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Things To Know About Canadian Universities Before Studying Abroad

Here are a few things you might need to know about applying to and attending Canadian universities.

30 June 2020

If you’re considering attending a Canadian college or university for your degree, you might be wondering what to expect from Canada’s higher education system. There’s a lot of information to wrap your head around, but thankfully, it isn’t too difficult to understand how Canadian college courses are structured once you get started. Here are a few things you might need to know about applying to and attending Canadian universities. 

Canadian Provinces Have Different Systems 

In Canada, there are 10 provinces and three territories, and each one has its own educational system and standards. There’s a lot of similarities and overlap, but you should be aware that what’s normal in one part of the country might not be in another. For example, it’s common in Quebec to attend a two-year pre-university course called CEGEP (also referred to in Quebec as “college”) before attending a three-year undergraduate degree program at university. This is something to consider if you’re looking at colleges and universities in different parts of Canada. 

Types of Canadian Schools 

There are different types of universities in Canada, depending on their funding and program offerings. Many universities in Canada are public, meaning they’re publicly funded by the government. Most Canadian universities that are ranked globally and well-known, like McGill, University of Toronto and University of British Columbia, are public institutions. This is quite different to the U.S., where Ivy League schools are highly selective, private colleges. You’ll also find private universities - which receive funding from donors, research grants and tuition - in Canada, but they aren’t very common and are often faith-based.  

Difference Between College or University 

You can also choose to attend a college or polytechnic school. In Canada, the terms “university” and “college” are not used interchangeably in the way they are in the U.S. Instead, a university is an academic institution that offers degree programs, such as bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees. A “college” refers to a post-secondary institution that mainly offers shorter, vocational education programs, with diplomas, certificates or applied degrees awarded to students. These programs teach technical skills as well as theory, but are highly specific to one working field or trade, and therefore not as transferable. 

Note: The one, slightly confusing exception to this is Quebec (see above), which uses “college” to mean something totally different!  

Applying and Attending 

One huge difference between Canadian and American universities is that you apply for a specific program at a university or college - NOT the school itself. If you’re interested in studying Business at the University of Calgary, for example, you would need to check the admissions requirements and deadline for that program. You can usually apply to multiple programs at one institution, if you aren’t sure if you will be admitted to your first choice.  

Each province also has its own system of applying for university admission, and some even have a centralized application system, like ApplyAlberta or Ontario Universities Application Centre. Application intake for Canadian universities usually begins in the fall, around September, and ends sometime early the following year, normally around March. This can vary greatly though, especially with competitive programs at sought after schools, so make sure you check the deadlines carefully!

SAF offers a variety of programs in Canada with our partner universities Saint Mary's University, University of Calgary, University of Toronto, and University of Victoria, which you can browse here.

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Backpack laptop notebook

Things To Know About Canadian

Universities Before Studying Abroad
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