There are many reasons why Canada has become the destination of choice for international students. Many Canadian universities have a great reputation in international rankings and universities offer the opportunity to study in both French and English. Canada’s reputation as a warm and welcoming country that offers an easy path to permanent residency for international students who graduate here is also a draw. In fact, Canada is now the third-leading destination for international students (behind the U.S. and Australia)

In this article:

Here’s what you need to know about Canada’s best universities and their areas of study: 

Looking for more information on becoming an international student in Canada?
Read How to apply for a Canadian student permit and learn more about Canada’s Student Direct Stream and how to fast-track your application for a Canadian student visa. 

Why choose to study in Canada

Many international students come to Canada to continue their education in a multicultural setting. Here are some highlights of what makes a post-secondary education in Canada world-class:

Top 10 universities in Canada 

With over 90 public universities across Canada, which institution do you apply to? Based on the rankings by Macleans Magazine and the World University Ranking by Times Higher Education, here are 10 of the best universities across Canada and what makes them stand out. 

1. University of Toronto, Ontario 

University of Toronto, Ontario

Founded in 1827, the University of Toronto (also referred to as UofT) is renowned as one of the world’s best research-intensive universities and renowned for its medicine program and historic buildings. 

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #1
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #18

University size: Three campuses, including Mississauga, St. George, and Scarborough. Students at the St. George campus are affiliated with one of seven colleges, a similar system to the University of Cambridge. Over 93,000 students were enrolled for the 2019-20 academic year. 

Programs: Over 200 post graduate degree programs and more than 700 undergraduate degrees. UofT ranks among the top post secondary institutions in the world for its entrepreneurship.

Notable Alumni: Writers Margaret Attwood and Micheal Ondaatje, director Norman Jewison, and former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson.

2. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. 

UBC

The University of British Columbia (also referred to as UBC) is the province’s oldest university and has a reputation for being a global centre for research and teaching. 

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #2
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #34

University size: Two campuses, one in downtown Vancouver close to the beach, as well as Kelowna in the Okanagan Valley. UBC also has a Regional Office in Hong Kong and Liaison office in New Delhi, India, to facilitate teaching and research partnerships and support alumni. UBC has over 66,000 students, including more than 18,000 international students from 166 countries. 

Programs: Over 40 undergraduate degrees, as well as post-graduate programs. 

Notable Alumni: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and environmentalist David Suzuki. The university is also associated with eight Nobel prize winners, 65 Olympic medalists and over 70 Rhodes scholars.  

3. McGill University, Montreal, Quebec 

McGill

McGill University recently celebrated their 200th anniversary and is recognized as the only Canadian institution among the 26 top institutions represented in the World Economic Forum’s Global University Leaders Forum.

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #4
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #40 

University size: Three campuses, the main one is located on the base of the Mount Royal in downtown Montreal, as well as MacDonald campus and Gault Nature Reserve. Students come to McGill to study from over 150 countries around the world, making it an internationally diverse university and currently there are over 39,000 students enrolled. 

Programs: The publicly funded university offers over 400 programs in more than 80 departments. McGill is also known for its excellent medicine program and was Canada’s first faculty of medicine, which was established in 1829. 

Notable Alumni: Actor William Shatner, singer Grimes, and poet Leonard Cohen. The school also boasts 145 prestigious Rhodes scholars. 

4. McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario 

McMaster

Founded in 1887, McMaster University is located in Hamilton, Ontario, close to downtown Toronto. The research-intensive university is world-renowned for its medical school, as well as faculties in engineering, humanities, and social science.

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #5
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #69 

University size: Four campuses, the main one is in Hamilton near the Royal Botanical Gardens, as well as Burlington, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Niagara. There are over 33,000 students enrolled, including international students from 120 countries. 

Programs: McMaster offers programs in 25 different disciplines, from arts and science to engineering, medicine, computer science, midwifery, and more. 

Notable Alumni: Comedian Eugene Levy, actress Cammy Chiang, and entrepreneur Michael Lee-Chin. McMaster has educated a number of Nobel laureates. 

5. University of Montreal, Quebec

University of Montreal

The University of Montreal (Université de Montréal) in Quebec is a francophone school known for its sports teams and graduates going on to become renowned leaders in business and scientific research. 

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #9
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #73 

University size: The main campus is based on the north slope of Mount Royal in Montreal. It also has two affiliated schools – the Polytechnique Montreal and HEC Montreal (School of Business). There are over 67,500 students enrolled, including around 10,000 international students, making it the third most international university in Canada. 

Programs: The university offers 600 programs, including undergraduate, post-graduate and doctorate. Programs are delivered in French and undergraduate students must meet the French admission requirements

Notable Alumni: Former Governor General of Canada Michaëlle Jean, filmmaker Denys Arcand, and businessman Pierre Karl Péladeau. 

6. University of Alberta

University of Alberta

Founded in 1908, the University of Alberta (also known as UAlberta) is located in Edmonton, Alberta. Its original historic campus sits on the edge of the North Saskatchewan River valley and spans 50 blocks. The school is also known for its athletic excellence. 

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #6
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #131 

University size: There are four university campuses in Edmonton, as well as one in Camrose, Alberta, making it the fifth largest university in Canada. There are currently over 38,00 students enrolled. 

Programs: UAlberta offers over 200 undergraduate programs and more than 500 graduate programs across 18 faculties. It has over 800 teaching and research agreements with 50 countries. 

Notable Alumni: Former Prime Minister Joe Clark, medical researcher Tak Wah Mak, and former Chief Justice of Canada Beverly McLachlin. 

7. Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario 

Queen's University

Established in 1841, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (also known as “Queen’s”) is one of Canada’s leading research universities and also ranks first place for extracurricular activities. 

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #7
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #250-300 

University size: The main campus is set on 99 acres in the city of Kingston and borders Lake Ontario to the south. There are currently over 26,000 students enrolled, including more than 19,000 undergraduates and over 3,000 in graduate studies. It is also home to students from more than 100 countries around the world. 

Programs: Queen’s offers undergraduate degrees across seven faculties and more than 125 graduate degree programs. 

Notable Alumni: Businessman Elon Musk, scientist Shirley M. Tilgham, and actor Andrea So. It has also produced 57 Rhodes Scholars. 

8. University of Calgary, Alberta 

University of Calgary

The University of Calgary (also known as UCalgary)  was founded in 1966 and is one of Canada’s top research universities. Located in the province of Alberta, the school’s vision is to be a global intellectual hub and recognized as one of the country’s top five research universities. 

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #11
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #200

University size: There are five campuses: Main, Downtown, Foothills, Spyhill and Qatar. The main campus covers more than 200 hectares and offers views of the Rocky Mountains. There are currently more than 33,000 students, including approximately 26,000 undergraduates and more than 6,000 graduate students. 

Programs: University of Calgary offers over 160 degrees and more than 250 programs across 14 faculties. 

Notable Alumni: Astronaut Robert Thirsk, politician Naheed Nenshi, and speed skater Kristina Groves. 

9. Dalhousie, Halifax, Nova Scotia 

Dalhousie University

Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia (also known as “Dal”) was founded in 1818 and is one of Canada’s oldest universities. It is located in the East Coast city of Halifax. It offers some unique programs including a custom studies program as part of the Foundation School of Performing Arts, as well as a joint food business program with Aeres university in the Netherlands.

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #12
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #250-300 

University size: Dalhousie has three campuses in Halifax, as well as an Agricultural Campus near Truro and Dalhousie Medicine New Brunswick. The school attracts more than 19,000 students from around the world. 

Programs: Dal offers more than 200 degree programs across 13 faculties. 

Notable Alumni: Astrophysicist Arthur B. McDonald, Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery, and novelist Manju Kapur. 

10. University of Ottawa, Ontario 

University of Ottawa

The University of Ottawa (also known as UOttawa) is the largest bilingual university in the world and among Canada’s top 10 research universities. It is also known for its cooperative education programs. 

Overall Canada ranking (2021): #18
World University Ranking by Times Higher Education (2021): #145 

University size: UOttawa has three campuses. The main one is located in the Canadian capital within walking distance of Parliament Hill. There is also a campus in Toronto and another in Windsor, Ontario. There are over 37,000 undergraduate students and more than 7,000 graduate students in 10 areas of discipline. 

Programs: The university offers a total of 500 undergraduate and graduate programs. It also offers a French Immersion Stream for students who wish to pursue part of their studies in French. 

Notable Alumni: Comedian Samatha Bee, lawyer Louise Arbour, and politician Rahim Jaffer.

Top Canadian universities by discipline

Whether you’re looking to study medicine, business or Canadian politics, here are the top ranking schools for various disciplines across Canada:

Discipline    Top 5 Canadian universities          
Business Queen’s University
University of Alberta
University of British Columbia
University of Toronto
Western University
Economics University of Alberta
University of British Columbia
University of Montreal
University of Toronto
York University
Engineering McGill University
University of Alberta
University of British Columbia
University of Toronto
Waterloo University
Computer Science.           McGill University
University of Alberta
University of British Columbia
University of Toronto
Waterloo University
Psychology McGill
University of Albera
University of British Columiba
Western University
York University
Political Science Carleton University
McGill
University of British Columbia
University of Montreal
University of Toronto
Biology Guelph University
McGill University
University of Alberta
University of British Comumbia
University of Toronto
History McGill University
McMaster University
University of British Columbia
University of Montreal
University of Toronto
Medicine McGill University
McMaster University
University of British Columbia
University of Montreal
University of Toronto
Arts Concordia University
McGill University
University of Montreal
University of Toronto
York University

It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with Canada’s post-secondary institutions before deciding on where to apply as an international student. That way you’ll be aware of your university choices, can apply for your Canadian student visa and set yourself on the path to success!

 

To get to know more about Canadian culture, the Arrive mobile app is a good starting point. The Arrive app can ease your transition and help you adapt faster life to Canada. It is specially designed to provide newcomers, like yourself, with information that matters, at a time when you need it the most. The best part: you’ll always have all resources in one place – in an app on your phone – and you can access it wherever you are, without having to provide any confirmation from the Canadian government. Whether you’re a year away from your move or recently landed, if you’re a PR, international student or temporary foreign worker, the Arrive app will provide timely and relevant content, tools and guidance to ensure you’re fully prepared for your move and your life in Canada. 

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