What kind of school should I apply to as an international student in Canada?

Vimal Sivakumar
Published: May 28, 2024

Universities, colleges, and specialty programs across Canada all have unique values, and the best choice for international students often depends on their individual career goals and aspirations.

Note: Speciality programs are those specifically designed to help students develop and enhance specific skills such as those in the trades. Meanwhile, bridging programs help newcomers connect the international training, education and experience they have with what is needed to continue working in their field when they arrive.

Foreign nationals should remember that only designated learning institutions (DLIs), regardless of the type of program they offer, are permitted to welcome international students to study in Canada.

Discover your options to study in Canada

Including a comparison of these pathways, what follows may help prospective international students make informed decisions based on multiple factors, including their personal development, academic/professional ambitions.

Exploring university education

Universities in Canada offer traditional academic programs. In other words, although they are often the most expensive educational pathway for students, they help students build careers in the most traditionally-academic industries, such as business, finance and communications.

These programs, which vary in length based on the level of study*, can lead to careers in many industries, depending on the specific program the student chooses.

*Undergraduate programs at a university are typically four years long, while post-graduate programs are often two or three years in length.

Note: Post-graduate programs are available for students after they complete an undergraduate degree program.

Universities also offer advanced education options such as master’s and PhD. programs for eligible students. These programs, which have been the focus of many recent changes to the international student system in Canada, provide successful students with credentials that often allow them to pursue advanced careers in specialized industries such as academics, business, and medicine.

Considering college

College programs in Canada, which provide credentials ranging from one-year certificates to four-year degrees and diplomas, are often valued for their practical and career-oriented focus.

In that regard, colleges differ from the more academic and formal education style offered at most Canadian universities, instead often prioritizing smaller class sizes and more intimate educational experiences.

Canadian colleges, like universities, offer a range of programs for students depending on the career path they want to pursue. However, some more specialized academic programs are not available at the college level.

Another reason that colleges are a common choice for students in Canada is their relative affordability compared to universities.

Visit this dedicated webpage to learn more about the different levels of study in Canada.

Pursuing specialty or bridging programs

Specialty programs allow students to develop in-demand skills that are needed across Canada. Most commonly, students pursue specialty programs at institutions that focus specifically on one or two subjects. These programs can lead to careers in some of Canada’s most in-demand industries, such as Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC).

Note: These programs are sometimes offered at colleges but also administered through designated institutions such as a trade school or technical college.

Sharing many of the same benefits as pursuing a college education rather than attending university, specialty programs often cost significantly less than other educational pathways. Additionally, these programs have a faster graduation timeline and fewer admission requirements.

This is ideal for international students who may not have the necessary experience to pursue other educational pathways as well as those who are looking to enter the workforce more quickly than a traditional academic education may allow.

Bridging programs are another option for foreign nationals in Canada, as these allow internationally trained and educated immigrants to continue working in the careers they had abroad. Available to immigrants with training, education and experience in both regulated occupations and certain non-regulated careers, bridging programs are a way to fast-track an immigrant’s journey to continued career progression in Canada.

Note: Eligibility criteria and costs for bridging programs vary depending on an immigrant’s province/territory of residence as well as the service provider through which they pursue the program.

Discover your options to study in Canada

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