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How to Apply to Study in Canada

Canada is a fantastic place to study. Home to some of the world’s top universities, it remains a firm favourite with international students from all over the world. In this article, we’ll explain the Canadian education system, what’s required for your application and the application process.

The Canadian Education System

The education system in Canada is very similar to the system in the U.S. There are publicly-funded and private schools, including community and technical colleges, language and secondary schools, universities and summer schools. This means you’ll have lots of choice when it comes to finding the right institution for you. Like most other countries, universities in Canada offer Bachelors degrees (typically 4-year courses), Masters degrees (an additional 1-2 years), Diplomas, PhDs (of approx. 3 years) and a variety of short courses.

Like the USA, Canada is home to some of the top universities in the world. Canada has 27 universities in the top 1,000 best places to study, with ten ranking in the top 25% (QS World University Rankings 2022).

According to QS 2022, the 10 best universities in Canada are:

    1. University of Toronto, Toronto
    2. McGill University, Montreal
    3. University of British Columbia, Vancouver
    4. Université de Montréal, Montreal
    5. University of Alberta
    6. McMaster University, Hamilton
    7. University of Waterloo, Waterloo
    8. Western University, London, Canada
    9. University of Ottawa, Ottawa
    10. University of Calgary, Calgary

Canada is also home to a range of Community Colleges and Technical Colleges (very similar to university colleges), which provide an alternative route to university. These colleges offer a range of qualifications, from two-year associates degrees to four-year bachelors degrees and a range of diplomas and certificates. While each college will differ, Community and Technical Colleges tend to offer a more ‘hands on’ approach to learning, with more technical courses and smaller class sizes than universities. 

The skills and qualifications learnt in an associates degree may also transfer into points that can count towards a university degree. This allows international students to start off their education at a smaller community college and ‘transfer’ to a 4-year university after two years. This is a popular route for international students as it boasts lower fees and less stringent entry requirements.

Career colleges, on the other hand, are privately owned institutions offering training programmes designed to provide students with practical training for the world of employment. They have short-term courses to provide students with the skills needed for the workplace, such as computer and secretarial skills. Although the institutions are private, they are approved and regulated by the province to ensure a high-quality standard.

Admission Requirements, Deadlines And… Fees!

To apply for an international degree in Canada, you must tick off two very crucial requirements:

  1. Language proficiency;
  2. Necessary funds to cover your living expenses and tuition fees.

Entry requirements will vary depending on your home country, the course you’re applying for and your chosen institution(s). It’s best to contact your institution directly to find out their specific entry requirements. You may need to prove that your qualifications are comparable in quality to Canadian education, therefore your qualifications might be assessed (there are various agencies that can do this for you – see the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) website for more information on this subject).

Language Proficiency

Depending on the course you choose to go for, you’ll need to submit a proof of proficiency in either French or English. Remember that in Quebec, French is the official language, and the majority of Canadian universities offer courses in both languages. 

Institutions will normally have their own requirements for language proficiency in French or English. If neither of these is your first language, you will normally be required to prove your ability through achievement of a certain level in a recognised language test (such as IELTS or TOEFL exams or Cambridge English: Advanced – CAE).

Tuition Fees and Deadlines

It is only natural to assume that international students have to pay higher fees than domestic students. You can find graduate programs at around CAD$6,000, all the way up to CAD$35,000, but there are plenty of opportunities for exceptional learners who can obtain scholarships, grants, bursary options. For more information, check out our article on how much it costs to study in Canada.

In most cases, you will need to apply to an institution directly, either by downloading or requesting an application form, and submitting it with the relevant documents online or via post. Contact your chosen institution directly or visit their website for information about how to apply. 

You may have to pay an application fee, depending on the university and program. In Ontario however, you may apply to as many institutions as you like. There is a base application fee of CAD$156 for the first 3 university/program choices, plus CAD$10 for the international service fee. For each additional program choice beyond these, you’ll need to pay CAD$50 per choice. It’s important to know that fees for withdrawn university choices won’t be refunded.

It is advisable to start preparing your application at least a year in advance, though you should ask institutions for their specific application deadlines, as these may vary. For Ontario applications, there is no deadline, but you should apply as soon as it is open in October. Whilst there is no specific deadline, applications received before the ‘Equal Consideration Date’ (usually in February) must be given equal consideration so it is advisable to apply before this date.

Living Expenses

Living expenses can start from 10,000 Canadian Dollars per year study year, even more when applying to study in Quebec – note that this in on top of the tuition fees. Unfortunately, in Canada, you can rely much on what you might gain from working while studying because you’re only allowed to up to 20 hours per week of working (although full-time jobs are permitted during summer breaks).

Staying in Canada after Graduation: Opportunities

If you want to stay in Canada after graduation to live and work, you’ll need to apply for a post-graduation work permit. This will allow you to stay in Canada for up to three years and will make you exempt from Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) requirements. This means it’ll be easier for employers to hire you. There is a high interest for skilled professionals in all sorts of industries (engineering, graphic design, HR, natural sciences – just to name a few) in Canada, so as long as you keep to your studies and plan to polish your talent within the country.

Good to Know

For any information at all, check constantly the Citizenship and Immigration Canada page to find a Canadian school that can host international students. Also, stay connected to the Universities Canada website to get the most updated statistics on Canadian universities. The legislation, deadlines and fees might change yearly, so keep an eye on these websites before applying. And more importantly, good luck!