Being the sole EducationUSA adviser in Canada can have its drawbacks,
such as choosing webinar times that are convenient for five times
zones, but it is also full of perks. I get to travel all around this
wonderfully diverse country learning about the provinces’ different
education systems and ultimately discovering what makes these
students—separated by thousands of miles—Canadian.
As an American, born and raised in California, I learned little about
Canada until I moved to the nation’s capital. (Pop Quiz: Name this
city.) So, when I travel across Canada, I spend time getting to know the
country, its citizens, and how American and Canadian students compare.
I’ve found that our two countries have so much in common that our
students can be approached in similar ways. Just like Americans,
Canadians are incredibly diverse—foreign-born immigrants account for
just 20 percent of the country’s population. Canadians are also
interested in majors across the spectrum and believe in following their
passion. Higher education is highly valued, as in the US, and is the
goal for most students.
Differences do exist, however, which may make it a more challenging
for a Canadian to decide to pursue study in the US. One of the major
differences between nations is that American students are expected to
“go away” to university. Living in the dorms is considered a rite of
passage and essential to growing up. In Canada, it is very common for
students to attend their local university as a commuter. The Canadian
population is small (only 37 million) and more than 80 percent live in
urban centers, which are home to the major universities. Because of the
expectation that the student will likely live at home and pay public
tuition (almost all Canadian universities are public), families save
with this in mind. Tuition varies by province and is approximately
$3,000 to $10,000 CAD per year.
Although it’s difficult to compete with local costs, according to the 2019 Open Doors
report from the Institute of International Education, 26,122 Canadians
are currently studying in the United States and 12,470 of those students
are undergraduates. This makes Canada the fifth leading country of
origin for international students studying in the US. So what are the
motivations that can draw a Canadian south of the border? After
interacting with thousands of Canadian students and college counselors,
here are the factors I’ve found that make a difference.
Prestige: A degree from the Ivy League or other
highly selective US university is a powerful draw. Thousands of
Canadians are concentrated in the highest ranked American institutions.
The most important thing to know about students applying to highly
selective institutions is that they will draw a very specific line in
comparison with their own local options. For example, if an Ontario
student wants to pursue engineering, they may only apply to US
universities that they perceive to be ranked higher than the University
of Toronto, ranked 18 in the Times Higher Education World University Ranking. This, of course, will only be a small number of elite US institutions.
Competitive athletics: There are currently 4,190
Canadian NCAA Division I or II athletes attending US colleges and
universities, accounting for a full one-third of undergraduate Canadian
enrollments. If you consider Division III, NAIA, junior college, and
club divisions, competitive athletes account for at least half of all
Canadian students pursuing undergraduate education in the United States.
I once spoke to an international admission officer who said, “We have
20 Canadians on campus and I have no idea why!” to which I responded,
“Do you have a hockey team?” Low and behold, all 20 Canadians were
athletes. I guarantee you have at least one Canadian student-athlete on
your campus right now.
Niche majors: Canada has 100 universities and 150
colleges with excellent programs in traditional and popular majors such
as science, engineering, psychology, and business. But what about the
student who wants to build musical instruments, manufacture scientific
glass, or pursue a dual degree in the arts? These are all real examples
of students who have looked to the United States because they simply
cannot pursue their intended major in Canada, or, if they can, they have
to move so far away that the United States is the closer (and warmer)
Networking opportunities: It is not lost on Canada’s
youth that the United States is their country’s biggest trading
partner. In almost any profession, having close US ties is an advantage.
Many of the Canadian students I work with are interested in pursuing
education in large city centers that are tied to international commerce
and employment opportunities. They also want internships, coops, or any
hands-on experience that will help them gain an edge when they return
north. Currently, more than 3,500 Canadians are pursuing their Optional
Practical Training (OPT) in the US, demonstrating the attractiveness of
this post-graduate work option.
Small class sizes: Canadian universities are public
institutions and tend to be medium to large. This means that a student
who has become accustomed to a small, individualized experience in high
school (particularly students at private or Montessori schools) will not
find the same environment at the top-ranked Canadian options, all of
which have more than 20,000 undergraduates. US liberal arts colleges can
be a draw for these students and their families.
A truly American college experience: Canadian
universities’ identities have been formed around local commuter students
and educational access. Campuses traditionally de-emphasize athletics
and school spirit, and there is no Greek Life. The United States is a
draw for students who want a residential campus, a college-town
atmosphere, or the energy of “the big game.”
The opportunity to learn English: Don’t forget that
French is the primary language for 7 million Canadians. Learning English
in the US, especially for Quebecers, is an attractive option. Canada
also has an ever-increasing international student population at all
academic levels. Clearly these international secondary students have
higher education options within Canada, but studying abroad in yet
another country—the US—is an exciting draw.
Now that you can envision a few archetypal Canadian students, how
should you approach recruitment in maple country? Here are some steps to
take when creating a Canadian recruitment plan.
Lastly, as you make your way to the friendly land of ice and snow, here are key questions you should be prepared to answer.
What makes your university unique? You already did your audit, so you got this.
Can I get a scholarship? For most families, cost will be the No. 1 consideration in decision-making.
Can I be recruited for my sport? Know your full athletic offerings. Canadians play more than hockey!
Is this degree transferrable? Canadians are very
concerned with their employability when they return home. If you are
promoting any professional degrees, such as law or medicine, take the
time to see what provincial process students must follow to have their
degree and credentials evaluated. Building a connection with that
evaluating body is not a bad idea.
Do you know what a CEGEP is? If you are headed to
Quebec, do your homework. Their education system is very different from
the rest of Canada. Work with your evaluation team to develop a policy
on Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel (in English, College of General and Vocation Education) credits before interacting with students.
If you are now super-psyched to visit Alanis Morissette’s birthplace,
come visit the EducationUSA advising office in Ottawa (Answer to the
Pop Quiz!). Or better yet, join one of the Guidance Counsellor Forum
events that take place in major cities across Canada. Contact Ottawa@educationusa.org for more information.
Jenika Heim is an EducationUSA adviser in Canada.