Want to spend your university years in the Great White North, but don’t know where to start? This guide breaks down everything you need to consider before you apply, from language requirements to cost!
What do you want to study?
When you apply to university in Canada, you’ll be asked to apply to a specific department or programme, but once you’re in, there is some flexibility in how you specialise. And, universities will still want you to demonstrate that you’ve studied a range of topics - but more on that below.
Canada’s cities are seeing a big tech industry boom at the moment, especially in places like Toronto - so if you’re looking for a post-university career in tech, Canada may be the place to go!
Where do you want to study?
The other big question for Canadian higher education is whether you want to attend a college or a university. Unlike in the US, these aren’t just different words for essentially the same thing and unlike the UK, you can get a degree from a college. But it’s still an important question, because they offer different education pathways.
Canadian colleges are focused on career preparation. They usually offer shorter courses - sometimes even just one or two years - and give you hands-on practice for jumping straight into a career. You won’t always get a degree, but some do offer a degree called an applied bachelor’s degree.
For example, Algonquin College in Ontario offers a BA in Hospitality and Tourism Management that includes two paid work experience placements - and the location is entirely up to you!
Universities are more academically-focused institutes of higher-learning, offering 3 or 4 year courses of study leading to a bachelor’s degree, which you can then follow up with a master’s or PhD if you choose. You’ll be able to pursue a wider range of subjects that won’t necessarily include a hands-on careers component - everything from languages to performing arts, maths to physics.
In which language do you want to study?
English and French are the two official languages of Canada, though the majority of universities offer teaching in English.
If your native language is not English, you must provide proof of your proficiency. TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam scores are the most common language requirement for Canadian universities. You can take these exams at testing centres worldwide.
Generally, the primarily French-speaking universities assess students’ language skills on a case-by-case basis, so you’ll need to get in touch to find out what each specific university or college needs you to do.
Do you meet the entry requirements?
As with universities in other countries, a key element of your application in Canada will be your academic achievements. Different universities have different criteria for recognising international students’ qualifications, so you’ll need to check the expectations at the universities you’re interested in. Here are some general guidelines:
Canadian universities accept both A-Level and GCSE scores - and you may need both, as they generally expect you to demonstrate that you’ve successfully completed five academic subjects. The exact subjects will depend on the program you’re applying for. You’ll want your five grades to be no lower than a C, with the majority of them As or Bs.
Applicants from the USA will want to be aiming for a 3.3 GPA, or a B+/A- average in your classes. You’ll want an SAT of around 1200, with a minimum of 600 on each section, and a minimum ACT composite score of 26.
There are two commonly accepted routes for Chinese students at Canadian universities: either a combination of As and Bs on the Joint Graduation Exam (Hui Kao), or a competitive score on the University Entrance Exam (Gao Kao) that would normally be required for admission to a key university in China.
International Baccalaureate (IB) applicants
If you’re applying with an IB diploma, you’ll want approximately 30-35 IB predicted points on the full diploma, including bonus points. Full IB Diploma students may be eligible to receive admission based on predicted scores. Otherwise, your final IB grades will need to be in the range of 4-7.
Ready to apply?
You’ve chosen a university or college, you know your course of study, and you’ve planned for your English language exam… so now it’s time to apply! Many Canadian universities offer multiple potential start dates, generally in September, January, or May, and you’ll want to begin your application eleven months before you plan to start. Specific deadlines vary, so make sure you check with each university you plan to apply to!
If you’re ready for the next step, a guide for your application and visa can be found in our guide, ‘Study in Canada: making an application’.