While Canada and the United States share an international border, they don’t necessarily share a common system of higher education. On a long list of issues, Canadian and American university degree programs differ, and this is true for financial, curricular and even admissions issues. For Americans deciding whether to pursue a degree in Canada, issues unique to international students are also important considerations.
American and Canadian universities generally differ in their approach to the admissions process. In Canada, the admissions process is transparent and straightforward. Students are primarily assessed based on upper-level grades in high school, and a supplementary application essay. Generally, it is these two components that comprise a student’s entire application, though like American universities, SAT scores are sometimes required. While this process may seem simpler than the American process, where extracurricular activities and recommendations are all required, there is one complicating factor: Canada does not have a Common Application comparable to the U.S.’s. This means students must submit separate applications to each university.
Finances are a major incentive for American students to study in Canada because tuition costs are generally much lower. On average, a Canadian student at a Canadian university only pays a little over $5,000 in tuition and fees for a year of education. In comparison, the average private school tuition in the United States is $32,100. While this difference seems large, it’s not the whole story. Canadians pay about $5,000 to attend their universities, but international students, including Americans, pay slightly more. On average, international student tuition in Canada totals between $12,000 and $25,000, which is still lower than many American universities. Students considering college in Canada should also consider scholarships, because many Canadian universities do not offer merit-based scholarships to students, and U.S. Pell grants are not portable.
Types of Colleges and Universities
Before applying to study in Canada, students should understand how types of Canadian universities differ from their American counterparts. First, unlike in the United States, the term “college” denotes an institution that usually has a specific emphasis, such as vocational, technical or pre-collegiate education. While not entirely synonymous with American-style community colleges, the Canadian “college” is similar to this, and rarely offers a bachelor’s degree. Another critical difference between Canada and the U.S. is that most Canadian universities are public institutions; in the United States, this is not the case.
A Bachelor’s in Three Years
While the standard bachelor’s degree in Canada takes four years to complete, just as in the United States, Canada’s universities offer a greater array of three-year bachelor’s programs. These are called simply “bachelor’s degrees,” while the longer, four-year programs are denoted as “honours bachelor’s degrees.” While the concept of a three-year degree might be appealing for cost reasons, keep in mind that these programs sometimes do not meet graduate schools requirements in the U.S., and thus put students at a disadvantage. Regardless, three-year degrees are quite popular in Canada, with as many as 10 percent of students completing in the shorter time frame.