About the Higher Education System in Canada

Canada has a large selection of universities and university colleges located in both urban and rural settings in every region of the country. Degrees from Canadian universities are considered to be equivalent to those from American or European universities. Most Canadian universities are publicly funded meaning that they often work out more cost-effective than American options.

Higher education in Canada is organised province by province, meaning that there can be differences between universities. Quebec has a quite different system of higher education to all other provinces.

Canadian universities vary in size from over 35,000 to less than 1,000. In addition, most universities have a large number of part-time or continuing education students. They offer a broad range of courses and a full range of degrees from undergraduate to doctorates, and can also offer certificates and professional degrees. Fees for universities differ depending on the province, institution and program of study.

The first year at a Canadian university tends to follow the US system of higher education. As a result you may find that you take a wide range of modules in your first year before selecting the subject you will study in most depth.

The university year usually runs from September to May. Some universities are on a semester or trimester system, with all courses available even in the summer.  

How do I apply to a Canadian University?

As Canada has two official languages - English and French - an international student can take a degree either at an English language or French language institution. Some universities offer instruction in both languages. However, students do not have to be fluent in both languages to attend a Canadian university. If you are interested in studying at a French language institution, the university will set its own standard for you to demonstrate that you are capable of following a degree in French.

Applying to a Canadian university can be a time-consuming process. We recommend that you start planning a year in advance. You should contact the Admissions Office of the university you are interested in applying to and they should be able to advise you on all the information you need to submit. You will usually need to supply a transcript of all grades received to date as well as your predicted grades at A' level. A motivation letter and references will almost certainly be required but there is no additional entrance exam for bachelors degrees if you have A' levels.

The deadlines for applying to Canadian universities vary from institution to institution and also by subject. Deadlines for medicine and dentistry are often earlier but for most universities deadlines are between January and June for entry to the September intake. Some universities make decisions on a rolling basis. Others may make you wait 4-6 months after the deadline before making offers.

Entry Requirements for Canadian Universities

Universities in Canada are generally very familiar with A' levels so they should be able to give you a clear indication of the standards you will need to achieve. Generally speaking, if you have 3 A levels at C or above, you should be able to find a Canadian research university that will accept you. Some may even accept you with 2 A levels and GCSEs and in some cases it is possible to gain entry to university with only AS levels. This is because the first year at a Canadian university could be viewed as equivalent to the last year in the British school system and you may be entitled to Advanced Standing if you have good A' levels.

Canadian universities are also very keen on the International Baccalaureate. Some even offer scholarships to students who have taken this qualification and achieved a certain minimum standard.

In contrast to the USA, in most cases you will not have to take SATs to gain admission to a Canadian university.

What is Advanced Standing?

Advanced standing is offered to students who are deemed to have better than necessary prior qualifications when entering university. It is quite common for students with A levels at A*, A or B grade to be exempted from certain courses in the first year of a Canadian degree (some subjects will not be valid). In this scenario it is possible to complete a four year degree in three years, thus reducing the cost of study and the time spent at university. AS levels usually are not considered for Advanced Standing.

There is usually a maximum number of credits that can be awarded for Advanced Standing. At McGill University for example, this is 30 credits. A Canadian bachelors degree usually consists of 120 credits.

Students with the International Baccalaureate can also expect to receive Advanced Standing for all higher subjects and most standard subjects. If you receive at least a 5 in all subjects you should be able to receive the maximum 30 credits although this can vary depending on the Bachelor's degree you wish to take.

The decision to award Advanced Standing is usually the responsibility of the appropriate faculty at the university and is not usually at the sole discretion of the admissions department.

How much does it cost to study in Canada?

Tuition fees in Canada range from around £8,700 to £21,800 per year (based on three Bachelor of Commerce degrees). Fees for medicine and dentistry are significantly more expensive and your chances of finding a place almost impossible.

Cost of living in Canada is approximately £7,200 per year.

Scholarships are rarer at Canadian universities than they are in the USA. Many awards of financial aid will be made at the same time as you receive an offer from the university and you will be considered for these awards without having to make a separate application. Scholarships are unlikely to reduce tuition fees significantly although there are some awards that will take financial need into consideration. We advise you to contact universities individually to find out what might be available.

How do I get a visa to study in Canada?

Getting a student visa is usually quite straightforward for British citizens. You will need to prove that you have paid your tuition fees for the first year and that you have C$10,000 available to cover your living costs. You can apply for a student visa online here.

Can I work in Canada as a student?

As a student in Canada you automatically have the right to work on campus at your university. If you study at these universities you have the right to work off-campus during your studies in Canada.

Can I work in Canada after I graduate?

At this moment in time, Canada possibly has the most generous working visa terms of any English-speaking country. There are excellent prospects for employment in many industries and it is fair to say that work opportunities after graduation are a large part of the attraction of studying in Canada.

Upon graduation you can work in Canada for a period of time up to the length of time you spent studying. There are some important conditions attached to the post graduation work permit and you can read about them here.

Top Universities in Canada

There is no formal ranking of universities and colleges in Canada as most universities offer a similar quality of undergraduate education. Global rankings focussing more on research than teaching suggest that the following are the most respected Canadian institutions:

1. University of Toronto

2. University of British Columbia

3. McGill University

4. McMaster University

5. University of Alberta

6. University of Victoria

7. University of Montreal

8. Dalhousie University

9. Simon Fraser University

10. Carleton University

Universities in Canada