Graduate Study in Canada: Guide for International Students
This article is adapted from the QS Top Grad School Guide, available to read online here.
Combining the great outdoors with great student cities, Canada holds its own among the world’s leading study destinations. It welcomes around 16 million tourists each year and is currently hosting over 572,000 international students. Those with a passion for snowsports and other outdoor activities will be spoilt for choice, while the wealth of nightlife, cultural and sports venues in Canada’s lively cities provides a guarantee against boredom during downtime from studies.
Higher education in Canada
There are over 90 universities in Canada, of which 17 are private. As is common elsewhere, Canadian universities offer three levels of degree: bachelor’s (usually lasting four years), master’s (requiring an additional year or two) and doctorate (usually an additional three years).
Canada also has around 150 colleges – also known as community colleges, technical colleges, regional colleges or CÉGEPs (in Québec) – which offer short courses and diplomas. In addition, the country has a long history of specialized career colleges, which seek to prepare students for specific vocations.
A total of 26 Canadian universities feature in the QS World University Rankings® 2019, including three within the global top 50. These are the University of Toronto (28th), McGill University (33rd), and the University of British Columbia (47th).
How to apply for graduate study in Canada
The application process varies depending on the province and the institution. You’ll need to research the entry requirements of the specific course you want to join, and apply directly to the university.
You can apply to study in Canada from one year before the start date. You should apply by March at the latest for the September intake, although if you’re applying for a popular course, apply earlier than this to optimize your chances of success. There’s usually a second intake in January or February of each year.
There are two important requirements for international students applying to study in Canada: language proficiency and sufficient finances. Both English and French are spoken in Canada, with the latter being the official language throughout the Québec province, and Canadian universities offer courses in both tongues. If you’re not a native speaker, you may need to submit proof of proficiency in the language you intend to study in.
You will also need to show you have enough money to cover your living expenses throughout your studies. This is currently set at CA$10,000 (~US$7,500) for each year of your stay (CA$11,000/~US$8,260 if you’re applying to study in Québec) on top of your tuition fees.
Thinking of studying a PhD in Canada? Read advice on how to do so here.
Getting a Canadian study permit
You can study in Canada for up to six months without a visa, which means it’s relatively easy to spend a semester abroad there. To study in Canada for longer than six months, you’ll need to gain a Canadian study permit. This will be your visa for the duration of your stay. Depending on your nationality, you may also need to obtain a temporary residence permit, which can be processed at the same time as your study permit application. Apply through the Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) website well in advance of your departure date to ensure you receive the documentation in time, as it can take up to 10 weeks.
To apply for your study permit you’ll first need a letter of acceptance from a recognized higher education provider. For Québec you also need a certificate of acceptance (known as a CAQ) from the government before you can apply for a study permit. Next, you should obtain a Canadian student visa application package from the CIC website, your local visa office or the Canadian embassy or consulate in your home country.
You’ll be given a personal checklist code to submit your application online. To do so, you must create a MyCIC account, where you’ll fill in your details, pay your fees and upload the required documents. This includes showing you have a ticket home and a valid passport. Some applicants may also need to attend an interview at their local visa office, and those from certain countries may need to provide biometrics, a medical exam or a police report.
On approval you’ll be sent a letter of introduction, while students from countries which require an Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) and/or a temporary residence visa will be issued these if required. Bring these along with your passport, proof of your finances and your letter of acceptance to the border control agency in Canada, where you will receive your study permit.
Tuition fees & living expenses
As is common in many countries, tuition fees in Canada are higher for international students than domestic students. Rates vary depending on the province, institution and course. Statistics Canada puts the average postgraduate tuition fee at CA$16,497 in 2018/19, which is approximately US$12,370.
As is the case worldwide, executive MBA programs are generally the most expensive, averaging around CA$49,798 (~US$37,340), while regular MBAs cost CA$30,570 (~US$22,900) on average. (You can read more about studying an MBA in Canada here).
Your living expenses, including accommodation, are likely to be approximately CA$15,000 per year (~US$11,250). You’ll need to include compulsory health insurance in your budget, along with the usual items – food, travel, course supplies, and of course social, sports and cultural activities.
Exceptional international students may be able to obtain scholarship funding, which is available both from the Canadian government and individual universities. Examples include the Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship Program, and the ‘International Tuition Award’ offered by many Canadian universities. The latter aims to assist international graduate students registered full-time in research-oriented master’s and doctoral programs. International students are automatically considered for this award if they meet certain criteria.
When searching for funding, check each university website for details of available scholarships, grants, assistantships, fellowships and bursary opportunities. You may also find it useful to consult the information provided by the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials website, or the Canadian government’s dedicated website for international scholarship programs.
Your study permit entitles you to work up to 20 hours a week alongside your studies, and full-time during semester breaks.
Post-graduation work in Canada
If you want to stay in Canada once your studies have finished, you’ll need to apply for a post-graduation work permit, allowing you to stay for up to three years after graduation. The country is reporting high demand for skilled graduates across a diverse range of sectors, including engineering, finance, graphic design, human resources, information technology, healthcare and natural sciences. You can find out more about getting a work visa for Canada here.
Meet Canadian graduate schools
Join an upcoming QS World Grad School Tour event in a city near you, to meet grad schools from Canada and around the world. You'll have the chance to speak to admissions directors to get personal answers to your queries, attend free seminars, and be eligible to apply for exclusive scholarships.
This article was originally published in January 2015. It was last updated in March 2019.
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This article was originally published in March 2019 . It was last updated in September 2021