This article is adapted from the QS Top Grad School Guide 2014/15, available to read online here.
Quietly occupying the northern half of the North American continent, Canada is often overlooked on account of its Anglophone competitors immediately to the south and across the Atlantic Ocean to the east. However, while the US and the UK remain the world’s two most popular study destinations, Canada also maintains a strong hold in the international student market – and its government and universities are keen to welcome even more students from abroad.
Canada’s appeal includes lively and friendly multicultural student cities, impressively varied natural attractions – from forests and mountain ranges to sandy beaches along the Great Lakes – and a high standing in international rankings of education, government transparency, civil liberties and economic freedom.
There are almost 100 universities in Canada, of which more than a quarter are featured in the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15, and five ranked among the top 100 in the world.
Top 10 Universities in Canada
Based on the QS World University Rankings® 2014/15
Vancouver, British Columbia
Deciding where to study in Canada
Each of Canada’s 10 provinces offers at least one university, with the highest numbers found in Ontario (with 23), Quebec (18) and British Columbia (15). These three provinces, home to the major student cities of Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver, are alsohome to the bulk of international students in Canada, and many of the country’s leading universities.
These three cities are home to the three highest ranked universities in Canada, and all three feature in the QS Best Student Cities 2015 – a ranking of the world’s top 50 cities for students. Montréal is the highest Canadian entrant, at 8th, followed by Toronto (9th) and Vancouver (12th) – all three emphatically ranked among the world’s very best cities for international study.
Toronto, Canada’s largest city, gets the highest score in the ranking for “desirability”, assessed using a collection of indicators relating to quality of life. However, it’s narrowly beaten by Francophone rival Montréal in the other four categories of assessment – universities, employer activity, student community and affordability. While snow sports lovers may be drawn to the west-coast, where Vancouver offers close proximity to the famous slopes of Whistler, all three of these cities offer a wide range of cultural activities, outdoor adventure and career opportunities.
Other Canadian cities and towns which are home to one or more of the top universities in Canada include Edmonton, Hamilton, Calgary, Kingston, London, Guelph, Ottawa,Windsor, Quebec City, Sherbrooke, Burnaby, Victoria, Halifax, St. John’s, Saskatoon and Winnipeg. (Find out more here.)
Applying for graduate study in Canada
There is no centralized application process in Canada, and each university has its own policy regarding admission requirements, so you’ll need check with and apply directly to each institution. Typically, applicants are selected on the basis of previous academic achievement and/or demonstrated experience. To apply for graduate study in Canada, you’ll need to fill in an application form online, submit your qualifications and transcripts, show proof of proficiency in English or French (depending on the program you’re applying for), obtain letters of recommendation and perhaps submit a résumé.
You’ll also need to write a letter of motivation – an essay explaining why you want to study in Canada, and what makes you a good candidate for doing so. If you completed your undergraduate studies outside of Canada, you may have to pay an International Credential Evaluation fee to validate your qualifications. Once you’ve been accepted, you must apply for a visa or study permit, and can apply for scholarships and other funding opportunities.
Tuition fees and living costs
While tuition fees in Canada are usually less expensive than other major Anglophone destinations (such as the US, UK and Australia), they are still higher than many prominent European countries. You’ll find great variation in the amounts charged depending on the university and the course, ranging from a minimum of C$3,000 (approx. US$2,500) to as high as C$40,000 (~US$34,000) per year.
Beyond tuition fees, additional costs include university administration fees of around C$100, international student application fees from around C$250, compulsory fees for student services of C$500-1,000 and processing fees for a study permit (currently C$150 with a biometric processing fee of C$85). All international students must apply for a study permit via a Canadian visa office, or using the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website.
Though living expenses vary considerably depending on the part of Canada you choose to study in, living costs are generally somewhere in the mid-range. A reasonable budget would be around C$7,000-15,000 (~US$6,000-12,700) per year, which includes C$4,000-5,000 for accommodation, C$2,500 for food and approximately C$$600 for compulsory health insurance. For help in calculating tuition and living costs, the online tool Step 1-2-3 offered by the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC) might be useful.
Scholarships for graduate study in Canada
According to Canada’s International Education Strategy, the total value of international scholarships at the federal level during the 2013–14 fiscal year exceeded C$13 million. With investment in education and internationalization top priorities, there are numerous scholarships available to international students, such as those offered via the Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Program.
Also of note is the ‘International Tuition Award’ offered by many universities in Canada. This aims to assist international graduate students registered full-time in research-oriented master’s and doctoral programs. International students are automatically considered for this award as long as they meet certain criteria.
In order to apply for funding, it’s best to check individually with each university for available scholarships, grants, assistantships, fellowships and bursary opportunities. You may also find it useful to consult the information about financial assistance provided by the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials website or the Canadian government’s dedicated website for international scholarship programs, as well as this list of scholarships to study in Canada.
International study and work permits
All international students will need a study permit to study in Canada. Before applying for this, you’ll first need to have received a letter of acceptance from your chosen university. You’ll also need to obtain proof of sufficient funds to cover fees, living expenses and transport back to your home country, as well as having a clean criminal record and being of good health.
You can work on-campus without further documentation, as long as you’re a full-time student with a valid study permit. From June 2014, international students who want to work off-campus are automatically authorized to do so through their study permit, as long as they don’t work for more than 20 hours per week during term time. To qualify for this allowance, you must be a full-time student enrolled in a six-month or longer program at a designated institution.
To work in Canada after you graduate, you’ll need to apply for an open work permit under the new Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP), which will grant you permission to work immediately following the completion of your degree. While you can work full-time when waiting for your application to be approved, you are not required to have a job offer before applying. This means more flexibility in your choice of employer and industry – and a little breathing room before you transition from study to work.