Study in Canada: student guide to top universities
Study in Canada
Canada offers a unique opportunity to study entirely in English, entirely in French or on a bilingual program. With a population of roughly 10% of its southern neighbor, the USA, Canada has lots of space. As a result, there are clear pathways to immigration post-study. Canada is renowned for the friendliness of its people, its safety, and its quality of life.
These points have made Canada an increasingly popular destination for studies among international students in general. Approximately 20% of the Canadian population speak French as their native language. English, at 56%, is by far the predominant language across the country. This is important to bear in mind if you are from a French-speaking country.
Seed mainly works with institutions in the English-speaking part of Canada. This is because we believe proficiency in English is an essential skill for today’s globally mobile workforce. If you plan to work in Canada after graduation a strong knowledge of English will be essential. However, for those who do prefer to study in French, Seed is able to offer extremely affordable options too.
Why choose to study abroad in Canada?
Canada is the third-largest host country for international students in the world. Relative to its population Canada welcomes more international students than almost any other country in the world. Over the last decade, the number of international students has doubled in Canada. This exceeds the global rate of international student mobility.
There are many reasons behind Canada’s impressive rise in popularity. The country is viewed as safe, welcoming, and affordable. Quality of life in Canada is among the highest in the world. There are attractive work rights, especially after graduation - ultimately a potential path to immigration for African, and other International, students.
Top 5 reasons to choose Canada to study abroad
In recent years, Canada has shot up the rankings for international students. Currently, it is the third most popular destination in the world. Here’s why:
Academic excellence in Canada
The education system in Canada is managed at a provincial level. The provinces have all put into place robust quality assurance systems. They understand the importance of their diplomas being recognized by other institutions in Canada, around the world, and also by employers.
Canada invests more in education as a percentage of GDP than many other G20 countries. As a result, the Canadian educational system is high-quality and students have access to first-rate facilities and equipment.
The 2021 Times Higher Education World University rankings list 5 Canadian universities in the Top 100. This is all the more impressive when you consider Canada’s population of approximately 36 million.
Higher Education flexibility in Canada
With over 15,000 undergraduate and graduate programs to choose from across the country, Canada offers plenty of choices to international students. What sets Canada apart is that the vocational and academic study paths complement each other effectively. Much more than in almost any other country in the world.
The College system in Canada plays many different roles depending on an individual student’s needs. There is the 2+2 route for students looking to gain a Bachelor degree. That comes with the benefit that College years are likely to be cheaper than later years at a university. The class sizes are also likely to be smaller in the early years.
Diploma and Advanced Diploma programs are great options for students unable to commit to a four-year Bachelor’s. Colleges are also an option for students who have completed a Licence or Bachelors in their home country. Graduate Certificates or Diplomas are more accessible than Master’s programs. They also offer students a quick and affordable way to gain a qualification in a different field to their undergraduate studies.
Study and work in Canada
International students have many opportunities to seek part-time employment during their studies. This helps to ease the burden on their sponsor - usually their parents. Students have the right to see work both on or off-campus.
There are also many different ways that international students studying in Canada can gain professional work experience. There are opportunities both during and after studies. Options include:
Internships - both paid and unpaid
Co-Op - a compulsory internship. These are usually paid. May add an extra year to the length of a Bachelor’s
Post-Study Work Rights - up to 3 years and can lead to immigration to Canada
Quality of life in Canada
Canada regularly features in Top 10 rankings for Quality of Life. Canada ranks #1 in the world for quality of life in the US News & World Report 2020. Canadian cities, especially Vancouver, also feature very highly in the rankings for Cities with the Best Quality of Life. In a table dominated by European cities, Vancouver in British Columbia was ranked #3 by Business Insider in 2019.
The reasons for Canada being viewed so positively are many. Canada is safer than almost any other developed country. It offers excellent public services, including its outstanding provision of education.
Cost of living in relation to salaries is reasonable. Canadians are welcoming and approachable people. A great reason to study and live there.
Cost of Higher Education in Canada
Scholarships in Canada are in shorter supply than in some other destination countries, especially the USA. However, Canadian institutions do not come with the same high price tag as some institutions in the USA. They also compare favourably with studies in the UK. There are many opportunities to find part-time work to earn pocket money in Canada.
Canadian universities and colleges offer outstanding value for money. Courses can be compared with the very best. They are closely aligned to the needs of business, with a particular focus on the industries of tomorrow.
International students in Canada will benefit from fantastic opportunities to gain practical experience. That may eventually lead to a longer stay in Canada than you might have envisaged at the start!
The Higher Education System in Canada
Bachelor degrees in Canada
In Canada, each province is responsible for its own education system and so there are differences from one province to another. The Bachelor degree will typically take 3-4 years to complete. As a general rule, bachelor degrees taught in French will take 3 years and those in English 4 years. Though there are exceptions to these general rules.
This guide focuses on provinces such as Ontario, and British Columbia, where most teaching is in English.
In these provinces students have the choice to study their entire Bachelor degree program in a single institution, usually a university. Or, students can start studies in a college and then transfer to a university to complete a Bachelor’s degree. There is an increasing number of colleges that also offer full bachelor degree programs.
British Columbia is worth serious consideration for those students interested in a 2+2 system. The Higher Education system in British Columbia integrates colleges and universities particularly well. Most colleges there have strong pathway agreements to transfer into local universities after completing 2 years.
Ontario colleges can also be a pathway into university though it is harder to find 2+2 arrangements. Often students completing a 2-year Diploma at a college have 3 more years at a university to obtain a Bachelor. Students who choose a 3-year Advanced Diploma in a College may have 2 more years to obtain their Bachelor’s degree.
Once you have completed your Bachelor degree, the next step would normally be a Master’s or MBA. These courses typically take 2 years, though sometimes accelerated program options enable you to graduate in 12-months. Some prefer to obtain certificates or diplomas in a different field of study in order to increase their employment options.
Colleges in Canada: unrivalled flexibility
Colleges in Canada offer a much broader range of programs than Community Colleges in the USA. As such Canadian Colleges may be of interest to both undergraduate and graduate students.
Colleges tend to offer more vocational fields of study, for example
- Business - including HR Management, Marketing and similar
- Culinary Arts
- Engineering Technology.
Colleges work closely with Canadian employers to ensure that the training offered is as relevant as possible to the real world.
Studies in a Canadian College often go hand in hand with practical experience through internships or Co-Op opportunities. This can be very attractive for international students as employment rates for College graduates are therefore extremely high.
Students interested in International Relations, Engineering, Architecture and other traditional subjects, may find that their choices at Colleges are limited. It might make more sense to look at universities for those students.
A Canadian College can offer a pathway to a Bachelor degree in Canada for international students. The province of British Columbia in particular has a very strong 2+2 system in place. Students can follow an Associate Degree, the first 2-years of a Bachelor’s. Then transfer to a university in British Columbia to complete the remaining 2 years of the Bachelor’s.
Some Colleges even offer the full 4-years of a Bachelor degree in a limited number of majors (often business topics). The advantages of starting in a College are many, including:
- Lower admission requirements
- Lower tuition fees
- Often you will find that you have smaller classes, especially when compared to a large, public university. This is important for non-native English speakers. It means you have a greater chance to interact directly with the professor during classes and to get extra support.
- Depending on your academic performance, you will have a chance to target a range of different universities when transferring. Even top universities such as the University of British Columbia may be open to strong academic performers.
However, it is also important to understand that 2+2 options may not exist across all of Canada. In some cases, by starting in a College, you may take 5+ years to complete a Bachelor degree. For example, you might see a 2+3 option or a 3+2 option.
Colleges, especially in Ontario, also offer a range of different courses. This gives added flexibility to students who may not be looking to take a full 4-year Bachelor degree. You will have access to 1-year Certificate programs, 2-year Diploma programs and 3-year Advanced Diploma programs. Some students prefer to take two 2-year Diplomas in two different subjects, rather than one major for a 4-year Bachelor’s.
Canadian Colleges also offer programs targeting students who have already completed their first degree. Graduate Certificates/Diplomas, which take 1-2 years, are open to international students with a Bachelor degree from their home country. As such, they can be an alternative to a Master’s program. This could be particularly interesting to French-speaking African students.
Graduate Certificate and Diploma programs would accept a 3-year licence as meeting the academic requirements. Of course, this is as long as your average grade is sufficiently good! Normally, a Licence would not be sufficient to join a Master’s program directly in the English-taught system. In this case, a Graduate Certificate or Diploma could be a stepping stone to a Master’s in Canada.
Entry requirements for (Post) Graduate Certificates/Diplomas are typically less rigorous than for a Master’s program. Students with a 4-years bachelor may find this to be an excellent way to further studies in Canada. The Graduate Certificate/Diploma route makes it easier to switch to a different field of study after a first degree.
Master’s degrees and MBAs in Canada
Master’s degrees and MBAs in Canada tend to last 2 years in duration. They can be taught in English, in French or a combination of the two, depending on the institution.
Admission requirements for Master’s programs in Canada are quite high as there are relatively few institutions offering them. There is a lot of demand both domestically and from overseas. In general students should expect a minimum requirement of GPA 3.0 or equivalent to meet academic entry requirements.
Many universities offering English-taught courses will require a 4-year bachelors as a minimum for entry. They may well require all admission requirements, including language proficiency, to be met at the time of application. Conditional admission may not be possible for students without the existing English language level to join certain Master’s programs.
Students may be best to consider a Graduate Certificate or Diploma program if any of the following are true:
- A 3-year Bachelor/Licence,
- Lower grades
- Lower level of English language proficiency.
Successful completion of a Graduates Certificate or Diploma may then give opportunities to join a Master’s.
In general there are fewer scholarships available in Canada than in the USA. Students with a strong academic record may still be able to apply for partial scholarships.
It may also be possible to apply for a Research Assistantship. In that case, students are employed part-time by the university and earn a salary. In many cases they also benefit from reduced tuition fees!
Graduates from Master’s and Graduate Certificate/Diplomas have an opportunity to apply for work in Canada. This is a great chance to gain valuable work experience.
Popular Areas of Study and Courses in Canada
Colleges and Universities in Canada
The Canadian Higher Education system consists of both colleges and universities. They operate as standalone parts of the Higher Education System but also complement each other. This is especially true when a student opts for a 2+2 route to a Bachelor degree. With the first two years in a college and then transfer to a university for the final two years.
Colleges may offer all four years of a bachelor degree in certain fields of study. They also offer a growing range of programs for graduate students - Graduate Certificates and Diplomas.
Many international students choose Colleges due to their lower tuition fees. Colleges offer a quality of education and a campus experience comparable to a university. Colleges also offer greater flexibility than universities with a range of 1-year, 2-year and 3-year programs. That can offer a quicker and more affordable route to a Canadian diploma that may meet your needs for seeking employment.
In addition, you can take a program in one field and then take another program in a different field. This will give you a broader range of skills. Universities tend to offer a broader range of programs than colleges. This is especially true if your interest is in the humanities or more traditional professions such as architect, engineer or lawyer.
Universities also have a greater focus on research. This means that the Canadian institutions that feature in the Global Rankings are Universities rather than Colleges. Universities are also the institutions that offer Master’s, MBA and PhD programs. The further you progress within Canada’s higher education system, the more likely you are to be studying in a university.
Recommended Canadian institutions for African Students
There are approximately 300 universities and colleges in Canada. The vast majority are located in the three most populous states, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. A core part of Seed’s mission is to propose study opportunities that we believe will maximise your employment opportunities. Studying abroad costs a considerable amount of money but it is also a great investment into your future if planned properly.
We lean towards proposing institutions that teach in English. Not only do we believe that fluency in English is a key component in any prospective employee’s toolkit. But the simple fact is that English is by far the primary language that is used day to day within Canada. We are also able to assist French-speaking African students who would prefer to continue studying in French.
Seed has partnered with 3 colleges and 2 universities in Canada. The colleges offer excellent and affordable routes to a Bachelor degree in Canada. In addition, 2 of the colleges (Centennial College, located in downtown Toronto, and North Island College, located in west Canada) also offer Graduate Certificate programs for students who have obtained a first degree in their home country. These programs are open to students who have completed a Bachelor degree at home. They offer a more accessible alternative to a Master's program.
Our third partner college, Columbia College, located in downtown Vancouver in west Canada, specialises in welcoming international students who are looking to complete high school in Canada or who have just completed high school in their home country and who wish to start their Bachelor degree in Canada.
We are also proud to represent 2 universities - University of Windsor, Ontario and Université de Moncton, New Brunswick. For students who wish to study in French, Université de Moncton offers a range of very affordable Bachelor and Master’s programs.
Université de Moncton profile
Costs of Studying in Canada
Most colleges and universities in Canada are public institutions. Private colleges usually focus on niche areas of study such as Art & Design or Aviation. Tuition fees do vary between institution, though there are a couple of general rules to be aware of:
- In the main, colleges offer lower tuition fees than universities. This makes them an attractive option for those students seeking to minimise their expenses.
- There are significant variations in the cost of tuition and living costs between provinces. Institutions in the most populous provinces, British Columbia and Ontario, have higher tuition fees than those in less populated provinces.
You can find universities in some provinces where the tuition fees are similar to a college in Ontario or British Columbia. They can also sometimes be lower! This can be true in Saskatchewan and Manitoba in the central belt of Canada. Also in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island to the east.
Isn’t it expensive to study in Canada?
Naturally, studying in Canada will cost more than staying in your home country. Canada performs well when compared to the other leading English-speaking destination countries - the UK, USA, and Australia. The average cost of tuition fees in Canada is up to ⅓ lower than tuition fees in Australia and the USA.
Even within Canada, there are significant differences between the cheapest and the most expensive institution. You can significantly reduce your tuition fees by selecting one of the cheaper and less populated provinces. Or by starting your study in Canada experience at a college and later transferring to a university to complete your program.
The vast majority of colleges offering English-taught programs can be found in British Columbia or Ontario. Tuition fees tend to range between CAD$15,000 - CAD$18,000 per year. University tuition fees vary widely depending on the location and level of prestige. In lower cost provinces, you may find annual tuition fees starting from around CAD$12,000.
There are also universities in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec that can charge over CAD$50,000 per year. It depends on the field of study and level of study.
Through our contacts, we are able to offer options across Canada that meet the majority of African students’ study in Canada budget.
International student living cost while at Canadian University
Living expenses while studying in Canada can vary widely depending on a number of factors:
The cost of living is highest in the most populated states - British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec. They reduce as you look at less densely populated states in the central belt - Manitoba and Saskatchewan. And on the eastern seaboard of Canada - New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.
However, remember that Canada is a vast country so, even within provinces there are significant differences in the cost of living. Vancouver, the largest city in British Columbia, has a cost of living that is quite high by international standards. The smaller towns to the north and east, such as Kamloops, would be much cheaper to live in
It is great living on-campus close to classes. However, that is expensive, especially with any meal plan included. Living in rented apartments/houses off-campus may be a more affordable option for your study in Canada experience.
Your personal lifestyle
This is a key factor in determining your budget. How you choose to spend your free time and where you choose to shop have a massive impact. It is therefore not possible to give a general answer to what these costs could be.
The official EduCanada website has an excellent section on international students' living cost and preparing your budget for university in Canada.
The Canadian Embassy will require proof of financial support as one of the key documents for your Canadian study permit (student visa). Generally, students need to be able to show a minimum of CAD$10,000 per year to cover living expenses.
Scholarships for African Students to Study in Canada
While there are many scholarships offered to study in Canada at undergraduate level these are highly competitive. In the majority of cases they are for relatively small sums of money - CAD$ 500 - $1,500 per academic year. Each institution has its own scholarship fund and its own criteria for allocating scholarships. It is important to research the international scholarship information of each individual institution to see if you may qualify.
There is much more financial assistance available to international students to study in Canada from universities at graduate (Master’s and doctorate, or PhD, level. This financial assistance may be in the form of scholarships, teaching or departmental assistantships, or potentially a combination of the two.
As the tuition costs vary from institution to institution a scholarship may not always be the cheapest option. A CAD $2,000 scholarship with a Toronto university will still mean higher costs than university in New Brunswick with no scholarship.
Seed Education Consulting will make you aware of scholarships offered by our partner institutions that we feel you may qualify for. We may still advise institutions in less populated provinces as the cost of study and living is likely to be lower.
What are the requirements to study in Canada?
How long does the application process last?
Firstly, you need to check how many start dates your chosen program at your chosen institution offers annually. Some programs may only have one annual start date, usually September. There may be up to three start dates per year on Business programs. These are usually September, January, and May. Application deadlines vary by institution.
We recommend beginning the process at least 3 months before your intended start date, and ideally earlier than that. You should allow at least 3 months to navigate the application process and the study permit application. The more prestigious the institution and the more popular the program, the earlier the application deadline. You can start the application process in advance of completing studies in your home country. If you are in the final year of high school Seed can help you apply before graduation. In this case, you will have a pre-university conditional admission. We will then forward your final results later for unconditional admission. By applying early to study in Canada, you will save time later as you will be able to jump immediately to the study permit application.
I have already started university in my home country – can I transfer?
Yes, you can look to switch to study in Canada at any point. Transferring credits from your studies at a university in your home country to a Canadian institution can be complicated. It is important to understand that you will not be able to transfer 100% of your credits. As the educational systems are different, some Canadian institutions may not allow any credits from studies abroad to be transferred in. Do not expect to transfer directly to the third year in Canada if you have completed two years at home. In the best-case scenario, you may be able to start at the beginning of the second year. Some Canadian institutions may want you to restart from the beginning.
How to Apply to Study in Canada
Key Steps for African Students
Before beginning the application process to an institution in Canada, you first need to determine which institution best meets your needs. With approximately 300 universities and colleges across Canada, there are far fewer study options than in the USA. Choosing one institution out of 300 is not an easy process. Seed will make recommendations based on the key information that you give to us, namely:
Intended program (and your future career plans)
It is important for us to have a clear understanding of what you hope to do later in life. This is because there are many more majors to choose from in Canada than are typically available in your home country. One field of study in your country can often be broken down into 20 or 30 different majors in Canada. With a clear understanding of your goals our team can offer the programs best matched to you.
Generally, we need your transcripts for the last 3-4 years of study, along with any diplomas obtained during that period. Each institution in Canada has its own academic requirements. Many programs have their own minimum requirements. It is essential that we can evaluate your past academic record to be able to recommend institutions you will be admitted to.
Language of tuition
Degree courses are taught in English or French in Canada. We understand that for many students coming from Francophone Africa, studying in French is an attractive and seemingly logical choice. However, remember that the global language of business is English, both for local exporters and global companies. If you dream of a career with an international aspect, studying in English may offer you better long-term employment opportunities. Don’t worry if your English skills are not yet sufficient to study in English at a university. Seed can give advice on suitable Academic English programs to study in Canada. There are both online and offline options.
Perhaps the most important element of all is the budget. University and colleges' tuition fees and living costs vary widely depending on the institution and the province. In addition, some fields of study have higher fees than others. If you study to be a pilot you will have costs for flight practice on-top of tuition fees, for example. We need to have a clear understanding of what your sponsor(s) can afford to advise you. You should try to estimate your budget for one year of tuition, housing, food, insurance and personal expenses. You will have the right to work part-time up to 20 hours per week during term-time. It can be full-time during vacations. However, you must be able to show sufficient financial support from your sponsor(s) for a Study Permit to study in Canada. This must show you can meet all expected expenses without the need for a job. Ultimately, a part-time job during your study abroad experience should be viewed as a bonus, not a necessity.
Canadian Student Visas for African Students
Unless you have Canadian citizenship, you will need to apply for a study permit from the Canadian Embassy. There may be no Canadian Embassy in your country and your application will be sent to another location.
For example, the Canadian Embassy in Dakar, Senegal handles applications from most French-speaking countries in West and Central Africa. This includes Cameroon, Gabon, Congo and DR Congo. However, applicants from Benin and Togo will be directed instead to the Canadian Embassy in Accra, Ghana.
Applicants do not need to go in person to the embassy to attend an interview. The decision on whether to grant a student permit or not will be based on the documentation that you provide. Typically - admission letter(s) to Canadian institution(s), your previous academic transcripts, proof of financial support and medical documents.
Study permit applicants have to give their biometrics and will be subject to a medical examination. It is necessary to use an approved doctor and normally this can be done in your home country.
To obtain a Canadian study permit you will need to follow the step-by-step process below:
- Apply to a Designated Learning Institution in Canada in order to receive a letter of acceptance. This is where the knowledge and experience of the Seed team will be particularly important. We will help you identify a suitable course and institution. And then guide you through the application process.
Many Canadian institutions require a paid deposit before issuing a letter of acceptance. This amount can total several thousand Canadian dollars. Carefully check the rules regarding the deposit as some institutions will not refund it in any circumstances. This can include in the event of a rejection of your study permit application.
- Once you have the letter of application, it is time to prepare your documentation for the study permit application. The exact requirements vary from country to country, this list shows them all.
- Once you have thoroughly prepared your application dossier, submit your study permit application. The application itself is typically done online.
- Once requested, submit your documents at your local Visa Application Centre (VAC). Usually at this stage you will also give your biometric data - you will have to make an appointment for this.
- The exact duration of the visa processing time varies greatly by Canadian Embassy and also at the time of year. Typically a decision will be made in 4-8 weeks. Sometimes, and especially during this period of the COVID pandemic, processing times can be longer. Once you have your study permit, you are ready to travel to Canada to commence your studies!
The process may seem long and complicated but Seed staff can give you basic guidance at each step if needed. However, please note that, under Canadian law, only approved Immigration Lawyers may give guidance on the visa application itself. You may wish to consult an approved Canadian immigration lawyer to assist you with steps 2-3 of the above process. This may be especially worthwhile if you have been rejected for a visa to Canada in the past.
Once you have your study permit and are studying in Canada you must maintain your status. This means attending classes and respecting any conditions. There may be limits on your work rights listed on your study permit.
Post-graduate work opportunities for Africans in Canada
One of Canada’s primary attractions as a study destination is its attractive work rights, especially for graduates. Canada is the second largest country in the world, but is only ranked #39 in terms of population.
The large difference between the size of the country and its population means Canada wants to attract qualified people from overseas. You are especially welcome if you have completed higher education in Canada and are integrated into local life and culture.
African students graduating from most institutions in Canada have the right to look for a job in Canada. There are occasionally some restrictions regarding students attending private institutions.
Post Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) duration
8 months to 2 years
Same as study duration
2 years or more
3 year duration
Students who have completed more than one course may still be able to obtain a PGWP. Each program must be at least 8-months in length and PGWP-eligible. Further information on the PGWP requirements can be found in this article.
Studying in Canada and then following this with work experience through PGWP will greatly increase your chances of gaining permanent residency. Normally. after completing 2 years of qualifying full-time work in Canada, you may begin the application process for permanent residency.
The exact rules do vary from province to province and also depend on the skill level of your work experience. In some cases, you may be able to apply after just one year of full-time work experience. This clear route to immigration is a key reason behind many international students’ decision to study in Canada.
Even if you plan to return home, the attractive post-study work rights offered in Canada give you a valuable opportunity. Practical work experience in Canada will accelerate your career prospects in your home country.
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