Everything You Need to Know About Canada

Recruiting Canadian students to study overseas? Here's what you need to know about the country.

Are you looking to recruit Canadian students for your college or university? Not sure what to expect? Learn a little bit about Canada and its education system so you’re better prepared to engage your prospects.

Canada has many different types of schools, each offering something unique to students — though in some cases, there’s significant overlap. Here’s a quick run-down of Canadian schools:

Public secondary school
Known colloquially as high school, secondary school runs from grade 9 through 12, and prepares students for further education. Most Canadian students graduate from a public secondary school around the age of 17 or 18.
Applied courses: lower-level, hands-on, often intended for students going on to college-level studies
Academic courses: higher-level, more theoretical, often intended for students going on to university-level studies

Private secondary school
Private secondary schools, or high schools, also run from grades 9 through 12, and may teach a modified version of the public curriculum, with particular focus on specialities. Some private high schools include religious components, or more intensive arts or technology courses.

Cégep is an acronym for a French term: Collège d’enseignement general et professionnel, which roughly translates to General and professional school. In Quebec, it’s the first level of education after high school. Many students in Quebec do a two-year stint in cégep before heading to university. Most cégeps teach in French, but there are a few English cégeps as well.

Career college
A career college is a small institution aimed at giving its graduates career-ready skills in a short time-frame. Career colleges generally offer certificates, and occasionally diplomas and even degrees. Career colleges are often for-profit enterprises.

A college in the Canadian context is a public school with a focus on hands-on learning across a range of disciplines, including arts, technology, and the trades. Colleges offer diplomas and certificates, with some offering bachelor’s degrees as well.

A university is a public institution devoted more to theory and research than practical skills. Universities are typically the largest of Canada’s post-secondary schools, offering programs in arts, tech, and science. Universities offer bachelor degrees, and sometimes other credentials as well.

Private universities also exist: many started as religious institutions, but Canada is home to several secular private universities. Canada even hosts a handful of US-based private universities in British Columbia and Ontario.

Graduate / professional school
Grad schools are typically affiliated with universities, and offer further education to students who already have a degree. Grad schools offer master’s and doctorate degrees, as well as specific credentials for professions, including law, healthcare, and technology.

Canadian Degrees and Diplomas

Canada offers many degree and diploma options. From simplest to most complex, here are the degree types Canadians typically seek:

Secondary school diploma
A student receives a high school diploma after successfully completing Grade 12, the end of secondary school. Most Canadians have earned a high school diploma. Government programs exist to help support those who do not, should they wish to pursue it.

The Canadian high school diploma is roughly equivalent to EU O-Level studies. Students at the A-Level are roughly a year ahead of Canadian high school grads.

A certificate is received for completing a short course. Certificates are often related to job readiness, and may be quite general, or quite specific. Most certificates don’t require previous training or education to pursue.

Associate degree
An associate degree is a kind of blend between a college diploma and a university bachelor’s degree. Students take two years to explore their interests in arts and sciences, before committing to the final two years of a bachelor’s degree. In Canada, associate degrees are only offered in British Columbia.

A diploma is earned over the course of two or three years, typically from a college. Diploma programs are hands-on, providing job-ready skills for graduates to pursue their careers. Advanced diplomas are generally more complex, and take three years to complete.

Bachelor’s degree
A bachelor’s — or undergraduate — degree is earned over the course of three or four years, typically from a university. Degree programs are more theoretical, providing a launching pad for further research and study to graduates. Most Canadian students pursue Honours degrees, which take four years to complete.

Post-graduate diploma
A post-grad diploma, otherwise known as a graduate certificate, is a short program for students who already have a diploma or degree, but who don’t want to pursue a full master’s. Post-grad diplomas are generally earned in a year, and focus on specific skills or knowledge for career advancement.

Master’s degree
A master’s is earned over one or two years from a university. Master’s programs are typically open only to holders of a bachelor’s degree, and they take knowledge and research further. Master’s students will often perform their own research and/or write a thesis as part of their coursework.

Doctorate / PhD
A doctorate, or PhD, can take up to five years to complete, and can generally only be attempted after receiving a master’s degree. Doctoral programs are rigorous, demanding, and ask a lot of students’ research and communication skills. Doctorates are earned at universities, with the help of academic supervisors on staff.

Canadian Academic Specialties

Canadian post-secondary schools are renowned for certain areas of research. Here are a few areas where Canada shines:

Canada is home to nearly 10% of the world’s forests, and is at the forefront of new and sustainable technologies for harvesting and regrowing timber resources, as well as maintaining happy and healthy animal populations.

One of the top five producing countries for over a dozen major minerals, Canada is dedicated to improving mining technology — from surveying, extracting, and refining, to maintaining the health of the surrounding environment.

Communications & public policy
A member of the G7, Canada is at the forefront of international policy discussions. From the University of Toronto’s Monk Centre of Global Affairs, to uOttawa’s Centre on Public Management and Policy, Canada is home to many renowned public policy programs.

Artificial intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence is here to stay, and Canada’s helping to make it so. All of Canada’s biggest universities offer programs in AI, and many colleges are following suit. The Waterloo tech corridor is a great example of sustained, concentrated innovation in this space.

Green technologies
Canada is working to reduce its carbon footprint with new tech in renewable and sustainable energy. Ontario colleges have committed to big investments in these areas, and the Canadian government offers funding for innovative green energy projects.

Marine biology
With so much coastline, Canada’s home to its fair share of fish and marine life. Marine biology is a focus, especially in Canada’s eastern Maritime provinces. Memorial University of Newfoundland hosts the Marine Institute, which is at the bleeding edge of marine biology research.

Cost of Living in Canada

Canada is a country with diverse terrain, urban and rural cities, and various climates. It can also be expensive. Here are the five most expensive cities in Canada as of May 2022:

  1. Vancouver, British Columbia

Located on the west coast, Vancouver, British Columbia is one of the most populated cities in Canada, so it’s no surprise that it costs more to live there. On average, a one-bedroom apartment costs $2,200 per month, and a two-bedroom costs $2,730.

  1. Toronto, Ontario

With a population of 2.7 million people, Toronto is one of the most popular places for students to live. However, that also means it’s one of the most expensive. An average one-bedroom apartment costs $1,900 and a two-bedroom costs $2,550.

  1. Victoria, British Columbia

Also located on the west coast in British Columbia, Victoria ranks high in terms of an expensive cost of living. An average one-bedroom apartment in Victoria costs $1,830, while a two-bedroom apartment costs $2,380.

  1. Kelowna, British Columbia

Surprise, surprise — yet another city in British Columbia has made the list. Rent prices in Kelowna have increased. A one-bedroom apartment costs $1,800 and a two-bedroom apartment costs $2,200.

  1. Barrie, Ontario

Finally, the last city on our list is Barrie. Just an hour outside of Toronto, an average one-bedroom apartment in Barrie costs $1,680, and a two-bedroom costs $2,040.

The cost of living is generally lower in more rural areas of the country, including the east coast, and the north.

Cost of Studying in Canada

Every school’s tuition fee is different. While public secondary schools are free, other schools charge tuition fees. Often, the top two factors that determine fees are school type and program. Colleges tend to cost less than universities because the programs are typically shorter. Some programs are more expensive than others. Programs in engineering, medicine, science, mathematics, or technology, are expensive, with costs of up to $20,000 per year. Courses in the humanities, arts, or communications are less expensive. 

Graduate programs aren’t any cheaper. Master’s degrees will cost less than a doctorate since it doesn’t take as long to complete. Program area will influence cost at this level as well. A master’s program in business, engineering, dentistry, and law are considered to be the most expensive, whereas humanities and arts programs often cost less.

Canada's Landscapes and Regional Variation

Canada is an enormous country — the world’s second-largest, by land mass. From coast to coast to coast, Canada’s home to incredible diversity in environments and activities. Still, over 80% of the Canadian population lives within 160 km of the American border, meaning a lot of Canada is quite remote. Most parts of the country experience all four seasons, but their intensity and character can vary widely. Here are a few highlights from across Canada:

Northern tundra
The far north has a well-earned reputation as a cold, snowy place. Some of the most remote communities can only be accessed by plane during certain times of the year. Many of Canada’s native peoples live in the north.

Northwest rainforest
One of the world’s wonders, the North American rainforest makes up a significant portion of Canada’s west coast. Lush flora and fauna cover the landscape, and locals enjoy lots of outdoor activities, like kayaking, hiking, and cycling.

Plains and grassland
A good chunk of southern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba is made up of plains: grassy stretches that can roll on for hours without much variation. Lots of farming is done in the west, as well as much of Canada’s domestic bitumen production.

Rocky mountains
The Rockies are an incredible chain of mountains in British Columbia and Alberta, dividing the plains from the coastal rainforest. Coated in evergreen forest, the Rockies are an ideal place to explore, ski, and observe local wildlife.

Boreal forest
Most of Canada is covered in Boreal forest, full of life adapted to colder temperatures. Boreal forests are great for camping, and many Canadian families own or rent cottages in the woods as an escape from city life.

Coastal life
Out east, the Maritime provinces line the Atlantic coast. The tang of saltwater fills the air, locals eat freely of the sea, and life moves at a more casual pace.

City life
Canada is highly urbanized. Much of the Canadian population lives in cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. Cities are often the best places to find music, art, and sports.


Canada is home to ten provinces and three territories, each of which with its own identity. Most parts of Canada use English as a first language, with the distinct exception of Quebec, which is French-dominant. Other areas, especially in the eastern Maritime provinces, may use French first as well.

Quebec has recently introduced legislation to protect and promote the French language within its borders: newcomers to the province will have a short time to learn the language, or they may have a difficult time accessing public services.

Ethnic enclaves in cities and towns may continue to use their home language in conjunction with French or English. In addition, many Indigenous communities use their own languages as well.

Canadian Food

Looking to welcome Canadians to your school? Here are some classic Canadian foods you may not know:

Poutine: yummy fries topped with gravy and cheese curds.
Butter tarts: a flaky pastry filled with butter, sugar, and egg.
Lobster rolls: a warm bun is filled with lobster meat and spices, popular in the Maritimes.
Montreal-style bagels: these bagels are traditionally smaller, thinner, have a wider hole, and are sweeter than New York-style bagels.
Beavertails: a delicious, deep-fried dough covered in your choice of toppings like Nutella, peanut butter, cinnamon, and more.
Maple taffy (aka tire d’érable): hot maple syrup is poured on top of snow and then rolled with a popsicle stick to create a soft, sticky maple candy.
Ketchup chips: this flavour of chips is only found in Canada! Don’t let the idea of the flavour gross you out, they are delicious!
Nanaimo bars: this dessert, named after a city in BC, has the best of everything! A crumb base, custard, and chocolate!
Caesar cocktail: the Caesar is Canada’s national cocktail. You have to try it at least once! The drink contains vodka, clam juice, tomato juice, spices, Worcestershire sauce, and is topped with a stick of celery.
Tourtière: This French-Canadian delicacy is essentially a meat pie. A flaky pastry is filled with meat, such as pork, veal, venison, beef, or more. 

Canadian Sports

Canadians are known for their love of hockey — though not everyone will be a fan. Canada’s national sport is Lacrosse, initially invented by Indigenous peoples around the Great Lakes. Many Canadians enjoy football — in the American sense — as well as soccer, which most of the world knows as football! Baseball, golf, and even quidditch are staples at Canadian schools.

Recruiting Canadian Students

Canadian students are typically well-educated and engaged. Students who may want to study overseas are often seeking a sense of adventure, exploration, and discovery. They want to be faced with the unexpected, to meet people, to see and do things they couldn’t in Canada.

Because Canada has a strong post-secondary education system, Canadians who study abroad may be relatively affluent, able to travel and cover living expenses. Still, students are likely to respond to incentives: international student fees are steep, so offering scholarships, tuition discounts, or a housing allowance may help convince Canadian students to consider your institution.

Have questions about Canada, or recruiting Canadians for your school abroad? Please reach out to us. We’d love to chat and share our expertise. Thanks for reading.

The SchoolFinder Group Team


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