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Before you apply for a Canadian study permit, you need that all-important document: the Letter of Acceptance. To obtain this, you need to apply to a Canadian university or college.

The first step is finding an institution and program that interests you.

It is important to note at this stage that any post-secondary college or university hosting international students in Canada must be a Designated Learning Institution (DLI). Find out more about DLIs, including a list of institutions, on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.

Supporting documents

Once you know where you want to apply, it’s time to get your documents in order. Most universities and colleges will require a copy of your high school transcript. You may need to also provide an educational credential assessment to show that your transcript is equivalent to the level of a Canadian high school diploma, and if your transcript is not in English or French you should expect to be asked for an official translation. Check your intended institution’s website for the requirements for educational credential assessment, as this can vary by institution and program.

Further requirements and conditions for application can vary extensively between institutions, so be prepared to do your research and consult each institution’s website. All the information you’ll need will be clearly presented online, but you can also reach out in person to the admissions department of your intended Canadian university or college – they’ll be happy to help you.

Further documents such as letters of recommendation, portfolios, personal essays, and other supporting documents may also be requested, depending on the program or institution. As always, it’s best to consult your intended institution directly for the full requirements.

If you’re applying to a post-graduate program such as a Master’s-level or PhD program, requirements will be different, but you can expect to be asked for university-level transcripts or career experience that make you eligible for the program. However, it is advised to contact the Canadian university you wish to study in advance for their specific post-graduate program requirements.

Proof of language

As an international student, you will also need to show proficiency in English (or French, depending on the institution). Generally, this means you need to supply results of a recognized language test such as the TOEFL or IELTS – required results and recognized testing bodies will vary by institution. Students from some countries are exempt from this requirement, but the exemptions and conditions can also vary by institution and program, so you’ll need to check with your intended institution. Generally, if you’ve studied in English and the recognized language of school-level education in your country is English, you may be exempt from the requirement to provide a language test.

How to apply

Once you have the documents you need and you know where you want to apply, it’s time to get online and go for it. Depending on where you want to apply, you may need to go through a centralized online application system such as Apply Alberta, Education Planner BC, Ontario Universities’ Application Centre, or Ontario Colleges. Other provinces may not have a centralized application system, so you’ll need to apply directly through the university or college’s website. Each Canadian university and college will clearly explain their application process on their website.

Application processes are now almost completely automated online – in some cases you may need to provide physical documents at a later stage, but generally speaking you can expect to get through the initial application stages online.

You should also expect to submit a fee for every application you submit. This can vary from about $50-$100 depending on the institution, and is generally non-refundable.

When to apply

You guessed it – this also varies by institution, so check their websites. Some universities have earlier deadlines for application, often because they receive a lot of applications. Often, smaller universities and colleges have later application deadlines.

Remember that whatever the application deadline is at your intended institution, you need to include enough time to ensure that your study permit application can be processed in time for the start of the semester. IRCC recommends that anyone intending to study a post-secondary program apply a year in advance of their anticipated start date.

Next steps

After you’ve submitted, you’ll have to wait for a decision from the universities or colleges you applied to. Many application systems allow you to check the status of your application online, and it’s recommended that you rely on this. However frustrating the wait may seem, be patient – you will get a response, whether you are accepted or not.

Once you are accepted, you’ll receive a Letter of Acceptance from the Canadian university or college of your choice, with which you can apply for a Canadian study permit.

Every year, thousands of potential international students around the world end up causing themselves unwanted stress because they left their study permit application too late. While many applications are successfully processed in the estimated time-frame, or sooner, do yourself a favour and budget in extra time for any potential delay in processing.

Learn more about the study permit application process for a Canadian university or college.