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How to Apply to a University in Canada as an International Student

Wednesday | March 29, 2023 | by Karolin Givergis

A female student stands in a hallway. She is leaning against the wall and her arms are filled with books.

Canada is home to many top universities that offer high-quality education and cutting-edge research opportunities. Studying in Canada also provides international students with access to a wide range of courses and academic programs, along with a diverse and inclusive culture. 

Like many universities around the world, Canadian universities saw declines in international student enrollment at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, according to recent data from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Canada welcomed a record number of international students to the country in 2022. This indicates a promising steady increase in interest from international students looking for a top study destination.  

In this article, we’ll go through everything you need to know about coming to Canada as an international student.  

Benefits of Pursuing Higher Education in Canada 

There are many reasons higher education in Canada can be an appealing option for international students. These are just a few benefits: 

Reputable, high-quality education
Canada has a reputation for high-quality education, with seven Canadian universities listed in the top 200 institutions worldwide by Times Higher Education’s World University Rankings for 2023. 

Canadian academic institutions offer a diverse range of programs and courses, so students can choose a field that best fits their interests and career goals. For research-based education, University of Toronto and University of British Colombia, in particular, feature innovative programs.  

A Canadian degree can open doors to a variety of job opportunities and high-demand industries, both in Canada and internationally. 

Global perspective and quality of life
Canada is a culturally diverse country, which makes it an ideal place for exposure to other cultures and developing a more global perspective. Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver were named among the top cities for students. The rating is based on factors such as cost of living, diversity, and career opportunities, particularly for international students graduating from a Canadian university.  

Work-study opportunities
International students are eligible to work off-campus if allowed by the conditions in their study permit. Typically, study permit holders are allowed to work up to 20 hours per week during semester terms and full-time during break periods. 

Canada also offers a Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PWPP) that allows international students to stay and work in Canada after completing their studies at an eligible Canadian designated learning institute (DLI). Not only does this help international students gain valuable international work experience, but it is also a pathway that can lead to permanent residency

Steps for applying to a university in Canada 

Now that we’ve discussed why Canada is a premier study destination, let’s outline the steps for how to apply to a university in Canada. We recommend starting this process as early as possible. Each university and program you are interested in may have different requirements and deadlines, so be sure to pay close attention to these details.  

Do your research
The application process begins with research. Make sure to have a clear understanding of your academic and personal goals. Understanding what you want from your education experience can help you make an informed decision about where you would like to study.

Depending on your goals, these are some of the most important factors to keep in mind: 

  • Academic programs: If you hope to pursue a specific course of study, then this is an especially important consideration. For example, if you know you would like to earn a degree in science-based subject, you may want to look for schools with strong academic programs and research opportunities that will support you in reaching that goal. 
  • Housing options: For many international university students in Canada, this might be the first time they are living away from family and friends. In this case, it can be helpful to secure housing on or near campus. Being located near activities and resources can provide support as you settle into life in an unfamiliar country.
  • Cost: In addition to university tuition, books, and required fees, students should take into account the cost of living in the area where the university is located. Other living expenses to keep in mind include food, transportation, housing, and utilities such as phone, internet, and electricity.
  • Student activities: Find out what extracurricular activities are available at the universities you are considering. Joining a student group or club is a great way to explore your interests, meet new people, and establish a network of connections in your new home—which can also ease feelings of loneliness and homesickness.   

As you conduct your research, take note of each university’s admission requirements, including language proficiency, grades, and standardized test scores.  

Gather your required documents
As mentioned above, it is important to check with each university and program for specifics on application requirements, as they may vary. Here are some of the components you will likely be asked to provide when applying: 

  • Transcript: A transcript is a detailed record of your education, issued by the schools you have attended. It shows a history of your coursework, grades, and diploma or certificate earned. In most cases you will need to contact the institutions and request they send your official transcript to the university you are applying to.
  • Diplomas, degrees, and certificates: Whether applying as a first-year undergraduate or to pursue a master’s degree, you will be asked for evidence of previous educational credentials. First-year students typically must meet a minimum admission prerequisite equivalent to a secondary school diploma in Canada.
  • Credential evaluation: Depending on the university or program you are applying to, you may be required to provide a credential evaluation from a provider such as WES. A credential evaluation is an accurate and authenticated record of the educational or professional qualifications you earned in other countries. Learn how to get started with your WES credential evaluation. Even if an institution or program does not require a credential evaluation, supplying one can help you stand out from other candidates.  

Apply for your WES credential evaluation

  • Language requirements: To study in Canada, you must have scores from IELTS, TOEFL, or Pearson Test of English. You may also fulfill this requirement by submitting transcripts demonstrating completion of previous study in English language. For universities located in Quebec, students may be required to demonstrate proficiency in French, either through a standardized test such as the Test d’évaluation de français (TEF) or by submitting transcripts demonstrating completion of previous study in French.
  • Standardized test results: Depending on the program or university you are applying to, scores from other exams such as SAT, GRE, or GMAT might be required.
  • Supplementary materials: Your application may require additional materials such as reference letters and a personal essay. These will support your full application and help university officials understand you as a person beyond grades and completed coursework.  

Submit your application
Once you have gathered all your required materials, it’s time to submit your application. Deadlines, application processes, and associated fees will all vary among institutions and programs. Be sure to carefully review the instructions of the university you are submitting an application to.  

Some universities may require that applications be sent by post or via their website. Universities in Ontario utilize a centralized application service,  Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC). This system allows students to apply to multiple universities and programs in Ontario at once, reducing effort and costs for the applicant. 

After submitting your application, wait for a decision from the university, which may take a month or two depending on its application cycle and processes.  

Keep in mind that some programs, such as medicine or highly competitive fields, may have earlier application deadlines. International students should also allow extra time to obtain a study permit and plan for their arrival in Canada.

Planning your move to Canada 

Once you receive an acceptance letter, follow the institution’s acceptance instructions and pay any required fees.  

  • Study permit and visa: As soon as you accept a university’s offer, it is imperative that you apply for a study permit and visa in Canada. Please note: A study permit is not a visa. You may be required to obtain a visitor visa or electronic travel authorization as well. The appropriate visa will be issued to you along with your study permit. Find out the latest process and steps for securing your permit and visa in Canada.
  • Additional clearance: Along with securing your study permit and appropriate visa, you may need to complete steps such as an immigration medical exam and criminal background check.
  • Finances: Being financially secure is important in order to cover your tuition fees and living expenses. The good news is that international students have access to financial aid and scholarships to help offset costs. It’s important to research the various options and apply for financial aid and scholarships early to ensure maximum eligibility. Additionally, international students should research and understand the requirements for working in Canada during and after their studies. Below are some funding sources and ideas to explore: 
  • Students can apply for government-sponsored student loans, such as the Canada Student Financial Assistance Program, to help cover tuition, fees, and living expenses.
  • Many universities also offer bursaries and grants to their students. These are forms of financial aid based on financial need that do not have to be paid back. Check with your university for details. 
  • Scholarships are awarded based on merit, including factors such as academic achievement, athletic ability, leadership, or community involvement. Many universities, private organizations, and corporations offer scholarships. The Canadian government also has a few financial aid options for international students, including Government of Canada International Scholarships.
  • Work-study programs allow students to work part-time to help pay for education and other living expenses.

We hope this guide has inspired you to consider Canada as a study destination! Let us help you take the next step in your journey. Learn how at www.wes.org/ca.   

Related Reading

Why Is This a Good Time to Pursue Higher Education in Canada?
Get Started with Your WES Credential Evaluation

Karolin Givergis

Karolin Givergis is Manager, Client Relations at World Education Services.