BP101: Studying in Canada

Schools in Canada for International Students

Learn which of Canada's 1,300 schools are best for international students
Written by: BorderPass Corp.
Last updated:  
April 2024

Canada is a country known for its world-class education system and is a popular destination for international students looking to further their studies and careers overseas. It hosts an extensive range of quality educational institutions and an even more extensive range of courses.

This article offers a comprehensive insight into the Canadian education system, the application process involved for international students planning on coming to Canada, and the costs surrounding living and studying in the Great White North.

If you are interested in making Canada the centre of your next academic endeavour, the team at BorderPass provides guidance and support from Canadian lawyers throughout your immigration journey—all with fair, transparent pricing.

We’ll look at:

  • What are the best schools in Canada for international students?
  • Understanding the Canadian education system
  • How to apply to schools in Canada
  • Cost of studying in Canada
  • Key takeaways
  • Frequently asked questions

Let’s get started!

What are the best schools in Canada for international students?

Canada is a great place for international students to go to receive a world-class education. It is home to over 1,600 schools—or designated learning institutions (DLIs)—with a host of high-ranking institutions according to the QS University ranking outfit.

Many institutions are recognized for high academic standards, with Centennial College, Medicine Hat College and Fanshawe College all recognized as great schools for international students. In addition, the University of Toronto, McGill University, and the University of British Columbia all rank within the top 100 universities in the world.

Canadian schools generally have diverse student populations and are located in vibrant Canadian cities, offering not only an academic experience but a cultural one too.

They often facilitate exchange programs with other institutions globally and sometimes offer scholarship opportunities for international students.

While many institutions provide support services for overseas students and offer on-campus accommodations and housing, tuition fees, rent, and course offerings are all factors you will have to consider in the decision-making process.

The next section offers a more comprehensive rundown of the education system in Canada to further assist you with your decision.

Understanding the Canadian education system

Types of Canadian schools

In Canada, students graduate high school with a diploma in year 12. From there, if a student opts to study further, they have a wide variety of options available to them. Broadly speaking, there are three types of post-secondary schools in Canada: universities, colleges, and learning institutes.

Post-secondary institutions

Universities, colleges, and learning institutes in Canada offer opportunities to become qualified in a multitude of different fields to a variety of different degrees. The three types of degrees on offer are bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees, listed in ascending order of complexity and duration.

The extensive range of schools in Canada means that you should be able to find one offering the course you’re after, no matter how specialized it may be.

Colleges in Canada can be either public or private. They tend to offer hands-on learning to make students career-ready in a relatively short time frame. Canadian colleges usually offer diplomas and certificates, although some can offer bachelor’s degrees.

Canadian institutes, similar to colleges, offer hands-on skills to students, usually in science and technology-aligned domains such as engineering and economy. Also similar to colleges, the qualifications offered by institutes are predominately diplomas and certificates.

Study programs and their impact on permanent residence (PR)

International students often wish to make their move to Canada permanent after completing their studies there.

To do this, a permanent residency application must be approved by the Canadian government. BorderPass offers comprehensive support to international students from an initial study permit, to work permit, to eventual permanent residence.

Private career colleges (PCCs)

As mentioned earlier, some colleges in Canada operate privately. These types of colleges offer smaller classrooms and can get new courses quickly approved by the Ministry of Education, meaning they are consistently at the innovative end of the education sphere.

All PCCs registered with the Ministry of Education are considered DLIs, offering a broad array of learning opportunities for international students considering going down this route.

Language schools

Language schools offer the perfect environment for international students new to Canada’s two official languages, English and French. Programs offered at these schools will help rapidly improve language proficiency for either academic or professional purposes. There are language schools all across Canada, and they range in price from around CAD $340 to $425 a week.

Differences Between Studying in French vs. English

Language skills are essential for post-secondary study in Canada and most require English or French proficiency tests.

English universities, colleges, and institutions assess English language proficiency in a number of ways, including PTED, IELTS, TOEFL, or Cambridge English Assessment. Check with the schools you’re applying to for requirements.

French-speaking universities, colleges, and institutions assess language proficiency individually. Check with the schools you’re applying to for requirements.

Specialized and arts programs

There are a host of specialized post-secondary institutions in Canada for various specific disciplines. These include:

Online and distance learning institutions

There are multiple options for online and distance in Canada. Here are some of the most prominent:

Keep in mind that while there are some specialized online learning institutions, many colleges and universities will offer the option to study from a distance.

Course catalogs will vary between each institution; it is important to visit individual university websites and get in touch with their admissions offices for more detailed information.

How to apply to schools in Canada

Determine your study goals and interests

First things first—you’re going to need to have a good idea of what you want to study! If any of the specialized schools mentioned previously piqued your interest, this should provide a good basis for further research.

If you think you may eventually pursue permanent residence in Canada, you may want to consider study programs related to work that Canada needs more of, such as healthcare, transportation, construction and skilled trades, agriculture, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).

Research and shortlist Institutions

The next stage of the process is research into which institutions provide which courses. As has been established, there is a wide variety of tertiary study options in Canada, and each of them offers something slightly different.

If you need a study permit, you can only apply and receive an acceptance letter from a designated learning institution, or DLI. You can find a list of DLIs by province here.

This is an important decision, so don’t rush the process.

Understand admission requirements for international students

Once you have decided on the schools you will be applying to, it’s time to get in contact with them. You will need to get a hold of an application pack and return it to them completed well in advance.

You may need evidence to back up claims made in these applications. This will likely be in the form of various pieces of documentation, which are expanded on below.

Prepare necessary documentation

This will include:

  • The completed application form
  • Academic transcript
  • English or French language proficiency test results
  • Letter of recommendation from a professor or associated professional
  • A personal statement. Although not always required, be prepared to give one either in short or essay from
  • A CV outlining academic and professional experience and achievements
  • A portfolio, some courses (e.g. art or design), may require a portfolio to demonstrate relevant skills
  • Financial documents
  • A valid, up-to-date passport is crucial as it will determine your legal status in Canada

English proficiency tests / IELTS

Schools will need to see a Pearson Test of English (PTE) or another recognized English proficiency test to grant an international student’s acceptance.

The minimum score required by Canadian school is 60 overall, with at least 60 in each subsection.

The application process: online vs. offline

There are benefits and drawbacks to both methods. Applying offline may give the institution more clarification due to them being able to handle the documents in person, if you miss any documents your application may be denied without you being notified and able to make a change

Applying online means you can receive updates from the institution along the way, but shrinking documents down to PDF format may result in a loss of quality and legibility.

Obtain a letter of acceptance

If you adhere to these steps, and the institution you applied to deems your documents suitable, then you should be receiving a letter of acceptance (LOA)! Waiting to hear back can be the most excruciating part of the process, but if you put in the effort to ensure your application is up to standard, it will be worth it.

Apply for a Canadian study permit (student visa)

Once your application has been accepted, you will be able to apply for a study permit.

International students can apply for a study permit with their BorderPass account. BorderPass makes the process of applying for a study permit clear and easy with the guidance and advice of Canadian immigration lawyers.

Once a study permit application has been submitted to the IRCC, processing times can vary.

After applying: what's next?

After you’ve received your letter of acceptance, you then either have to accept or deny it by a deadline. If you choose to accept, the next step is sorting out accommodation. Some institutions will offer on-campus accommodation, but prepare for the possibility of having to find your own place.

There will likely be international student communities on social media such as Facebook where you could meet fellow students and organize to find housing together.

Arrival and orientation in Canada and how BorderPass helps

Once in Canada, your institution will likely have an international student orientation process for you to meet your cohort for the year!

This will be a valuable opportunity to make connections and build a community — an important part of moving to a new place. Chances are, your fellow international students will be like-minded individuals and you will have no trouble making new acquaintances and friends.

Beyond the support BorderPass offers in the application process, we will provide help should you decide to apply for a post-study work permit or permanent residency. Throughout your Canadian study experience, we will offer transparency, affordability, expertise, a future-focused approach, and convenience.

Our BorderPass club offers students date reminders, access to housing and job portals, assistance with banking, credit building, and joining new cell phone and internet providers. BorderPass is dedicated to ensuring international students make the absolute most out of their time in Canada!

Cost of studying in Canada

As of 2024, Canada requires international students to have at least CAD $20,635 plus one year of tuition. In Quebec, this number is higher.

Tuition fees for undergraduate and postgraduate courses

International student tuition fees at learning institutions differ depending on whether the course is at the undergraduate or postgraduate level.

Prices vary depending on whether the institution you will be heading to is public or private, and the type of program. What follows is a brief comparison of average prices for the different types of institutions on offer:

  • Colleges and vocational schools: CAD $7,000–$22,000 per year
  • Universities (public or private): CAD $21,000–$31,000 per year

These numbers are approximate and you shouldn’t incorporate them into your budgeting plans without having first researched how much your specific institution’s tuition fees are. A database of specific prices for DLIs in Canada can be accessed here.  

Living expenses for international students in Canada

International students who study in Canada can expect to pay from CAD $800–$2,000 per month in living expenses, depending on the city you study in.

This number is comprised of accommodation costs, plus expenses such as food, utilities, and various other expenses.

Accommodation costs: on-campus vs. off-campus

Student accommodation often acts as a cheaper alternative to living independently or with roommates. Student residences can cost between CAD $250 and $625 per month, whereas renting with roommates can cost between CAD $300 and $700 per month.

Health insurance for international students

International students in Canada are required to have health insurance by colleges and universities. You may be covered under your school fees, or you may need to obtain your own policy.

While the price you can expect to pay for this type of insurance will vary based on where you are in Canada and the provider you go with, the yearly average for premiums ranges from CAD $600–$900.

BorderPass members have access to great rates on insurance, another reason to become a BorderPass member!

Miscellaneous costs: books, supplies, and personal expenses

Around CAD $600 should set you up with all the books you need for one year of study. As far as other miscellaneous costs go, this will depend on the nature of the course you are taking, your personal requirements, and where you are living.

Scholarships and financial aid for international students

You may be disheartened by the prices that are quickly stacking up, but not to worry! Know that there are many good opportunities for international students to gain a scholarship and other types of financial aid. Find scholarship opportunities here and here.  

Part-time work opportunities to offset costs

International students can work up to 20 hours a week in Canada to offset their expenses. BorderPass can assist with work permit applications, where needed, so international students can find part-time work.

Comparing Canadian cost of education: Canada vs. other countries

Canada is generally considered to be a more economically viable option for international students than other comparable countries, such as the United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, or England. Tuition fees are lower, and the cost of living is generally more affordable.

Key takeaways

If you are considering traveling abroad to study, Canada is an incredible option. It has an extensive range of educational institutions, from secondary schools to colleges to universities, and there is an even more extensive range of courses available for international students at these institutions.

While the application could seem like a daunting task, if you complete all of the steps contained in this article then you put yourself in good stead to be accepted by a good institution!

However, if you want to increase your chances further still, and gain absolute certainty that your application to study and applications for study permits and student visas are managed correctly, BorderPass specializes in helping international students through the Canadian immigration and study process.

While the costs involved with international study can be disheartening, you can take solace in the fact that Canada is quite an affordable place to live and study, and the multitude of different scholarships on offer can help lift the financial burden involved significantly.

BorderPass wishes you the best of luck with your endeavors as an international student, and sincerely hopes you consider Canada as a viable destination!

Frequently asked questions

How does the Canadian education system differ from other countries?

One of the main differences is the bilingual component of many educational institutions in Canada. Many educational institutions are also more practical and hands-on with their approach to teaching.

Are there any language proficiency requirements for studying in Canada?

Yes, there are. Adequate knowledge of either English or French is essential, with several standardized tests such as the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and the Pearson Test of English used to ensure this.

How do Canadian schools rank globally?

Three Canadian schools are in the top 50 of the Times Higher Education World University Ranking 2024: Toronto University, the University of British Columbia and McGill University. After this, the next six are all in the top 300.

What countries do international students typically come from?

Students from Asian countries such as China, India, and South Korea comprise a large portion of the global population of international students. In Canada, there are also high numbers of French, Nigerian, and Iranian students.

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