, research facilities, and extensive libraries in the world—in fields as diverse as particle physics and international law—are located in Canada’s top-tier universities.
Canadian universities offer bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees in the fields of medicine, health science, law, business, education, and others. A Canadian bachelor’s degree is typically a four-year program, fully equivalent to degrees from the United States and from other Commonwealth nations. Well-prepared students have access to numerous program options, leading to internationally recognized degrees in virtually every discipline in the arts, humanities, life and physical sciences, health sciences, business, engineering, education, environmental studies, and more.
Universities offer a variety of accommodations for students—some on campus, some off campus—but all offer sports facilities, gymnasiums, stadiums, and playing fields. They also provide safe, supportive campus environments, outstanding professors, and friendly classmates.
Undergraduate admission to Canadian universities is based primarily on academic merit, and graduation from a recognized academic secondary program is mandatory. However, each institution sets specific academic prerequisites and achievement standards for admission, with stated prerequisites for admission to a specific program of study. Admission to Canada’s top-tier institutions is competitive, so meeting minimum requirements will not guarantee admission to the country’s leading schools.
Students applying to a Canadian university will need to have graduated from an accredited college preparatory program. Many Canadian universities recognize enriched programs, such as the International Baccalaureate Diploma, Advanced Placement exams, the General Certificate of Education, or the baccalauréat français, with first-year transfer credits on a course-by-course basis. Standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT, may also be a requirement for those following a U.S.-style curriculum.
Most university programs are taught in English, and evidence of English proficiency is a standard requirement. Each institution publishes its own particular requirements but typically requires proof of English as a first language or a set number of years of schooling in English prior to admission. Students may also demonstrate their proficiency by meeting stated minimums on one of the internationally recognized proficiency tests of English, such as TOEFL or IELTS.
As a rule, Canadian universities do not require essays, teacher references, or lists of extracurricular achievement in addition to academic achievement. However, some institutions may invite students to provide a personal statement, and others may ask for supplemental applications for more competitive programs. Programs in the visual or performing arts may require submission of a portfolio or an audition. Additional information may also be required for scholarship consideration.
The academic year in Canada begins in September and ends in late April or early May. Some schools offer summer sessions, but with a more limited number of course offerings.
For international students, studying at a public university or college in Canada is relatively affordable, compared to similar institutions in the United States or the United Kingdom. The cost of living is also generally lower in Canada, offering students exceptional value in relation to the quality of education.
Nevertheless, a Canadian education is an investment, and Canadian universities expect that international students and their families will take primary responsibility for the costs of their tuition and living expenses. Students should be aware that international undergraduate tuition fees vary by institution and frequently also by program. As tuition fees are generally payable in Canadian dollars, fluctuations in the international exchange rate are to be expected over a four-year program of study.
All Canadian universities offer some form of scholarships and financial assistance to their students, but with differing levels of funding available, depending on visa status. Generally, merit-based scholarships are open to all students, but need-based funding is more limited.
More than half of Canada’s universities offer first-year entering scholarships recognizing academic merit to both international and Canadian students. Most universities will allow international students, once enrolled, to compete alongside Canadian students for donor-based awards and prizes, faculty-recommended awards, and other forms of recognition based on academic achievement.
Only a few Canadian universities are able to offer need-based scholarships to international undergraduate students, covering both tuition and living costs, commensurate with need. These are often renewable each year, provided the student maintains scholarship standing.
The Canadian government student loan program is only available to Canadian citizens and permanent residents. U.S. citizens with U.S. Stafford or Plus loans can apply these to study programs in Canada, provided the Canadian institution is recognized by the U.S. Federal Department of Education and has a Title IV code. In general, Canadian universities do not offer institution-based loans to international students.
Study permits and visas
International students intending to study in Canada for longer than six months are required to apply for a study permit (student visa). Students may apply for the study permit as soon as they receive an offer of admission from their Canadian school. Additionally, a temporary resident visa is required for nationals of certain countries. Residents of a number of countries must also undergo a medical examination before they can enter Canada.
Details of all these requirements can be found at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada website (www.cic.gc.ca). Application forms are available online and should be submitted together with supporting documentation and application fees to the nearest Canadian Embassy, Consulate, or High Commission.
Regarding employment income, international students on a Canadian Study Permit are allowed to work part time on campus without a work permit. In addition, international students at public postsecondary institutions may apply for a work permit to work off campus for up to 20 hours a week during the school year and full time during study breaks.
Some universities allow international students to participate in work-study programs, which provide a wage subsidy to campus employers willing to hire students. Typical opportunities might include working at university food-service outlets, libraries, bookstores, or as assistants to faculty or staff on special projects.
Depending on the institution or program, international students may also participate in cooperative education, internships, and other paid work experience programs. Post-graduation, international students may apply to work in Canada under a work permit for up to three years.
- Canada is the second-largest country in the world by area, stretching over six different time zones.
- Canada has a population of 33.2 million people
- Canada is a parliamentary democracy, with 10 provinces and three territories under a federal system of government.
- According to the United Nations, Canada offers one of the highest standards for quality of life in the world, including affordable universal health care.
- Canada’s two official languages are English and French. Hundreds of other languages are spoken in the diverse communities of its cities and townships.
- Canada isn’t all blizzards and polar bears—winter can be cold in many parts, but all cities enjoy pleasant spring and autumn seasons, and generally warm summers.
- Winter sports, such as skiing, skating, and ice hockey, are very popular, with magnificent facilities available to all. In summer, there is an unlimited range of outdoor activities, especially hiking Canada’s spectacular parks and forests, water sports on lakes and oceans, and competitive sports at every level.
The Government of Canada
- Imagine—Education in Canada
- Government scholarships available to non-Canadians
- Citizenship and immigration
- Study permits and visa requirements
Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada