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So you’ve decided you want to study in Canada – now what? The next few years as a student in Canada have the potential to be some of the most exciting and rewarding of your life.

But the question remains: which of Canada’s colleges or universities is the right one for you?

The good news is that Canada has a range of quality colleges and universities. These high quality institutions are based all around Canada, so you even get to consider lifestyle factors when making your decision. 

In this article, we’ll walk you through the most important elements of your decision making.

What is a Designated Learning Institution?

Potential international students in Canada also need to make sure that their intended institution is a Designated Learning Institution (DLI), meaning it is approved by a provincial or territorial government to host international students.

Attending a post-secondary program that is considered a DLI will open the doors to Canadian immigration programs, and—for eligible programs—the option to qualify for a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP).

Find out more about DLIs, including a list of institutions, on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website.

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Universities in Canada

Next, you need to decide whether a university or college will better suit your needs: 

University programs in Canada are varied and rigorous. If you love research, writing, and getting deep into your special niche subject, university could be perfect for you. Programs are usually structured around lectures led by top professors and seminars that act as discussion groups between teachers and peers. Many programs involve written work, as might be expected, but universities are also increasingly integrating group assignments, work placements and field research into courses to better emulate the working environment.

Generally speaking, you don’t need to commit to a specialization when you apply to university in Canada. So while you may need to give an indication of the general subject you wish to study – Science, Arts, or Business, for example – you have time to explore the topics that interest you through semester-long modules in specific topics. Canadian universities also generally encourage students to take a certain number of “elective” or optional courses in other subjects, in addition to their program requirements.

Let’s back up for a moment and consider the typical structure of study programs in Canada. Students take courses in subjects that interest them. Each course counts for a certain number of credits, which count towards the student’s major and minor programs. Generally speaking, students have a lot of control over their course of study. Program requirements are often flexible, and there are usually lots of courses you can choose from to build up the credits required to graduate.

If you thrive in intense academic environments and love independent study and research, university could be the right choice for you – even if you don’t know what you want to study yet. Undergraduate study in Canada could be your stepping stone not just to a fulfilling career, but also towards further postgraduate study in Canada or abroad.

Colleges in Canada

Prospective international students would be wise not to discount colleges when choosing a study program in Canada; any perception that colleges are somehow less serious than universities is misguided.

College in Canada can be a great option for students looking for integrated work placements, vocational training, continuing education, or flexible part-time study options. College tuition fees are often lower than fees at universities. Moreover, completing your education and entering the job market with a year or more of relevant work experience could boost your career options. If you are worried about a particular college not being well known outside Canada, note that employers are more likely to be impressed by your experience and the positive attitude you showed in moving out of your comfort zone to study abroad than they are by the name of the institution you attended.

College programs are ideal if you know what you want and you want to get to Canada quickly. Many programs are one or two years long, instead of the standard three or four for undergraduate university programs – but rest assured, they are still comprehensive and rigorous.

Colleges and universities in Canada: Rankings first?

The best universities in Canada consistently perform well in worldwide charts, both for academic excellence and student experience. Here is a chart showing the rankings: 

SeriesInstitutionQS Ranking 2025 (Globally)
1University of Toronto25
2McGill University29
3University of British Columbia38
4University of Alberta96
5University of Waterloo115
6Western University120
7University of Montreal159
8McMaster University176
9University of Ottawa189
10Queen’s University at Kingston193

Note that it’s not always a good idea to focus solely on the academic reputation of a university – you should also consider finding the right program for you.

Colleges and universities in Canada: Location

Your future university or college will be your home for the next few years, and maybe longer, so it’s vital to take location into account. If you want to experience life in a vibrant city like Vancouver, Montreal, or Toronto, university and college life in Canada could be the start of a bright future for you. Likewise, international students also frequently find a new home in smaller institutions with a cozy community feel.

  • Learn more about life in popular destinations across Canada with our destination guides.

Studying in Canada isn’t all work and no play, and the success of your university or college experience may depend in large part on where you decide to study.

Here are some aspects to consider beyond your courses.

What is accommodation like?

As a student, you’ll likely find yourself needing to rent an apartment while studying in Canada. Most universities in Canada and many colleges offer student accommodation. This is a great place to start: residences are generally conveniently located on campus, and you’re guaranteed to meet people.

For international students, campus residences can also be the simplest option – the paperwork may be easier than trying to rent elsewhere from abroad, and you have the peace of mind of knowing you have a place to stay when you arrive. In addition, residences generally come fully furnished – so you don’t even have to find a new friend with a car to get out to IKEA. (Who are we kidding, you’ll probably still end up at IKEA.)

In many cases, student accommodations are cheaper than the surrounding area, but this isn’t always the case, so it’s worth checking local apartment listings if affordability is a priority. Depending on the location of the college or university, residences may be located further away from a city centre. If living in a vibrant busy neighbourhood is important to you, you may want to escape the bubble of campus and find an apartment further afield.

Can I work there?

Most international students in Canada can work up to 20 hours per week during the semester (or 24 hours per week starting in September 2024), and full-time during scheduled breaks. If you are considering working during your studies, start by checking college and university websites to find out what positions may be offered to students on campus. You could also look at casual listings sites such as Kijiji or Craigslist, which host many ads for part-time work.

Employment options shouldn’t make or break your decision of which institution to attend, but if you need the extra cash – or want the bonus experience of working during your studies – it’s important to know your options.

What is the social life like?

Whatever you do to relax – sports, hobbies, nightlife, shopping – you’ll want to consider how you can do this in your new home. Canadian universities and colleges offer a wide variety of clubs and societies to join, from sports teams to journalism, activism, hobbies, nights out, and more. But you may want to also look at what’s going on outside of the campus bubble.

If you’re looking for a close-knit student community, you may want to consider a smaller institution with an intimate campus atmosphere such as the universities of the east coast or the B.C. interior. If getting out and exploring city life is more your thing, perhaps look at larger downtown universities and colleges, like those in central Toronto, Montreal, or Vancouver.

What do the student services offer?

Colleges and universities in Canada typically offer a range of in-house student services, which are there to ensure that your institution supports your needs. Take a look at what is offered – is there accommodation and financial support for international students? What healthcare services are offered? Does it have a good careers service? What amenities are offered to students? (Yes, this includes the campus bar . . .)

By asking these questions before landing in Canada as a student, you are reflecting on the crucial overarching question of what is important to you beyond your academic achievements. You may be living on your own or with other people for the first time, and in a foreign country (although, it will feel like home before you know it). You owe it to yourself to prepare for every aspect of your new life. Your well-being – and your studies – should benefit as a result.

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Next Steps

Whichever way you want to go about finding your perfect fit for university or college in Canada, know that you’re not alone in the search. There are a number of useful tools to help you compare different aspects of the various colleges and universities in Canada. These include:

Make sure to visit the website of any institution you’re interested in attending, in order to get the most up-to-date information on course offerings, fees, student services, and more. And don’t be afraid to reach out to the admissions department for more information – there will generally be someone available to chat with by email, over the phone, or even video chat. Canadian universities and colleges love to welcome international students, almost as much as you’re sure to love attending.

About the author

Rachel Dancel video content at Moving2Canada

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Originally from the Philippines, her immigration journey began as an international student, leading to permanent residency in 2021. Passionate about sharing her immigration experience, she created a YouTube channel during a pivotal time. A visual storyteller, Rachel adds unique perspective to the team as our Video Content Creator. She crafts engaging and informative content to help fellow immigrants navigate their journey to Canada.
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Citation "Colleges And Universities For International Students In Canada: Which Is Right For You?." Moving2Canada. . Copy for Citation