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Student Guide: Studying in Canada

Canada is an increasingly popular destination for international students. The Canadian higher education system boasts a significant range of public and private colleges, universities, and polytechnic institutes. Colleges differ from universities in Canada in that colleges may or may not offer bachelor’s degrees among their educational offerings. Colleges, along with the polytechnic institutes, often provide shorter career-focused programs alongside academic offerings. Universities are more likely to have both undergraduate and graduate offerings, though there is a diverse range of institutions. We encourage you to explore higher education opportunities in Canada!

A number of prominent Canadian institutions can be found on BigFuture. To see a list, select Search for Colleges. Filter by international location. You can also review the Universities Canada database or consult the comprehensive EduCanada search engine to research academic programs.

Academic Calendar

A bachelor’s degree in Canada generally takes four years, though some programs may be completed in three years by students with advanced high school programs, particularly in Québec. Although educational authority is at the provincial rather than the national level, structures and processes are similar across provinces. Most universities and colleges start in early September and finish in late April or early May. The academic year is split into two semesters, the first starting in September and the second starting in January.

Application Timeline and Process

Typically, you’ll apply to a specific discipline or faculty at a university with an option to apply to more than one program within the same university. Some provinces have a centralized application process such as ApplyAlberta, ApplyBC, Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC), and MyNSFuture. When the province has a central application portal, it usually gives you the option to apply directly to a specific university using the institution’s application. A small number of institutions also accept the Common Application, an undergraduate admissions application platform used by more than 800 institutions worldwide.

Because application deadlines vary, it's best to go over the admissions guidelines of each institution a year before you plan to enroll in order to have enough time to prepare. You may be asked to submit applications for September intake by January 15, February 1, March 1, or April 1, among other deadlines. Different faculties within the same university may have different submission dates. Some universities have “priority deadlines” or "rounds" for international students because they prefer students to submit their application by a certain deadline or round, but they don’t rule out applications that come after that deadline. Moreover, many universities have scholarship deadlines in advance of their regular admission deadlines. Universities often open their admissions process months before the deadline–application forms often become live early October.

Students should expect to send in their high school record/transcript and exam scores to satisfy the admissions requirements at most institutions. You may be also asked to write an essay as part of the application. Universities often ask for proof of English or French language proficiency, depending on the language of instruction, particularly if your high school studies weren't primarily in that language. In short, you're well advised to know requirement guidelines and application deadlines for each university you're considering.

How College Board Programs, Including SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and AP Exam Scores, Provide Opportunities at Canadian Universities

Canadian colleges and universities typically use the SAT in combination with other academic credentials, such as GPA and high school courses, in the undergraduate admissions process. Your AP course grades are likely to be considered alongside final exam scores, if already available. Some universities request SAT Subject Tests™ or AP Exam scores as part of the application for certain majors or faculties. Even when not required, these test results can have a favorable influence on admissions and scholarship decisions.

Beyond the admissions process, many Canadian institutions consider AP Exam results for credit, placement, or both. College Board provides a directory of institutions outside the U.S. that have formal AP and SAT recognition policies. Filter the directory by country and then consult Canada’s higher education directory to see which institutions have a policy around AP credit or placement. You can also find AP subject-level policies for individual Canadian institutions on AP Credit Policy Search. Learn how to send your official scores to each university you're considering using the institution’s College Board Code.

As always, it's wise to be aware of what each university is looking for from students with your particular academic background.

Additional resources

An overview of the education system in Canada

Preparing to study in Canada

Universities Canada

Information for international students about studying in Canada

Comparing and exploring Canadian universities

Planning to apply to universities in Canada

Ontario Universities Info