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Understanding Canadian Education

Canada is a country comprised of stunning nature, a multi-ethnic culture, and world-renowned education. Although it has many great facets, the education system can be considered confusing to those who are international or studying out-of-province. We're going to take a look at the Canadian higher education system and hopefully simplify it for you to help you choose what's best for you, whilst being made aware of all the options. 

Canada is made up of 20 provinces and 3 territories. This is important due to each government and territory taking full responsibility of all levels of education, as the country does not have a department of education. As in many other countries, there are private and public institutions, the primary difference being funding. Public institutions receive government funding, whereas private institutions do not.

Read the full list of public institutions in Canada.


Each province has a different education structure, and those who are international or out-of-province will have to determine where students fall in the structure.



CEGEP is a new term for non-Canadian students. It is similar to a United States community college with the curriculum geared towards university preparation or technical training. The credential offers a diploma called Diplôme d'études collégiales, or DEC. CEGEP’s can be private or public institutions.


There are more than 8,000 programs at the 135 colleges and institutes within Canada that are considered as public institutions. Over 1.5 million attend these colleges and institutes in the aim of receiving technical and professional training in agriculture, health & social services, environment, the arts, languages and more.

The institutions offer bachelors, certificates, diplomas, university transfer programs, and post-graduate diplomas. The programs can vary in length from a few months up to 3 years. These programs lead to work placement and possible co-op opportunities. All programs are open to international students who want to attain a degree with an applied learning style.

On average 90% of college graduates in Canada receive employment within less than a year of graduating. 93% of employers are content wit the college graduates employed from Canada.

The tuition fees in Canada range from 5,500 to 15,000 CAD depending on the program type. The living costs in Canada for students are estimated at 7,000 to 13,000 CAD depending on the location of the university and lifestyle.


In public universities, there are three types of degrees: bachelors, masters, and doctoral.  There are 1.7 million students studying in more than 15,000 undergraduate and graduate programs at 100 private and public universities. Due to this increase, one million CAD of net new jobs were created for university graduates in the past seven years.

Tuition fees range from 8,800 to 35,280 CAD a year depending on the type of program and location of the institution. 


There is no official university ranking system in Canada, therefore students should aim for a good fit rather than a ranking university. Students should select the right university based on location, size, and program. There are many types of universities in Canada such as larger, research-based institutions and smaller, undergraduate-based institutions.

Unlike in the United States and other countries, college and university are not interchanged and do not describe the same type of education. Colleges offer 1-3 year certificate programs and diplomas based on technical training, whereas universities focus on offering bachelors, masters, and PhD programs.

Some professional degrees from the university include law, medicine, pharmacy, architecture and more.

Admission criteria changes between universities, generally needing high school transcripts, SAT results, and an interview. The deadlines are often set in winter.


Certain universities in Canada have entrance scholarships based solely on academic performance. These scholarships can be renewable depending on the university. Other scholarships such as full or athletic scholarships exist but are fairly limited.

Other resources for students seeking to study in Canada are CICIC, Universities Canada,Colleges and Institutes Canada, Bureau of International Education and Study in Canada.

With the education prices of the UK and USA often not being affordable to many international applicants without scholarships, it is worth considering continuing your education in Canada - a country which has a lot of opportunities for its students, in particular its international students.


The information from this article is articulated from the ‘Canadian Post-Secondary – What’s the difference?’ talk at the IACAC 2016. The featured contributors to this talk are Meagan Vooren (Huron University College), Matt Stiegemeyer (Concordia University), Lauren Cullen (Saint Mary’s University), and Emily Mancuso (Humber College).


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