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From accounting to zoology, Canadian universities and colleges offer something for everybody. In fact, there’s so much choice that it can be difficult to know where to start. The exciting thing about studying in Canada is that you don’t necessarily have to choose your subject immediately, leaving you time and space to select the perfect study program in Canada to meet your goals.

When applying to Canadian universities or colleges, candidates generally submit an application to the institution or department they are interested in. Program structure varies significantly between universities and colleges, so one of your first decisions will be whether you want to study at a college or at a university.

Note that the application process and the structure of study programs in Canada vary greatly between institutions. It is vital to consult your intended institution’s website directly – or even better, reach out to someone in the admissions department for a chat by email or phone – to find out the options and requirements in each program.

As a future international student, you’ll also need to verify that the university or college where you wish to study is a Designated Learning Institution (DLI), meaning it is approved by a provincial or territorial government to host international students.

Universities in Canada

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.

Which study program in Canada is right for you?

This is a tricky question, simply because there are so many options and each student is unique. But there are some important things to ask yourself as you make this decision.

  • Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? This may be a difficult question – most of us still don’t know, but finding out your career path is the fun part! Trying different subjects and courses could take you in a direction you never imagined, so if you’re not sure where you want to go, try a study program that allows for flexibility in choosing courses.
  • Are there scholarship options? There are many opportunities for scholarships in Canada for international students. If this is a priority, make sure to see what the department or program can offer.
  • How can a study program in Canada help your career goals? If you have a clear idea of your future career goals, focus on programs that can help you get there. Consult university and college course listings and read their detailed descriptions – syllabi from previous courses can often be found on Canadian university and college websites, allowing you to get a good idea of what’s covered in a program.
  • Where do you want to study? If it seems like there are too many good programs to choose from, try making a decision about where you want to live, and ­look at study options in that area.
  • Does this program fit your life right now? Many international students in Canada bring their families, or have work commitments during their studies. Finding a study program that fits your lifestyle is key. Does the program have a flexible class schedule? Are there options for studying online? How long may the program take to complete? The answers to these questions can give you an idea of how well your studies will integrate with your everyday life, and the smoother this integration is, the more you’ll get out of your studies.
  • What are your long-term goals for staying in Canada? If you want to stay in Canada after graduation and gain some Canadian work experience, the program you study will impact the length of the post graduation work permit (PGWP) you are entitled to. You get a 3 year PGWP, the length of program you do in Canada should be at least 2 years or at a Masters level.

Even the act of researching which study programs in Canada are out there will likely give you a stronger idea of what you want to do. There are a number of useful tools to help you compare different study programs in Canada. These include:

Don’t leave your research on choosing a study program in Canada to the last minute – there’s an exciting world of opportunities, and you want to make sure you know what’s out there.