Brief Background: Canada has recently committed to
renewing its international education strategy to continue to attract
top-tier international students to Canadian universities and colleges.
The previous strategy, which aimed to increase the number of
international students in Canada to 450,000 by 2022, was achieved 5
years early. In 2017, Canada hosted 495,000 international students.
Attracting international students, creating bilateral research
agreements, and enriching learning opportunities in the classroom remain
the cornerstone of Canada’s international education goals.
Canada’s public and private nonprofit universities offer more than
15,000 undergraduate and post-graduate programs, as well as professional
designations, certificate and diploma courses, and short career-focused
programs. Canadian institutions, known for their cuttingedge technology
and research labs, provide opportunities for cooperative education,
known as co-ops, and internships. Many of the well-known universities in
Canada are located in large metropolitan areas, but there are many
excellent universities that do not have urban campuses and are similar
to US liberal arts colleges.
Four Canadian universities—University of Toronto, McGill University,
University of British Columbia, and University of Alberta—rank among the
top 100 in the 2018 QS World University Rankings, with many other
universities ranking high on QS program-specific rankings.
Canada’s higher education options also include more than 150 public
colleges, similar to US community colleges, and polytechnic institutes
of technology. Colleges and polytechnics provide a variety of
credentials including certificates, diplomas, and academic and applied
degrees. Together, they offer more than 8,000 programs. Some colleges
have transfer agreements with universities and can provide an alternate
pathway to a top-ranking Canadian university.
Education is under the legislative jurisdiction of provinces and
territories but the basic structures are similar across the country.
Good to Know: A degree from a Canadian university
can typically be completed in four years and is considered equivalent to
an American qualification. A Canadian degree can lead to work
opportunities in Canada, the US, and around the world.
Co-op experiences are a hallmark of many Canadian degree programs.
Co-ops involve alternating periods of academic study with periods of
work. Almost all postsecondary schools offer co-op options in fields as
diverse as business, political science, natural resources, and social
services. In many arrangements, students are paid for their work, and
upon completion, a student can expect to have gained a year or more of
work experience in their field of study. It is important to note,
however, that co-op programs can increase the length of a degree/diploma
Many Canadian universities and colleges have career and co-op offices
dedicated to finding and preparing students for co-op placements.
Relevant internships may also be available and can be completed for pay
or academic credit.
A large number of Canadian universities are located within 100 miles
of the US border, offering a convenient option for US students who want
an international degree that is not too far away.
Academic Calendar: Most universities and colleges
run from early September until the end of April or early May, but there
is no national standard. The academic year is typically split into two
terms running from September to December and January to April. Some
universities utilize a trimester system, providing full courses in the
Search: The official study in Canada portal, includes a program finder, cost calculator, information about visas, and links to institutional websites. Universities Canada also offers up-to-date information on universities and academic programs to help with planning. The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials
provides an online directory of universities, colleges, and schools
that are recognized and authorized by Canada’s provinces and
territories. It also includes information on foreign credential
evaluations and qualification recognition. Another resource is the website of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. It offers information on study permits, visas, and work permits.
Apply: Students interested in applying to a Canadian
institution are advised to visit the admission website at their
institution(s) of choice to find detailed information about program
options, the application process, and application forms.
Some provinces have established a centralized, electronic application process for admission to their institutions:
Alberta—ApplyAlberta: Alberta Post-Secondary Application System
British Columbia—ApplyBC: BC Post-Secondary Application Service
Ontario—Ontario Universities’ Application Centre and Ontario Colleges Application Services
And, general information about studying in Quebec
Depending on the university, students may apply either directly to
their intended program or to the larger faculty (i.e., school) with the
expectation that they will declare their major in their second or third
year. Most Canadian universities allow students to apply to two programs
or faculties and students can be accepted by more than one program or
After a student has applied to a university or college, he or she
will receive an email acknowledging receipt of the application and
requesting any additional documents.
“From my experience, the admission process to Canadian
universities is very grade-oriented. When I applied no supplemental
essays were required, for example, so do your best to maintain
competitive marks in high school because they will be representing you
—Sadie Sherman, California, University of Alberta
The email will also usually contain a personal student number that
should be affixed to all documents submitted to the institution
Deadlines: Application deadlines vary by
institution. Students planning to enroll in the fall semester are
encouraged to apply in the fall or winter of the previous year. Students
planning to enroll in the semester that begins in January are
encouraged to apply several months in advance.
Application Fees: Fees range from 100 to 250 Canadian dollars.
Admission Requirements: For many schools and
programs, admission is based almost entirely on academic grades earned
in high school, generally grade 12. Some institutions, however, consider
grade 10 and 11 marks as well. If course prerequisites have not been
fulfilled, a student may not be accepted. Applicants should keep in mind
that high school curricula in Canada and the United States are similar
but not identical, which can potentially create confusion about whether a
student has satisfied certain requirements. An example of this is how
core science classes are taught.
Quebec follows a different educational system than the other provinces. Secondary students in Quebec finish their education at grade 11, not 12. As such, students have the option to pursue a two-year CEGEP program that prepares them for university admission. That is also why Quebec university programs for local students are three years instead of four, relative to other provinces in Canada.
High performing international students with AP or IB credits may be eligible to enter the university system in Quebec in sophomore standing, whereas students from outside Quebec who haven’t completed such coursework may have to enroll in a full four-year program. Each university has its own policies governing international admission and recognition of credits.
Some Canadian universities require SAT or ACT test scores in addition
to a US high school diploma. Some may require SAT Subject tests,
depending on the program. Scores can be sent directly to the Canadian
IB students can apply with their transcript and IB predicted scores without having to take the SAT or the ACT.
Many Canadian universities accept AP and IB exam scores for academic
credit or placement. Information about specific policies should be
obtained from the institution’s admission office.
An increasing number of institutions recommend the completion of a
personal profile while others, often highly selective programs, require
it. Personal profiles give the student a chance to reflect on their
background, share nonacademic leadership experience and other qualities,
and demonstrate interest and understanding of the program they hope to
enter. This information may play an important role in admission
decisions. In some cases, students might be asked to upload a video
response to a randomly generated question as part of the application
Ethnicity/race, legacy, and advancement potential are not permitted as factors in admission decisions.
Upon Acceptance: Institutions typically operate on a
rolling admission basis. Once the university or college receives a
student’s application form and all supporting documents, they will
evaluate the application and may issue an offer of admission or an early
conditional offer of admission, which is often contingent on
forthcoming grades or exam results. There is no specific date by which
applicants will be notified of their admission decision, though most
institutions work to notify US applicants before May 1.
“One of the most challenging aspects of being a student in
Canada has been managing the logistics around financing my education. I
would recommend that new students from America open a Canadian bank
account upon arriving for school.”
Tuition and Fees: The average tuition fee for
international undergraduate students at Canadian universities was
CA$27,159 in 2018-2019, ranging from as low as $7,500 for programs such
as humanities to over CA$50,000 for dentistry and veterinary medicine.
Tuition at Canadian colleges range, on average, from CA$6,600 to
CA$22,000 per year. The EduCanada website
enables students to determine a rough estimate of tuition, food, and
housing based on the program and institution, where they are coming
from, and whether any dependents will be staying with them.
Currently, 85 higher education institutions in Canada accept US
federal student loans, according to the US Department of Education.
The Canadian government website has scholarship information for international students. Fulbright Canada
also manages a scholarship program for university exchange students.
Scholarship and award options for international undergraduates vary
greatly by institution. Some relatively small athletic scholarships are
also available. Generally student-athletes must meet certain academic
expectations, in addition to possessing athletic talent, to qualify for
Housing: Most colleges and universities offer
housing near or on campus. Dormitories vary but generally feature a
shared kitchen, bathroom, and laundry facilities. Most university
housing also provides required or optional meal plans. Many
international students in Canada choose to stay on campus during their
first and second year before moving to private accommodations. Some
university student service offices maintain lists of recommended house
or apartment rentals nearby; however, rental agreements are transacted
solely between the student and the property owner.
Students should consult their university of choice for an estimate of
rent costs. Some institutions have rent cost calculators available on
their websites, and these can be the most accurate as each university
promotes and updates their information based on their location.
Visas and Other Permits: American citizens traveling
with US passports are eligible to apply for a study permit at a port of
entry to Canada. Ports of entry are located at major airports and
border crossings. Alternatively, students can apply for a study permit
while still outside Canada, either online or in person, at a visa application center.
Note that students enrolling in Quebec institutions for programs of six months or more must obtain the Certificate of Acceptance from Quebec (CAQ).
The application fee for a study permit is CA$150. There may be an
additional cost of CA$83 if biometrics are required. Three key documents
are required: an acceptance letter from the Canadian institution, proof
of identity (such as a passport), and proof of financial support.
A valid study permit also allows international students to work on-
or off-campus up to 20 hours per week while classes are in session and
full-time during regularly scheduled academic breaks, such as spring
break and winter and summer holidays.
The Post-Graduation Work Permit Program allows students who have
graduated from a participating Canadian institution to work in Canada
for up to three years. Skilled Canadian work experience gained through
this program helps graduates who wish to stay in Canada longer qualify
for permanent residence through the Canadian Experience Class (CEC).
More information on study permits and immigration procedures can be found on the Canadian government website.
Advice from the Field: General inquiries on study opportunities in Canada should be directed to contacts available at EduCanada.
Rankings such as those compiled by Maclean’s and The Globe and Mail’s Canadian University Report
can be helpful as students begin the process of choosing where to
apply. Keep in mind that not all Canadian universities participate in
such ventures. As is true of US universities, rankings only tell part of
High school grades are often used to determine admissibility to
particular programs of study. Many institutions set a minimum standard
of academic achievement or publish the cut-off from the prior admission
cycle. This gives students more clarity on their chances of admission
and can be very helpful in alleviating student anxiety.