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Want to study in Canada? Our guide has everything you need to know about studying abroad in the world's second biggest country.
Occupying the northern half of the North American continent, Canada is known for its natural beauty – few nations in the world can boast anything close to its wealth of forests, lakes and mountains. It is also one of the most prosperous nations in the world, despite the fact that the entire country’s population is smaller than that of California alone.
This sparseness of population is partly down to another Canadian extreme, which is the temperature. Canada is one of the world’s coldest countries, not surprising given that part of the country lies within the Arctic Circle.
But don’t be too put off by this. For one thing it means that life in Canada can offer a true experience of wilderness like few other places in the world. In addition, if you study in Canada you will almost definitely find yourself based in one of the more clement major cities close to the US border.
In these cities, such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Quebec, you will find a famously friendly, tolerant, and multicultural population. In fact, it could be argued that multiculturalism is built into the country, given its past as both a French and a British colony, reflected in the bilingual nature of the modern nation.
This friendly attitude is reflected in the country’s approach to international students, who are welcomed with open arms, and even encouraged to stay and live in Canada after their degree if they have something to offer in the graduate employment market.
Resultantly, many international students – nearly 200,000 of them in 2009 (5.2% of all international students) – have looked to Canada, finding the combination of open-mindedness, a good quality of life and prestigious universities impossible to turn down.
The two highest ranked universities in Canada, McGill and the University of Toronto, are locked in long running battle for supremacy. Ranked 18 in the 2012/13 QS World University Rankings, McGill has the edge at present, but the University of Toronto is only one place behind, and in fact leads the way in many subject specific rankings.
As always though, it is worth looking beyond the top one or two institutions, and indeed, there is no shortage of quality in Canada’s 23 ranked universities. Nine of these make the world’s top 200, a feat matched only by a handful of other nations, so if you want to study at an elite university in one of the world’s most developed nations, you could certainly do far worse than apply to study in Canada.
Studying at master's or PhD level? Read our graduate-level guide to Canada >
Discover Canada's major student cities...
The biggest city in the French-speaking province of Quebec, Montreal is home to the nation’s highest ranking university, McGill University (18), which is one of only two Canadian universities to break into the world’s top 20. Beyond that, universities in Montreal also include the Université de Montréal (114) and Concordia University (501-550) among others.
While McGill and Concordia operate primarily in English, the majority universities in Montreal are Francophone, as are its residents, so even if you’re at an Anglophone university, be prepared to make an effort. It will be worth it if you do: Montreal is renowned for being one of North America’s cultural capitals, boasting a unique combination of European sophistication and American pizzazz which gives it a buzz few other places can match. Montreal was also recently ranked as one of the top ten most student-friendly cities in the world in the 2012 QS Best Student Cities.
Toronto is known for being one of the world’s most multicultural cities, with around half of its population hailing from outside of the city. Accordingly, it is an exciting and diverse place to be, which is reflected in the city’s culture and cuisine. Toronto is known for being a creative hub; the Toronto International Film Festival is one of the biggest there is, and its live music scene is celebrated by locals and visitors alike.
But Toronto has its serious side too, and is considered to be the financial and media capital of Canada. Universities in Toronto include the University of Toronto, one of the nation’s Canada's largest and most prestigious institutions. There's also Toronto York University (ranked 401-450) and a number of other institutions.
A relatively young city which lies on Canada’s west coast, Vancouver is the perfect destination for those who want to combine city living with easy access to the great outdoors. And by great, we really mean great – the landscape of surrounding British Columbia is truly spectacular, ranging from lush green forests and stunningly unspoilt lakes, to the rugged magnificence of the Canadian Rockies (which also find a lot of favour with skiers).
There’s plenty on offer for city slickers too in this cosmopolitan and vibrant town, which has consistently featured in lists of the world’s most liveable cities over the past decade. Prominent universities in Vancouver include the University of British Columbia (ranked 45th in the world) and Simon Fraser University (282).
If you like picturesque historical cities, you can’t really do much better than Quebec City. Founded in the early 17th century, Quebec is the capital of the province with which it shares its name, and therefore, of French-speaking Canada as a whole. The main industries in this town, therefore, are administrative and governmental work, and tourism.
Though Quebec City is not known for its nightlife, it hosts a number of colorful festivals, and there is no shortage of watering holes throughout the city to hang out and get to know the locals. Notable universities in Quebec City include Laval University (324=) and the Université du Québec (401-450). Teaching is primarily in French.
Among universities in Edmonton, capital city of the province of Alberta, you'll find the University of Alberta, ranked fourth in Canada and 108th in the world. Aside from its strong university, Edmonton is known for being the home of the West Edmonton Mall, formerly the biggest shopping mall in the world, and for being one of the most northerly major cities in the world.
Don’t let this northern location put you off too much though, as Edmonton is relatively (emphasis on relatively) mild compared to some other more southerly Canadian cities. Its location, towards the west of Canada, also means there is no shortage of natural beauty within spitting distance, and the city itself has plenty of attractions - from the theatres and auditoriums of the Arts District, to the fashionable Old Strathcona area and arresting modern and historical architecture found throughout the center.
Canada is not the world’s most expensive study destination, particularly compared to its cousin south of the border. However, it’s not the cheapest place to study either. The average fee for international undergraduate students in 2010 was US$16,038 – a figure which is likely to have gone up slightly in the years since then.
Universities set their own fees, so it might be worth shopping around if cost is an issue. It will also vary by subject – humanities students will tend to get off relatively easy, whereas engineering or medicine students will be hit by higher fees.
When you’ve chosen your shortlist of universities, the next stage is to get in touch with each university’s international office, who will take you through the application procedure. You will need to apply directly to the institution(s), as there is no centralized application procedure as such.
In order to study in Canada, you will need to obtain a study permit, which serves as a student visa for the duration of your stay.
The process for obtaining Canadian student visas is as follows:
Questions about studying in Canada? Get advice in our student forum >
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