A guide to applying to Canadian universities

Timothy Hoffmann

282,000 international students move to Canada for undergraduate study each year, and if you are considering becoming one of those, we have produced a guide to applying to Canadian universities to help make the application process easier for you. We hope this is helpful and wish you the best of luck with your application!

What makes Canadian universities stand out?
Before we give you the key dates, fees and requirements, it is worth pausing to talk about what makes the 96 Canadian universities stand out and why studying in Canada is a fantastic opportunity! Firstly, the culture is extremely diverse, with universities such as Quebec being bilingual in French and English. Similarly, the multicultural ski-slopes, prairies and cities that abound in Canada are friendly and welcoming to all who go there. Its snow-covered forests and crystal-clear lakes will be amazing for any student to see! We hope this has given you a flavour of some of the highlights about studying in Canada, on to the administrative bits…

How many other IB students apply to Canadian universities?
3,440 IB students applied to Canadian universities in 2014, with an average student applying to between 1 and 2 universities. 3 of the most popular universities that IB students applied to – McGill, British Columbia and Toronto – are in the top 50, with 9 out of the top 10 within the global top 500 universities. 12% of students applied from Hong Kong and 11% applied from China – the 2 most popular countries of origin for IB students. For more information on these statistics and a profile of the 10 most popular Canadian universities for IB students, please see the IBO’s publication.

Source: IBO Guide to applying to Canadian universities

Timings
We recommend that you begin your application at least a year in advance, so if you are applying for September 2020 entry you will want to start around September 2019. Early applications open in October and the deadlines are typically between January and April, but some universities will differ. University of British Columbia is especially convenient as its deadline matches with UCAS and Studielink in the Netherlands on 15th January.

If you wish to talk with us about your application to university, in Canada, the UK or elsewhere, please take a look at our admissions website. We offer support to schools and individuals, with graduates from Oxford, Cambridge, King’s and UCL forming the core of our team. Please do get in touch for more information.

You can expect to hear within 7 weeks of your application, although this will depend on how close to the deadline it is when you apply and whether universities operate a rolling admissions procedure. If they do operate a rolling admissions procedure, you may hear earlier, as the university will process applications as and when they arrive. However, if they operate a competitive admissions procedure, the university will wait for the deadline until it begins responding to applicants, so expect to hear several weeks after this deadline.

Note: If you already have an offer but are planning on deferring this until next year, the deferral application window opens on June 1st and closes on August 30th. If you miss this deadline you will have to reapply as a new student for the next academic year.

Which universities should I apply to?
It is recommended that you apply to between 3 and 5 Canadian universities, given there are costs associated with your application (which we discuss below). Applying to each university will be different, so please check the admissions pages for your chosen university(s).
Please also make sure that your university choice(s) appear on the Designated Learning Institutes (DLI) register, as they will need to for you to qualify for a student visa.

When looking at university rankings, as well as the Times Higher Education or Complete University Guide rankings for Canada, the Maclean’s University Guide is the native Canadian equivalent to these two international partners. The Maclean’s guide produce a ranking of the Canadian universities based upon the following factors*:

  • Students – % of students who win national awards, students per professor, student satisfaction
  • Faculty – % of faculty members who win national awards, grant funding per faculty member, scholarly articles published by each faculty
  • Resources – Spending per student and faculty member, spending on libraries
  • Student Support – % of budget spent on student services and scholarships
  • Reputation – Universities ranked according to Highest Quality, Most Innovative and Leaders of Tomorrow by high school university counsellors and business leaders

*See here for more information

Times Higher Education World Rankings (2019):

University World Ranking
University of Toronto 21
Universty of British Columbia 37
McGill University 44
McMaster University 77
University of Montreal 90
University of Alberta 132
University of Ottawa 176
Western University 190
University of Calgary 199

 

Making your application

Some states, such as Ontario, will have a system that lets you apply to multiple universities at once. Applying through the Ontario University Application Centre can make it easier and cheaper as you pay a flat fee to apply to up to 3 universities. If this is not available, you will need to apply to each university individually.

Fees

University fees in Canada average CA$27,159 (~£17,000) per year for international students, with Arts and Humanities degrees being slightly cheaper, and Engineering and Mathematics degrees being slightly more expensive. The fees to apply to each university range from CA$100 to CA$250 (~£60 to £150), whilst visas cost an additional CA$150 (~£95).

For more information on daily living costs, please see Top University’s guide.

 

Applying for a student visa and study permit

If you are studying in Canada for more than 6-months, you will need to apply for a study permit. A visa will normally be attached to your study permit, but please do check as this will be required in addition to your study permit to enter Canada. For anybody studying in Canada for less than 6 months, you will require a visa, as you do not require a study permit to study for this time period. Even if you are planning on studying for less than 6-months, it may still be worth applying for a study permit, as, if you decide to continue your study, you cannot reside in Canada beyond 6 months until this has been obtained. Applying for a study permit or visa will normally require an acceptance letter, passport and proof that you can support yourself financially (you may also need a Certificat d’acceptation du Quebec to study in Quebec which will be provided by your university).

 

For more information on applying for a student visa, please see: https://www.topuniversities.com/student-info/studying-abroad/how-get-canadian-student-visa

 

Application Requirements

As there is no equivalent of UCAS or US Common Application system, you apply to each university individually. This means the requirements for each application will differ slightly, so we recommend checking the relevant course page. However, generally, the application will consist of the following:

1. Language requirements

These qualifications can be no more than 1 year old and will be required in English and, in some provinces such as Quebec, French. The tests most commonly accepted are:

  • English: IELTS (accepted by all universities), TOEFL and C1 advanced
  • French: TEF (most common), TCF, DALF and DELF (Academic, not General, test)

It may also be the case that some universities will only accept certain scores in specific tests (University of British Columbia accepts IELTS of 6.5 or higher but others have higher entry tariffs). The fees are around CA$100 (~£60) and the tests need to be booked in advance to ensure they are completed by the deadline.

2. ‘Credit scores’ (Admissions requirements)

This is the same as the grade requirement for UK universities and elsewhere. These will be different for each university and so we encourage you to look at the relevant university website. However, a word of warning: The University of Toronto state that, if conditions are not met, students can expect to have their offer rescinded and will not be permitted to register so be honest with your predicted grades in your application. Detail grades that are a realistic representation of what you think that you can achieve. 

3. Application letter (Personal statement)

This will function like a UCAS personal statement and the universities will want you to demonstrate a love for your course as well as interests inside and outside of your academic study. If you want tips and advice for your personal statement, why not read our article on Crafting the Perfect Personal Statement, and take a read of Bishop’s University’s advice too. If you want to go one step further and talk to us about personalised support for your personal statement, please do get in touch

4. Personal profile

Some universities may also ask you a series of questions that will take around 30 minutes to complete to form your personal profile. At the University of British Columbia, this will consist of six or seven questions about challenges you have overcome, significant achievements in your life, your academic pursuits, and what you have learnt from these experiences. The questions may differ based on the degree program you are applying for and you will learn what these questions are when you begin your application. However, UBC do offer useful guidance on this topic. This is not required for everyone, as some applicants may have separate portfolios, auditions and tests to submit in place of their personal profile. 

For those applying to UBC, they assess the personal profile against 4 criteria:

  1. Engagement and accomplishment
  2. Leadership
  3. Substance
  4. Voice

UBC also recommend that you focus on what you want to say about yourself and how you want to say it – not on what you think we want to hear. Try to display your passion and be honest about the achievements you have and what you have learnt from these.

Top Tip: We recommend beginning your personal profile in a Word document and copying this information into the online application. Application systems are known to time out whilst you are working through them if you leave them too long so be careful! You can also run your application through spell-checker whilst you are typing it into Word to check it for SPaG.

When completing your personal profile, do not leave anything out of your academic history as the university will check you references and grades – if these are fraudulent you are highly likely to be removed from the application process. Also use an email that you check frequently so that you can keep up to date with your application (fast responses are looked kindly upon), make sure these email has a professional address (for example, [email protected]) and keep a note of your application number as this may be needed for future correspondence. 

5. Curriculum Vitae

A CV may be needed, but this appears to be infrequent. Having said this, it is worth having one ready just in case as they are also useful when applying for university jobs and internships.

 

Other Documents

In addition to the documents described above, here are a list of other pieces of information that you may be required to carry or send:

1. Copy of your diploma – This will need to be sent to the university once you have obtained it (which is usually done through the IBO)

2. Proof of funds – You must prove that you can support yourself and anyone who immigrates with you during your studies

3. Education Credential Assessment (ECA) will need to assess your education – Check which ECA your university’s province accepts here

Note: All documents need to be translated into English or French by a translator, with a copy of the original attached

4. Study permit – Ensure that this starts before your study begins

5. Medical certificate – Your doctor must be approved by the Canadian panel of physicians

6. Police Clearance/Police certificate to prove that you do not have a criminal record 

7. Biometrics (fingerprints and photograph) may be needed, costing CA$83 (~£50)

Note: You must have health coverage whilst you study in Canada and you are only covered by Canadian system if you study for at least 6 months (though this may be even longer depending on your university). Therefore, please investigate health insurance cover if you are planning on only doing a semester in Canada. For more information, please see: https://www.canadavisa.com/student-health-insurance-across-canada.html#gs.ucyqng

 

After graduating

Once you graduate, you could qualify for the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program. This will allow you to work and live in Canada for 3 years after you graduate, but you must apply within 180 days of completing your study.

 

Final thoughts

Canadian universities operate like UK universities in many ways and offer a great opportunity for students to study in a wonderful culture and climate. We definitely recommend that you take the chance to research Canadian universities and wish you good luck if you choose to apply!

 

Some helpful links can be found below:

The Complete University Guide (Canada):

https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/international/north-america/canada/

Top Universities – A guide to studying in Canada: https://www.topuniversities.com/where-to-study/north-america/canada/guide

Study International: https://www.studyinternational.com/news/step-step-get-canadian-university-international-student

Applying for a visa: https://canadianvisa.org/blog/education/how-to-apply-to-canadian-universities