Secondary education in Canada

By law, secondary education in Canada is compulsory. There is no single national system: education is overseen by provincial and territorial governments. Schools within a certain area are also managed by local school boards.

Students in every Canadian province must attend school up to the age of 16, except for Manitoba, Ontario and New Brunswick, where the compulsory age is 18, or until a high school diploma has been achieved.

Stage of EducationGradesAge
Elementary / Primary1-86-14
Secondary / High school9-1215-18

Students can choose to study in English, French or two official languages. Both public and private schools now accept international students. The curriculum in these institutions is the same within a certain province or territory. But in private ones, the class sizes are usually smaller.

There are private boarding schools (with on-site accommodation), IB-schools, alternative and specialized sports programs or schools for students with learning disabilities.

Please note that special rules apply to minor children studying in Canada[1].

Education in Canada is one of the highest quality and most prestigious in the world. While studying students are given unique opportunities to gain practical experience in Canadian companies, which significantly enhances their further employment in any country. Upon successful completion of the program, a talented graduate has every chance to immigrate to Canada without major obstacles from the government.

Advantages of studying in Canada

  • Quality education. Canada is a recognized global leader in research and innovation. Canadian universities provide the opportunity to learn from the best: 2 out of 5 university professors hold at least one international degree[2]. According to the QS, the country ranks 5th among the strongest higher education systems[3].
  • Lowest tuition fees among English-speaking countries. Education in Canada is on average 30% cheaper than in the United States, Great Britain or Australia, while in no way lagging behind them in quality.
  • Employment opportunities. Degrees awarded by Canadian universities are recognized worldwide. University of Toronto, University of Waterloo, University of Alberta, and McMaster University are in the top 50 of QS Graduate Employability Rankings[4]. Fresh university graduates are in demand both in Canada and abroad.
  • Cultural diversity. Over the past century and a half, more than 15 million people from various countries immigrated to Canada. Respect for other people's cultures and traditions is part of the Canadian mentality. It is not surprising that from 2010 to 2018 the number of international students in the country increased by 154% and is now estimated to be about 600,000 people. 60% of those are planning to make Canada their permanent place of residence[5].
  • Good living conditions. Canada is a calm country with a high standard of living. According to statistics, 82% of residents feel safe going outside at night[6]. Accommodation, food, and transportation in the country are cheaper than in the United States. Here are 5 of the top 100 best student cities — Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Quebec[7].
Disadvantages and features of studying in Canada

  • High cost of training. Canadian education is considered the most affordable among English-speaking countries (the US, the UK, and Australia), though it is still quite expensive. The average tuition fees for international undergraduate students are almost 21,746 USD per year.
  • Lack of a national education system. Canada includes 10 provinces and 3 territories. The language of instruction, the duration of study, the requirements for admission vary, depending on the region. For example, in the province of Quebec, graduates of a school can enter a university only after graduating from a pre-university college (CÉGEP). Canadian universities are also largely autonomous in admission criteria, so an applicant may not be able to send the same set of documents to several institutions.
  • Intense training. In addition to the excessive learning loads during classes, a student at a Canadian university has to spend a lot of free time on enhancing knowledge in many areas. Results from the National College Health Assessment at the University of Calgary reveal that over 40% of students experience severe stress because of academic performance, 60% of students have some sleep difficulties and 12% contemplated suicide[8]. To address this problem, many Canadian universities have launched programs providing students with 24/7 mental health support.

Cost and structure of education in Canada

Type of studyAgeDurationMin. costAvg. costMin. language levelExams
Summer Camp6-171-4 weeks109 USD/week1,812 USD/weekA1-
Language School16+2-24 weeks109 USD/week2,899 USD/weekA1-
Secondary education6-1811-12 years5,799 USD/year7,973 USD/yearB1IELTS 5.0-5.5 / DELF B1
Foundation16+1 year7,249 USD/year18,121 USD/yearB1IELTS 5.0-5.5 / DELF B1
Colleges17+1-4 years1,450 USD/year7,249 USD/yearB2IELTS 6.0-6.5 / DELF B2
Bachelor’s17 +3-4 years14,497 USD/year1,957 USD/yearB2IELTS 6.0-6.5 / DELF B2
Master’s20+1-3 years7,249 USD/year12,830 USD/yearC1IELTS 7.0-7.5 / DALF C1
MBA20+2 years28,269 USD/year38,273 USD/yearC1IELTS 7.0-7.5 / DALF C1
Doctoral20+3-6 years7,249 USD/year10,873 USD/yearC1IELTS 7.0-7.5 / DALF C1
Additional expenses

ExpensesAverage cost
Language test141 USD
Evaluation Service109 USD
Study permit109 USD
Flight from Mumbai / Beijing / Los Angeles1180 / 1440 / 196 USD
Accommodation3,624 USD per year
Health insurance507 USD per year
Food254 USD per month
Public transport72 USD per month
Study materials870 USD

Options for admission to Canadian universities

Options for admission to Canadian universities

College in Canada — Vocational education

Unlike degree-granting universities, colleges grant mainly diplomas, certificates and in some cases, bachelor’s degrees. Colleges focus more on specific employment skills, career training, and trades. They provide students with practical learning in a variety of technical and professional fields such as agriculture, business, engineering, information and communication technology, health, hospitality management, language, social services, and arts and design.

University colleges also offer degree programs where a student can take courses and earn credits that can be later transferred to a university. However, college-level education is already enough to get a job that does not require an in-depth four-year study.

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Bachelor’s in Canada — Undergraduate

Bachelor's degree is the first stage of classical university education, which takes 3-4 years to complete, depending on the province. Students can get here directly after graduating from school (11 years) or Canadian college. For foreign applicants, it is also possible to spend the first year of study in a separate institution — an international college — followed by admission to the second year of undergraduate studies.

An academic year usually runs from September to May, divided into two semesters, some universities also offer a summer one. In addition to compulsory subjects, bachelor students have the opportunity to choose additional courses that are not related to the program. In the learning process, the main emphasis is on seminars and independent study of the subject, which requires a student to have a high degree of interest in the chosen program. In order to graduate from a Canadian university, you need to get a certain amount of credits, which is individual for each university.

Most universities in Canada provide students with practice (1-2 months) in a Canadian company, which usually becomes a significant advantage for further employment.

Several universities in Canada offer cooperative education options. Co-op students combine study with work, for which they can get up to 50 percent of credits. Such programs usually take about 4.5 years to complete.

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Master’s in Canada — Graduate / Postgraduate

Master’s degree, in contrast to undergraduate studies, involves a narrower subject focus. An applicant can choose between two types of master's degrees. Research-based master’s programs emphasize conducting original scientific research, while professional master’s programs focus more on applied education, offering a set of courses in a particular subject area. Duration varies from 1 to 3 years.

Most programs include a dissertation that makes up a large proportion of the course’s credits. Upon completion of training, students can also take a comprehensive examination, including both written and oral parts. Each of them is assessed on a pass/fail basis. Due to its size, the exam can be administered in several days.

Some Canadian universities offer co-op programs which enable students to gain hands-on, paid internships related to their field of study. They are usually between 2 and 4 months long. They are often used by employers for getting to know potential employees.

Doctorate in Canada — Postgraduate

As in many other countries, the highest level of academic qualification a student can achieve in Canada is doctorate. In addition to the traditional academic PhD, professional doctorates are also available. Those include DBA and EdD. Most programs require 3 years of full-time study, but some may be extended up to 6 years.

Unlike the United States, doctoral studies in Canada are research-based from the outset. In the first year of study, students complete general courses focusing on techniques and methodology of research, teaching, presentation or publication, sit a comprehensive exam, and then move on to write their thesis. As for professional programs, they include a lot of practice and case studies also ending with doctoral thesis.

Some Canadian universities offer a collaborative route to PhD involving students studying for some time at another international institution within cotutelle programs. Unlike other joint PhDs with ongoing partnerships between universities, cotutelle arrangement is usually specific to each student’s project.

Admission to doctorate after undergraduate

In most cases, a master’s degree is required in order to gain admission to a PhD program. However, some universities offer doctoral stream Master’s routes for those holding a bachelor's degree. Such programs begin with one or two years of additional training, making up for the lack of master's education.

Academic career in Canada

You can start your academic career in Canada already at the stage of obtaining a doctorate as a graduate teaching assistant, or instructor. Holding this position assumes a certain amount of teaching (usually at the undergraduate level) and significantly enhances a CV. In return, a PhD student either gets paid a salary or has some of his doctoral fees waived by the university.
Those who have already earned their PhD can be considered for the positions of Graduate Research Associate, Postdoctoral Instructor, or Junior Researcher. It is also possible to become an Assistant Professor. Unlike European countries, there is no limit to the number of people holding higher academic ranks within a university in Canada. Therefore, competition is much lower. The most important criterion affecting career advancement is scientific research. Besides, almost all academic staff typically spend from 6 to 20 hours a week teaching.
After a probation period (usually 6-7 years), the Assistant Professor may be promoted to Associate Professor and receives tenure. And after another 5 years, based on continuing accomplishments in the areas of teaching and research, the candidate may be promoted to Full Professor.
Salaries typically depend on the budget of the university itself. On average they would be 5,799 USD for Assistant Professor, 7,466 USD for Associate Professor, and 9,496 USD for Full Professor. At the same time, the average wage in the country is much lower — about 2,899 USD.

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Work while studying in Canada

According to a study permit, an international full-time student may be able to work on- or off-campus, without a work permit, which can significantly reduce the cost of staying in the country. During regular school semesters, a student is allowed to work up to 20 hours per week, during winter and summer holidays — full time. It is also necessary to get a Social Insurance Number (SIN), which provides students with a right to work and get government benefits and services.

The minimum wage of an international student depends on the province and can be 8-11 USD.

Opportunity to stay and immigration to Canada

Upon graduation, international students have the right to temporarily work in Canada with a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). It can be valid for 3 years, provided that the training program was more than 2 years. In other cases, a PGWP is issued for up to the same length as a study program completed. The cost of a PGWP is 185 USD.

To be eligible for this opportunity, a student must have completed a PGWP-eligible program:

  • At a designated learning institution (DLI)[9];
  • That was at least 8 months long;
  • That led to a degree, certificate or diploma.

A student is strongly advised to apply before his study permit expires. The processing time is about 3.5 months. During this period, applicants can work full time if they:

  • Had a valid study permit at the time of submitting an application;
  • Completed a study program;
  • Was eligible to work off-campus without a work permit while studying and did not work more hours than was allowed to.

The experience gained with PGWP can help you qualify when applying for immigration through Express Entry. Both federal and provincial programs are available. To participate, you will need to submit your profile in the online system. Then you will be ranked in a pool of candidates using a points-based system. Those with the highest scores will get an invite to apply for permanent residence within 90 days.

Employment prospects

  • In Canada. Immediately after graduation from a Canadian institution, a person has an opportunity to get a PGWP and stay in Canada for up to three years for the purpose of finding a job. In the future, provided he has an extended contract, a candidate is eligible to receive a residence permit under one of the immigration programs.
  • In America. Canadian qualifications are in no way inferior to the American ones, and the higher education systems of the two countries are very similar. Therefore a graduate can easily find a job in the United States.
  • In other countries. A Canadian degree is recognized worldwide. It serves not only as proof of excellent English language proficiency but also as an indicator of advanced knowledge in a certain field.
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