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College and university programs in Canada are called tertiary education institutions. These institutions have strict requirements that must be met whether you are a Canadian or international student, and competition for various programs can vary quite a bit depending on the field of study.

In Canada, tertiary education is divided between colleges and universities. Applied careers are studied in colleges. Academic careers that are less “hands on” are studied in universities.

Applying for Colleges and Universities

The first step in applying to any particular college or university is to review the requirements of that particular school. While there are similarities between the application processes at various institutions, it is always best to review specifics rather than assume the general guidelines are appropriate for your choice. Additionally, if you are an international student you will have to also satisfy the requirement of a Canadian study permit along with the application process to the tertiary institution of your choice.

Attending Undergraduate Programs

High school or secondary school graduates interested in applying for either a college or a university program will be heavily influenced by their school grades. The majority of tertiary institutions will require a 70 percent or higher while others may require a minimum of an 85 percent to even apply for a program.

There are a limited number of students accepted into the various programs and departments at the colleges and universities. There can be heavy competition for spots in many programs and determining factors are often high school scores as well as language skills in either English, French or both. While it is possible to apply to a specific program in the college or university, the majority of educational programs offer general studies programs for those who are still deciding which path to pursue through their studies.

Applying for Graduate Admission Programs

Canada treats graduate programs differently than undergraduate ones in several ways. While the competition for undergraduate programs can be fiercely based on specific qualifications, graduate programs may have looser requirements. In some cases students will not need an undergraduate degree to enroll in postgraduate studies. This decision is based on existing knowledge and abilities, but is not a common means of application.

College and university programs differ in their application programs, so it is important to review the requirements of the graduate program before getting started on the application process. If accepted to a graduate program you can expect to work with a mentor as a supervisor, and you can expect ongoing conferences and evaluations in this process.

Another significant difference at the graduate level of study is funding. Applicants to graduate level programs are required to show that they have all of the necessary funding for the course of the program of study. Applicants cannot be admitted if they cannot show they have the funds for the program. These funds may be shows through grants for various projects or studies, individual accounts or financial aid programs.

Additional Requirements for International Students

International applicants can expect additional requirements to complete the application process. Chief among these is an essay and a personal statement of their desire and their qualifications for the program on their application. The application will likely also require additional documentation including any work experience up to this point and previous educational accomplishments. The international application is generally rounded out with letters of recommendation or reference as well as evidence of extracurricular activities and proof of skills.

While professional programs such as engineering, law and medicine require an undergraduate degree before applying for postgraduate work, other may make an exception for older students or those who have been out of school for some time. In these applications a focus is given to the skills and knowledge acquired through employment and outside interests as well as other application requirements.

International students with a high school diploma from a government-accredited high school in their home country may apply for admission to an undergraduate program in Canada. There are no additional certification steps required for out of country high school diplomas that meet this criteria. If an applicant has an internationally recognized degree, it will be recognized and accepted in Canada as it would in any country.

There are language requirements that must also be met if you are to study in Canada. In short, if your native language is not English or French, you must provide evidence of your language abilities to be considered as an undergraduate or graduate applicant.

The Test of English as a Foreign Language, or TOEFL, is the most common language exam used in the United States, but the International English Language Testing System, or IELTS, is the most commonly accepted exam for language abilities in Canadian universities and colleges. Both tests are generally acceptable by Canadian programs, however. Both of these language tests are available worldwide.

Additional Requirements to Study in Canada

In order to study in Canada, you not only have to be accepted into a tertiary program in Canada, but you must also meet other criteria for a study permit. You must have all the necessary funds not just for the cost of the program, but enough money for you and your family (if they have accompanied you) to live comfortably in Canada for the duration of your study as well as funds for transportation for you and any family members to return to your home country at the conclusion of your study.

Additionally you must have no criminal background check and you cannot be considered a risk to the security of Canada. In some cases you may even have to provide a police certificate to this effect. You must be in good health and be able to pass a medical examination if one is required. You must also be able to state your intent to leave Canada after your studies.

There are some exceptions in regards to the study permit requirement in Canada. You may not need a study permit with the additional requirements it presents if you are:

  • Studying in a short course or program that is less than six months.
  • A family or staff member of a recognized foreign representative to Canada accredited by the Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada.
  • Studying under the Visiting Forces Act and you are a member of a foreign armed force.
  • A Registered Indian in Canada.