top of page

Academics in Canada

How do rankings work in Canada?

As over 99% of Canadians go to publicly-funded universities, with provincial government quality control, bachelor's degrees are highly standardized and generally cost about the same too. International tuitions are not regulated and that is why you see big differences.

Bachelor degrees, with very few exceptions, will be recognized and well-respected by master's degree programs and employers in Canada or other countries. Employers in Canada don’t generally care from which university the bachelor degree was obtained- more important are academic performance and experience. See this article about university rankings.

Also see this journal article written by CUAC founder, Dani Zaretsky.

What’s the difference between a degree and diploma; which one is right for me?

Canada has an extraordinary system of universities, colleges and polytechnics. Almost all Canadian students who do higher study pursue a degree or diploma at a publicly-funded institution. 

Universities grant almost entirely degrees, and colleges or polytechnics grant mostly diplomas. Only universities offer up to PhD (doctoral) degrees. In almost all cases, to pursue a master's degree, one must have completed a bachelor's degree.

Universities emphasize theory with plenty of practical training, and colleges or polytechnics emphasize practical training with plenty of theory. 

In Canada there are a large number of studies that are only available in one type of institution or another. To become a paramedic or engineering technologist, this is only available in colleges and polytechnics. To study neuropsychology or pharmacy, this is only available in universities.

For areas such as business, which are available in both systems, one must consider their style of preference (more applied or more theoretical) and longer-term objectives (someone wanting to be a researcher would better consider a university stream as this is more theoretical).

Many streams of study in colleges and polytechnics have bridges to transfer to universities and get credit for the earlier study. Many students with university bachelor's degrees like to take post-graduate diplomas (PGDs) at colleges or polytechnics to get the more specialized and practical training in a field that they did not get in their more theoretical studies (for example, a business degree student may take a PGD in advertising).

What if I don’t know what to study?

This is an important question because new career paths are being developed all the time. It is now very common to be working in a career at age 35  for which there was no bachelor's degree at age 18. How to be ready for this? It is a central part of the design in Canada that its higher education institutions are extremely flexible and the educational preparation should make the student able to adapt to the constant change that will be coming. 

In particular, Canadian institutions offer the following:

  1. The freedom to change academic programs at any time. In most cases, a change of program can still be completed in the same amount of time.

  2. The freedom to combine academic programs. If a student starts in one area but also discovers others, the CUAC has highly trained and experienced counsellors to help students prepare and plan for different possibilities.           

I don't see my preferred program listed- what are my options?   


In Canada, bachelor's degrees are mostly designed not to be too specialized too early on, to give students the time to explore their interests and not specialize too soon. Also, many specific programs require a great deal of preparation and can only be specialized after a four-year bachelor's degree. 


Genetic engineering is a good example of this. Specialization and focus on this will normally take place at the master's level and beyond.

Some programs, like Artificial Intelligence, are taught as a specialization within a more comprehensive program, like Computer Science.

Is it possible to study a bachelor's degree in Canada if I have already started undergraduate studies in my own country?


Generally speaking, yes. Students are welcomed from degree programs begun in other countries.


But do make careful note of the following points:


Engineering will be very difficult to transfer into because the Canadian engineering curriculum is very specific and standardized. But some advance credit may be possible.


Only courses that would be acceptable in Canada will get transfer credit. For example, a course that is very specific to a student’s country only (like about its history, culture, religion or philosophy) may not be accepted or accepted for elective credit only.


Only students with an acceptably high level of achievement (grade point average) in their university studies will be permitted to transfer.


Only specific courses with an acceptably high level of achievement will be transferable. For example, a Canadian degree program may accept a “70%” score for mathematics and refuse to transfer a 65% score in English literature.


There is no national system in Canada for admission of transfer students or transfer credit assessment. Each institution sets its own standards.


Assessing the amount of credit transfer a student may receive can take even several months. It is common that a student is admitted but the amount of transfer credit granted is only finalized much later.


It is also possible to transfer into a Canadian degree program different from the program one was studying in the home country. For example, a student studying as a mathematics major in their home country might be eligible to become a biology or a literature major in Canada. The assessment of these possibilities will also depend upon the courses taken in high school and the grades received in high school.


CUAC counsellors worldwide are experienced in giving advice to students and families as to what possibilities may exist for students seeking to transfer to Canada, and what formalities would be required

Can I get transfer credit from an IB (International Baccalaureate) or A level program?


Yes. Most institutions and most academic programs will offer some level of transfer credit. However, this will depend upon each institution, each program, and the course and grade standard of achievement.


As an example, Higher Level mathematics in the IB program or an A level mathematics program will commonly receive credit towards one or two courses of the first year of a Bachelor of Science program. 

Are all universities and colleges public? Why does this matter to international students?


Over 99% of Canadians do a bachelor's degree at a public institution. these institutions are very strictly regulated for quality.


Further, because Canadian families expect their own children to get a top standard of education, each bachelor's degree must be taught at a high level.


If there is any problem with the standard, because the institutions are public, families could complain to the government of the province regulating the university. 

Public institutions are highly regarded and recognized for quality; this is significant when applying for a master's program or when starting one's career.

Difference in tuition: why is a degree much more expensive in some schools, and then much cheaper at a different school?


The main reason is because almost all universities or college/polytechnic bachelor's degrees receive government funding. The government uses their power to control the tuition these institutions can charge to Canadians or Canadian permanent residents.


But across Canada, the governments do not restrict what the institutions charge to international students. Especially in the big cities, which are already highly populated with local students, the institutions may charge very high prices to international students.

Can I study in Canada without IELTS?

There are some high school systems that will exempt you from the English Language Proficiency test requirement, e.g, British Curriculum (Cambridge and Pearson), WAEC and WASSCE, and International Baccalaureate.

You need to provide the exam results upon application. Some universities will allow you to start in an academic English program before starting the degree.

Regardless of the institutional exemption, note that the study permit application in some countries may require IELTS as a condition of applying.

You can also take CAEL which is accepted by over 180 Canadian universities and colleges.  Click here to learn more about CAEL.

If you are receiving counselling from a CUAC office we will guide you on whether you need IELTS or CAEL for your study permit application as well as on which institutions may offer an exemption.

How can I get a scholarship?

Many universities offer academic entrance scholarships for first year students (direct from high school with no post-secondary education). These typically range from $500 to $5000 per year and are based on your grades. You would need to apply early to qualify for these.

Some universities also offer competitive scholarships that are based on your academics as well as leadership and volunteer experience. These typically require an application and they have an early deadline; the awards can be higher, but they are not guaranteed.

A few master's level programs will offer small scholarship awards that are competitive, based on your overall profile: work experience, GPA, statement of purpose, etc. These can range from $1000 to $5000.

In Canada, for high school graduates seeking a scholarship to cover full, or even half, of your total fees, this is extremely rare. Without top, top academic results, it is pretty near impossible. Athletic scholarships are also exceedingly rare.

WARNING: Always hesitate before paying money to somebody who promises some special way to get a scholarship. In most cases, you will pay for nothing.

Regardless of your scholarship offer, it's important to note that the study permit application requires proof of financial capacity; you and your family will need funding to cover the tuition and living expenses involved in studying in Canada.

Ready to know more?

Contact us below via our Contact Form

bottom of page