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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.

On this page, we dig into some key questions international students like you can ask to narrow down: 

  • which program you should choose to study in Canada, and 
  • what that decision might mean for your future career and life in Canada. 

Key Takeaways

  • The introduction of Provincial Attestation Letters means that post-secondary schools in Canada may prioritise international students who apply for in-demand skills.
  • The increase in competition for study permits in Canada is going to play a huge role in selection of international students through 2024 and 2025.
  • You will need to be more thoughtful about which program you apply for in Canada to receive your study permit due to the increased competition for spots. 
  • If you’ve already decided on your study program, you can learn more about the application process for Canadian universities and colleges.

Questions To Ask Yourself When Choosing Your Program

The following questions can help you figure out which program suits your skills and interests, while also helping you build a brighter future.

  1. What are your interests and career goals?
  2. What are your immigration goals?
  3. College or University? Public or Private? 
  4. Where do you want to live?
  5. Can you afford it? 

Let’s dig in to how you might think about each of these questions.

What Are Your Interests And Career Goals?

Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? 

This is a difficult question – but it deserves some deep thought if you’re considering studying as an international student in Canada. Studying in Canada is expensive, between tuition fees and the cost of living, and it’s a decision that will affect your daily life for at least a few years while you study, if not the rest of your life.

So, how do you approach this question? Well, that’s up to you. Common starting points include:

  • Take an online quiz.
  • Listing your values, strengths, likes, dislikes, and future goals and considering which careers align with those.
  • Considering whether you could (or would want to) turn your hobbies into a profession – this isn’t for everyone. There’s nothing wrong with working to make a living that suits your lifestyle outside of work.
  • Speak with a career coach.
  • Reviewing regular pay scales for occupations and deciding based on your predicted financial needs (keep your personality in mind too, however. There’s no point aiming to be a surgeon if you faint at the sight of blood).

Other things to consider at this point:

  • 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.
  • Does this program fit your life right now? Many international students in Canada hope to 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? Can you bring your family with you?

The answers to these questions can give you an idea of how well your studies will integrate with your everyday life. The smoother this integration is, the more you’ll get out of your studies.

What Are Your Immigration Goals? 

In previous years, it was relatively easy to get a study permit in Canada and Post-Graduate Work Permits (PGWPs) were widely available. Canada’s study policies changed in early 2024, and there are now caps on the number of international students who can come to Canada. Eligibility for a PGWP has also been restricted.

These changes mean you will need to be more careful with your pathway planning if you want to stay in Canada beyond your studies. You should consider the following factors:

  • Is the program of study likely to receive a Provincial Attestation Letter? With the added requirement on most international students to present a Provincial Attestation Letter, consider whether the program of study will has good chances of receiving a PAL. For instance, Ontario has said it will prioritize enrolment in high- demand programs like skilled trades, childcare, STEM, hospitality and human resources and French language enrolment.
  • 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. If you want to get a 3 year PGWP, your program of study in Canada should be at least 2 years or at a Masters level.
  • Are there qualified jobs available after you graduate? Canada’s immigration policy currently favours in-demand occupations at both the federal and provincial levels, alongside language proficiency in French for cultural reasons. If you’re likely to find qualified work after graduation, this may help your immigration process proceed more smoothly. 

College Or University? Public Or Private? 

With your career and immigration goals in mind, it’s time to decide whether a program at a College or University better suits your needs. You’ll also need to decide whether the public or private route offer better opportunities – but bear in mind that there are higher Provincial Attestation Letter allocations for public institutions in some provinces. 

From there, consider: 

  • Which universities or colleges offer programs in my field of interest? 
  • What are the admission requirements? Can you meet them? 
  • Does the program structure help you achieve your goals? 
  • What’s the reputation of the institution and program? 

We suggest making a shortlist of programs across several schools at this point. Though, if you see a particular school and program that seems like ‘the one’, you can consider putting all your eggs in that basket and adjusting if you aren’t successful. This plan comes with the risk of a longer timeline to start your studies, however. 

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.

Where Do You Want To Live? 

With your shortlist of potential programs and schools that interest you, it’s time to consider what you want your life to look like in Canada. The city you choose to live and study in will have a huge impact on your experience in Canada, and it’s best to do your research about what the day-to-day looks like before applying. 

Here are some things to consider: 

  • Consider the climate, culture, and cost of living in the cities you’re considering. 
  • Consider the campus facilities and resources available to you.
  • Are there extracurricular activities available to you that you think you might like? If so, are these easily accessible. International students looking to snowboard as much as possible might consider BC or Alberta, while those who are foodies and enjoy nightlife might consider Quebec or Ontario.

Can You Afford It? 

Finally, it’s time to realistically consider whether you can afford the program and associated cost of living for your highest priority programs. You’ll need to think about tuition and associated fees to study at the school you’ve selected. Then, consider average living costs for the region, alongside the opportunities for paid work while you’re there. 

You should research and know the answers to these questions:

  • What do application costs look like for your program of study at each institution? 
  • How much is tuition and the associated fees? 
  • 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.
  • What are the average costs of housing and food? 
  • What is the job market like in your chosen city for student workers? 

Next Steps For International Students

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.

Want a tailored checklist to help you navigate the process for studying in Canada? We share resources and guidance every step of the way in your free Moving2Canada account. Register here. 

About the author

Rachel Dancel video content at Moving2Canada

Rachel Dancel

Newcomers Influencer & Video Content Creator
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.
Read more about Rachel Dancel
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