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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.

There are a range of quality colleges and universities in Canada; now it’s up to you to find the perfect one to suit your needs and goals.

Start by asking yourself what the most important factors are in your decision. Do you already know where you want to live in Canada, and you want to find the right institution there? Or do you want to prioritize a particular area of study, and you don’t mind where that takes you?

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.

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. You may have your sight set on a prestigious program at a top university. However, don’t rely solely on the academic reputation of a university – focus instead on the right program for you.

If you thrive on challenging lectures and research, an academically-focused university may best suit your talents. Many Canadian universities have long-standing reputations of academic excellence in offering provocative, demanding, and rewarding programs that will help you become equipped with the skills and knowledge you need to launch a successful career, either in Canada or abroad.

If you would rather learn from practitioners and gain experience working while you study, maybe a college program with work placements and industry-focused training is a good fit for you. While there may be a perception that a college education is somehow less impressive than university on paper, don’t let that put you off – Canada’s renowned network of colleges have a strong reputation among employers.

Get more advice on 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, 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.

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.