Want to study in Canada? Find out all you need to know about the top-ranked universities in Canada, the appeal of living in Canada, how much you can expect to pay in tuition fees and where to look for help with funding.
Canada is among the world’s most popular destinations for international students – unsurprising, given its reputation for lively cities, stunning natural attractions, multicultural communities and world-leading universities.
Considering joining the 200,000 international students and researchers in Canada each year? Read on to find out what makes Canada such an attractive study destination, and what steps to take next.
Universities in Canada
First things first: what are universities in Canada like? Well, they could certainly make a claim to being world-leading. A total of 26 universities in Canada feature in the 2013/14 QS World University Rankings®, of which three are in the world’s top 50 and nine make the world’s top 200.
The top two, University of Toronto (17=) and McGill University (21), are based in Toronto and Montréal, both in the east of the country. But the nation’s brains are not entirely concentrated on this side! Vancouver, on the west coast, is home to the third-ranking university in Canada, the University of British Columbia (UBC) – and the city also boasts a pretty unbeatable combination of beaches and close proximity to some of the world’s best ski resorts.
These are of course by no means the only appealing destinations for international students, though their respective provinces – Ontario (home to Toronto), Quebec (Montréal) and British Columbia (Vancouver) – have so far led the way in attracting high numbers of international students.
Also ranked within the world's top 200 are the Université de Montréal, University of Alberta, McMaster University, University of Waterloo, Queen's University, Ontario, and Western University.
Living in Canada
Jaime Young, associate director of admissions at UBC’s Sauder Business School, sums up the appeal of living in Canada as a student: “Canada is welcoming for international students (more an international ‘mosaic’ than a ‘melting pot’), it’s a relatively safe country with a stable economy, and there’s a wide choice of great public universities that are globally recognized.”
It’s also now easier for international students to stay and work after graduating. Under the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program, international students can obtain a three-year open work permit, without being required to have a job offer before applying, allowing them to work for any kind of employer and in any industry.
This is just one aspect of the Canadian government’s strategies to attract more foreign students to the country, following a series of official reports on the issue. The national Education Action Plan 2013 proposes C$23 million (about US$22m) over two years to be invested in strategies to strengthen Canada’s position as a destination of choice for international students.
Finally, for those considering studying here but deterred by tales of extreme weather, Young emphasizes that (contrary to widespread belief) it’s not always cold! While on the subject of common misconceptions, he adds “not all Canadians love hockey, and not everyone skis” – and also points out that it’s not necessary to speak French to study here, though of course you can.
Languages in Canada
The fact that there are two main languages in Canada – with French and English each being used to differing extents depending on the province and city – is for many students part of the appeal. This was certainly the case for Aude Giraud, currently pursuing a PhD in computer sciences at the Université de Montréal.
Originally from France, Aude had previously spent time studying in Manchester, UK. When choosing a location for her PhD, she explains, “Canada, and French-speaking Canada particularly, became clear front-runners since they would permit me to combine my comfort with French with speaking the English I’d grown used to using while studying in the UK.”
As a French citizen, Aude was also able to benefit from special agreements between the Québec and French governments concerning tuition fees and health care.
As well as offering multiple languages of study, Canada is also more generally known for its multicultural diversity. Aude says this “multicultural atmosphere” is one of her favorite things about living in Montréal, which she describes as “like having several little cities in one”.
She also highlights the wide range of activities Montréal has to offer: “There are so many things to do here – you can even ski in the middle of the city! The contrast of ice skating on frozen lakes in the parks during winter, and enjoying a relaxing picnic right next to the same lakes during summer, is spectacular.”
Tuition fees in Canada
For international students at graduate level, tuition fees in Canada vary depending on the institution and the type of course.
In general, however, Canada does often represent a less expensive option than other popular destinations, such as the US, UK or Australia.
As an example, international students enrolled on a research master’s degree at UBC in 2013/14 would pay C$7,640 (about US$7,485) per year in three installments.
‘Professional’ master’s programs – a broad range of courses focused on preparation for a particular career – will typically cost much more than this. For instance, international students completing the Master of Software Systems would pay a total of at least C$19,332 (US$18,950), while a Master of Occupational Therapy would cost at least C$71,400 (US$69,950).
So, depending on your course type, there could be a large bill to pay – but it’s unlikely to be higher than in other top study destinations.
There is also a good selection of financial support available from various sources – individual universities, government schemes and other organizations – and in various forms, including tuition fee deductions, assistantships and fellowships. Many of these are listed on the government website www.scholarships-bourses.gc.ca.
There’s no centralized admissions process for universities in Canada, so applications are made directly to individual universities. After receiving an offer of a place, international students should apply for a study permit via a Canadian visa office, or using the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website.