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Tips for Choosing the Right Study Program in Canada as an International Student

Tips for Choosing the Right Study Program in Canada as an International Student

As an international student in Canada, you must find a program that meets your needs and academic goals. International students are accepted into hundreds of thousands of Canadian university and college programs each year.

Based on your interests, career goals, and budget, you have many options for undergraduate or graduate studies in Canada.

The right study program can open up new fields of study, open up new career paths, and set you up for success. International students can choose the right Canadian study program with these tips.

1. Choosing between college and university

International students may not understand the difference between university and college. The two terms are interchangeable in many countries but have different meanings in Canada. After high school, students can enroll in colleges and universities, but they differ in many ways.

Canadian universities

Canadian universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs in academic or professional fields. Complete the program to receive a degree. Undergraduate programs require three years of study and a fourth “honours” year for graduate admission. Some undergraduate programs, like engineering, take four years. To qualify for medical, legal, or dental programs, you may need two to four years of undergraduate study with relevant courses.

Only universities offer graduate (Master’s) programs, which require an undergraduate degree and, in some cases, work experience. Many universities also offer PhD programs in various fields.

Colleges in Canada

Technology, trades, and technical training programs in Canadian colleges prepare students for the job market. College courses usually lead to a diploma or certification, but some offer applied degrees. International students use college programs for skill development, language training, and continuing education.

Newcomers with undergraduate or graduate degrees from their home country find it useful to add a Canadian certification or diploma to their resume to boost their employability in Canada. You may also benefit from a Canadian college diploma if you want to change careers or jobs.

College programs last one or two years, unlike universities. Despite the misconception that colleges are less serious, college programs can be as intensive as university courses due to their shorter length and technicality.

Which is better: college or university?

Your career goals, educational credentials, study programs, and educational goals will determine whether you attend a university or college. Consider these factors when comparing options:

  • Academic versus technical training: Universities emphasize research, lectures, and assignments. College programs emphasize applied knowledge and work-related training over theory.
  • Program length and cost: University programmes are longer and more expensive than colleges.
  • Program flexibility: College courses are often part-time, while university programs are more intensive. You may have fewer course options or electives in college.

2. Know your interests and career goals

Consider your interests and career goals before choosing a program. This helps you choose programs that interest you. If you have a target career, check job postings to see what education requirements employers require.

If unsure, don’t worry. You can always change your mind later. Applicants to Canadian undergraduate or Bachelor’s programs don’t need to declare a specialization. You can pick a general subject and then choose courses or electives that interest you as you study. You can choose more subjects and have more flexibility at universities than at colleges.

3. Identify top institutions in your field of interest

After choosing potential programs, make a list of Canada’s top universities offering them. No matter what you’re interested in, Canada has top universities and colleges.

Colleges should not be overlooked when considering studying in Canada for international students. Technical or applied college programs can prepare you for the Canadian workplace faster.

4. Check study program eligibility requirements.

For Canadian study programs, you must meet certain requirements, as in many other countries. Your field of study or institution may require a certain score or GPA (grade point average), proof of course completion, language proficiency, or prior work experience. Some courses require a qualifying exam and a minimum score. Your application may also need a letter of intent or statement of purpose, professional or academic references, and a track record of extracurricular activities or volunteer work for competitive programs.

After making a list of study programs, check the international student eligibility requirements at the top universities. This will help you choose programs with a better chance of admission.

5. Choose a province or city to live in.

While education quality may be your main consideration, you may want to shortlist programs or institutions by province or city. Many international students choose to study in Ontario and British Columbia, but other provinces may have lower living and program costs.

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Each Canadian province has its own culture, quality of life, immigration ease, and job prospects. Learn about Canada’s provinces and territories and choose where you want to study.

6. Check if your preferred schools are DLIs.

Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) are provincial or territorially approved schools that accept international students. A Canadian study permit requires an acceptance letter from an authorized DLI.

Check that the post-secondary schools you’ve shortlisted are on the government’s designated learning institutions list before applying. If you plan to study in Canada during COVID-19, your DLI must have a COVID-19 Readiness Plan.

7. Assess program and admission costs

Even though Canada is cheaper than the US or UK, international students may find it expensive to study there. Graduate programs cost less than undergraduate programs, but tuition varies by program and institution.

Calculate the cost of studying in Canada by including fees for university/college applications, study permit applications, biometrics and medical tests, tuition, and living costs, including the funds you’ll need to put in a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC).

A full or partial scholarship can cover your tuition and Canadian living expenses. Check if your school offers international student scholarships. If not, consider student loans, lines of credit, education grants, bursaries, or working part-time to fund your education.

Before applying for admission to your desired study program, check your eligibility and amount for a student loan or line of credit.

8. Know your post-study career options

The study program you choose should lay the groundwork for your career. This means that the program should support your career goals and provide the skills, professional networking, workplace readiness, and career support or coaching you need to enter the Canadian job market. Research whether the study program offers co-op or internships and whether recruiters consider the Canadian experience.

Check if the universities or colleges you’re considering offer career resources for resume building, interview preparation, or placement support to narrow down your study program options.

At this stage, research each program’s alumni’s job roles and career paths. This will show you what career options are available to you after graduation and which companies recruit students from different schools.

9. Explore the school’s extracurriculars.

Many Canadian universities and colleges offer extracurricular programs to help you develop. Check if the school has sports teams if you like sports.

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Other student clubs may focus on volunteer work, theatre, politics, culture, or religion. You can make friends in your new country, build your professional network, and learn new skills by joining student groups. Canadian universities and colleges offer ESL programs for international students to improve their language skills.

10. Make sure the program fits your life.

Some Canadian study programs are structured differently. As an international student, make sure the program fits your lifestyle. If you want to work while studying to support yourself, look for a program with a flexible class schedule or a student work permit.

Technical or internship/co-op programs may be better for preparing for the Canadian job market because you can gain work experience while studying.

International students who move to Canada with their families must balance school and family. A hybrid course delivery model with in-person and online classes may be better than an on-campus program in such cases. The length of the study program can affect the cost and immigration of many international students.

After completing your Canadian study program, there are various immigration pathways available.


Canada is a great place to study for the global workforce. Canadian universities and colleges offer many study programs for international students. You should choose a program that fits your lifestyle, finances, and academic and career goals.



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