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How to Apply to Canadian Universities and Colleges

Tuesday | April 3, 2018 | by Abigail Byle

apply to Canadian universities

Canadian universities and colleges provide high-quality post-secondary education, and they are accepting more and more applications from international students. However, there are some unique characteristics of post-secondary education in Canada to keep in mind.

One important distinction is that, in Canada, universities refer only to schools that offer full degree programs, such as a bachelor’s degree, whereas colleges are more vocational and offer diploma and certificate programs, as well as some degree level courses.

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College and University in Canada: What Is the Difference?

Post-secondary education in Canada is generally affordable, especially compared to schools in the U.S., although it is more expensive for international students. International student fees may be as much as double the cost for domestic students because universities and colleges are publicly funded by provincial and federal taxes.

Canada, on the whole, is very welcoming to international students, which combined with the high-quality education offered, creates an increasingly competitive admission environment. The following tips will help you find the right school, apply to Canadian universities, and increase your chances of admission.

Do Your Research

Canada is a very large country with a wide variety of post-secondary institutions located both in small towns and big cities that offer a range of specialties. Most university websites will have information about the local community available, but if you have questions, contact the university directly to get more information. There are even universities and colleges that offer programs in French. In Quebec and Manitoba, and there are also online course options, including degree programs, which offer additional flexibility to students. Selecting the right school and location may make a big difference in how well you adjust to college life, so get as much information as you can to help decide what works best for you.

Follow the Application Instructions

The application process can be stressful and also expensive, so familiarize yourself with the application, as well as the admission process and requirements. Usually, application deadlines for international students are earlier than for Canadian students (about eight months before the program start date) to allow time to apply for study permits. The deadlines will vary by institution and even by program, so confirm the deadlines and apply as early as possible. Also, be aware that there may be regional differences; for example, some universities in a particular province have a central application process, such as the Ontario Universities Application Centre.

Grades are not the only factor in admission, so submit as strong an application as possible. Be sure to submit all required documents and watch out for any additional requirements for international students. For example, you may be required to submit a language test, such as the TOEFL or IELTS, so register for one of these tests, if necessary.

Also, if you need to submit letters of recommendation, ensure that these letters are specific to you. A standard recommendation form may be used, but it should still be personalized, and not just a few brief, generic sentences. Be sure to take time with your personal statement or statement of intent to argue for why you should be offered admission. If you are applying to graduate school, confirm if an advisor is required or recommended and, if so, find one.

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Applying to Graduate Programs in Canada

Be patient and respectful when contacting staff and faculty because they are busy with many inquiries and may remember you for the wrong reasons if you are difficult. Be sure to read the website first, as you may not receive a response if the information is readily available online, and do not email or phone multiple times a day. University faculty and staff are there to help students, so remember that you are welcome to ask questions. You may also ask for special consideration or for an exception to be made if there is a good reason; the worst thing that can happen is that you are told no.

Finalize Finances and Funding

While you are preparing your application, explore any financial aid options open to you, either through the school’s main financial aid office or through your specific department or program. There may be bursaries or academic scholarships available specifically for international students. Finances will be important because, to have your study permit approved, you must demonstrate the following:

  • You have no criminal record.
  • Your primary reason to come to Canada is for education.
  • You will leave Canada at the end of your studies.
  • You have enough money to pay your tuition fees, your living expenses, and transportation home for you and any family members who come to Canada with you.

When You Arrive

Canadian universities and colleges value diversity in both their students enrolled and programs offered, and try to create a supportive and engaging environment for all students. Once you arrive, explore and take advantage of the many different resources and services available for international students, such as international student centres. Consider applying for a homestay program to live with a local family, which may help to ease the transition into university life and Canadian society.

Other student services commonly available include writing centres, career and counselling centres, tutoring, and student groups, including cultural, religious, academic, and athletic clubs. Taking advantage of the supports provided, especially those intended for international students, will help you adjust more easily and be a successful student.

Final Tips

  • Research universities and colleges online, including department and program websites.
  • Apply early—submit all required documents and the application fee by the deadline.
  • Make a real effort with your application, especially devoting time and careful consideration to your personal statement or letter of intent.
  • Apply for your student permit as soon as possible after you have received your admission letter.

Additional Resources

Macleans – Canadian University Admission Deadlines

Universities Canada

Applying to College in Ontario as an International Student

How to Apply to Canadian Universities


Abigail Byle is a Graduate Programs and Admissions Assistant for the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of Manitoba.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of World Education Services (WES).