There are four main types of higher education institutions in Canada, with courses varying from academic study to vocational training.
In Canada you will find:
A wide variety of both English and French-speaking universities span the country. The publicly-funded system consists of 95 universities and university colleges registered with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC).
Membership of the AUCC ensures a consistently high standard across the registered institutions. There is no centralised accrediting system. However, many rigorous self-accreditation processes are in place across a range of disciplines and subject areas. The qualifications on offer at Canadian universities range from bachelor's degrees to doctorates. All qualifications available at Canadian universities are internationally recognised and respected.
University colleges combine the academic disciplines of the Canadian universities with the vocational teaching of colleges. There are a wide range of programmes and qualifications available at university colleges from the more academic bachelor's degrees to practical college diplomas. They may also offer combined programmes of degrees, diplomas and English language courses.
It's also possible to undergo a transfer programme, in which you complete the first two years of study at a university college then transfer your credits to a nearby university to do your final year.
Community colleges and technical institutes, like university colleges, allow students an alternative route into university as well as offering courses and qualifications in their own right. The courses available at community colleges are typically more practical and related to a particular job. They tend to be shorter than university courses, at two to three years long. However, the skills learned from these courses can transfer into points that count towards a university degree. This is an attractive route for international students as it boasts lower fees and less stringent entry requirements.
These are privately owned institutions offering training programmes designed to provide students with practical training for the world of employment. They offer 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.
How to apply
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 (typically CAD$50-100).
The exception is if you are applying to a university in Ontario, when you may be able to apply through the Ontario Universities' Application Centre (OUAC). You may apply to as many institutions in Ontario as you like. There is a fee of CAD$130 for the first three applications (plus a $10 service fee), and each application thereafter costs $42. There may also be additional fees - visit the OUAC website for details.
Entry requirements for institutions in Canada vary according to where they are, and which course you are doing. You should contact your chosen institution(s) regarding their specific entry requirements. You may need to prove that your qualifications are comparable in quality to Canadian education. Therefore you may need to have your qualifications assessed. There are various agencies that can do this for you. See the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) website for more information.
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.
English language requirements
Institutions will normally have their own requirements for language proficiency in French or English. If either of these is not 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, TOEFL or Cambridge English: Advaced - CAE). You should contact your chosen institution directly to enquire about their language requirements and which tests they will accept as proof.