College, University and Continuing Education

In Canada, there are three general types of post-secondary education:

  • Formal training to prepare students for a skilled trade
  • Community college or, in Québec, CÉGEP, which offer one- to three-year diploma programs in technical or academic subjects
  • University, which offers multi-year degree programs in arts, sciences, business and other academic and professional fields

All colleges and universities charge tuition fees. Post-secondary education is funded mainly by tax dollars, so international students are charged significantly higher tuition fees than domestic students. Québec students studying within their home province are charged a lower tuition rate than their counterparts from the rest of Canada. While this two-tier fee system is only officially mandated in Québec, other Canadian universities are slowly adopting this fee structure. Children of foreign representatives are eligible for “in province” tuition fees, if they attend a post-secondary institution in the province in which they reside.

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uition rates vary across all of the provinces and all institutions. For the 2016/2017 academic year, tuition rates at Québec universities were among the lowest in the country, costing an average $2,889 per year (for in-province students). Ontario, on the other hand, has the highest tuition rates in Canada, with an average yearly cost of $8,454. Tuition rates in Alberta and British Columbia are closer to the national average. In Alberta, university costs $5,749 per year, whereas the average tuition rate in British Columbia is $5,635. College tuition fees are generally lower than those of universities, For example, the average cost of a diploma program in Ontario is $2,400.

The choice of whether to attend university or college can be a difficult one. In the past, university was believed to be more academically-oriented, whereas community college was believed to be more career or practical skills-oriented. Today, universities and colleges are often affiliated and students have more options and flexibility. For instance, there are several combined college-university degrees, which offer a strong academic background with practical, hands-on experience in the field. Most universities have also adopted Cooperative (Co-op) Education programs, which allow students to spend a semester working in a job related to their degree, while also gaining university credits. When comparing university or college programs with a definite career plan in mind, it is advisable to consult relevant professional associations to learn how highly regarded the programs are.

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he Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada website at
www.univcan.ca provides information about how to choose a study program along with a searchable database to help students locate programs of study they might be interested in. Another useful website, www.canadian-universities.net/Programs/index.html, provides information about specific programs and schools. Students are also advised to visit the schools before accepting an offer of admission, so as to get a better sense of the program, educational environment and city in which they plan to live.

In most cases, enrolling in an Ontario university or college involves going through a centralized administrative website, the Ontario Universities Application Centre, at www.ouac.on.ca and www.ontariocolleges.ca. Here, prospective students can locate study programs, access a variety of resources and apply to several schools at one time for a set fee, payable by credit card online. In Québec, students apply directly to the schools of their choice. In Alberta, applications to one or more post-secondary institutions are made through www.applyalberta.ca. A candidate can transfer their transcripts between participating institutions in the province using the same link. In British Columbia, applications are made through applybc.ca, a centralized website. Useful information about the post-secondary schools in BC may be found at https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/post-secondary-education/find-a-program-or-institution/find-an-institution.

Admission requirements to undergraduate programs will vary from institution to institution, but most colleges and universities will look primarily at a student’s Grade 12 marks, although some institutions will also consider a student’s Grade 11 marks. Typically, a grade of 70% or higher is needed for a student to be considered for university admission or admission to one of the country’s top colleges. Several colleges, however, will accept students with a high school average under 70%. Students must also have a proficiency in one of the two official languages (English and French). International students or students who did not complete their high school education in the language in which they intend to pursue their university education may be required to undergo language testing. International students applying to English-language universities may be required to submit a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) score as part of their application. For French-language universities, applicants may be required to submit their Test de français international (TFI) scores, in order to be considered for admission.

Most educational institutions have developed good distance education programs and exploit the technology that makes distance learning practical. Many also have continuing education or general interest courses that allow people to pursue professional development or interests without enrolling in full-time or formal degree programs.Many universities are now also offering Learning in Retirement programs, which are typically six weeks in length and cover a single topic of interest.

In terms of continuing education, colleges offer shorter “Certificate Programs”, which are typically only one year (full-time) in length. These allow students to acquire or upgrade skills that are needed for certain types of jobs, especially for business, management, healthcare and communications. Professional affiliations also offer courses in which an individual can upgrade or specialize within their given field. It is advisable to contact the Canadian branch of a professional organization directly to see what certifications or courses are offered within the area or via distance education.