Canada is a popular study destination for international students and, in 2021, over 500,000 study permits were issued by the government. Canada’s colleges and universities offer a high quality of education in various disciplines. The right college can help you build a strong academic foundation, prepare you for the job market, and be a valuable stepping stone to your future career.
If you’re planning to study in Canada, this article explains how colleges compare to universities and showcases some of the best colleges in Canada for international students.
In this article:
What is the difference between university and college in Canada?
Unlike in some countries, in Canada, colleges and universities are different types of educational institutions. Although both offer post-secondary programs to students who’ve completed high school, they differ in the programs they offer, as well as program duration and cost. Here are the key differences between colleges and universities in Canada:
- Program types and duration: Colleges offer certificate (one year or less), two-year diploma, and three-year advanced diploma programs. Some colleges also have four-year bachelor’s degree programs. On the other hand, universities typically offer bachelor’s (three or four years), master’s (one or two years), and doctoral degrees (four to six years).
- Program objectives: College programs in Canada focus on applied knowledge and work-related training to prepare students for the job market. On the other hand, universities emphasize academic and theoretical learning.
- Program costs: College education in Canada is more cost-effective compared to universities. Not only are university programs longer, but their annual tuition fee can be twice as much as college tuition.
Should I apply to a Canadian college or university?
When deciding whether to apply to colleges or universities in Canada, reflect on your current education level, career goals, and what you want to achieve from your studies.
If you already have a post-secondary credential from your home country, college programs can help you upgrade and align your skills with Canadian job market requirements. If your goal is to work in Canada after completing your studies and you already have an academic understanding of your field, a college diploma or certificate can help improve your employability in Canada. On the other hand, if you recently completed high school and are applying to your first post-secondary program, it may be a good idea to consider universities first.
You should also think about the money and time you’re willing to spend on your studies in Canada. Colleges may be ideal if you prefer a shorter study program with lower tuition fees.
Why study in a Canadian college?
Here are some factors that make Canadian colleges attractive to international students:
- High quality of education.
- Easier to get admission into Canadian colleges compared to universities.
- Wide range of study programs, including certificates and diplomas in various subjects.
- Emphasis on applied learning to help students become job-ready faster.
- Lower tuition fees compared to Canadian universities.
- Pathways to stay in Canada after graduation, such as Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP) or permanent residence (PR).
Top colleges in Canada for international students
||Tip: The fees listed in the below section only include annual tuition costs as of fall 2022. You will likely also need to account for non-academic costs, such as books and supplies, accommodation, meals, insurance, and administrative fees. Use Arrive’s cost of studying in Canada calculator to estimate the total cost of your education.
As an international student, it’s important to do your research to identify colleges that offer the programs and experience you’re looking for in Canada. Here are some of the best colleges in Canada, according to the Webometrics Ranking of World Universities, with information on the types of programs they offer and tuition fees for international students:
- Programs: Over 140 full-time programs in arts, applied health and community sciences, technology, humanities and social sciences, and business.
- Credentials offered: Certificates, diplomas, graduate certificates, and bachelor’s degrees.
- Campuses: Three campuses in the Greater Toronto Area, Ontario—Oakville, Brampton, and Mississauga.
- Tuition fees: Ranging between $16,771 CAD and $30,182 CAD per year, depending on the program selected.
- Scholarships: An international entrance scholarship of $1,000 to $2,000 for all international students enrolled in a full-time post-secondary program (except English as a Second Language).
- Programs: Over 220 full-time programs in technology, engineering, business, social services, health, hospitality, legal studies, marketing, and more.
- Credentials offered: Certificates, diplomas, graduate certificates, advanced diplomas, and bachelor’s degrees.
- Campuses: Three campuses in and around Toronto, including a dedicated campus for international graduate students.
- Tuition fees: Ranging between $11,086 CAD and $30,577 CAD per year, depending on the program selected.
- Scholarships: Entrance scholarships of $2,000 CAD are offered to 10 undergraduate and graduate international students with good academic track records.
- Programs: Offers more than 160 programs in business, communications, science and engineering technology, community and health studies, arts, hospitality, and transportation.
- Credentials offered: Certificate, diploma, graduate certificate, and advanced diploma programs. Centennial also offers four-year bachelor’s programs in Information Technology (IT) and public relations management.
- Campuses: Four campuses located in Toronto and one in Scarborough.
- Tuition fees: Ranging from $15,385 CAD to $19,484 CAD per year, depending on credential.
- Scholarships: Merit-based scholarships are offered to two international students each year.
- Programs: More than 160 programs in accounting, business, aviation, acting, marketing, engineering technology, arts, computers, hospitality, and more.
- Credentials offered: Certificate, diploma, graduate certificate, and advanced diploma programs.
- Campuses: Three campuses in Toronto, two in Markham, and one in North York, Peterborough, and King City, respectively.
- Tuition fees: Ranging between $20,791 CAD and $35,743 CAD per year, depending on the study program and type of credential.
- Scholarships: A limited number of scholarships ranging between $500 CAD and $1,000 CAD per year are available for international students enrolled in diploma and graduate certificate programs based on academic performance.
- Programs: More than 200 study programs in engineering, business, architecture, aviation, marketing, public relations, arts, hospitality, and more.
- Credentials offered: Certificate, diploma, graduate certificate, advanced diploma, and degree programs.
- Campuses: Multiple campuses in Brantford, Cambridge, Guelph, Ingersoll, Kitchener, Stratford and Waterloo.
- Tuition fees: Ranging from $20,625 CAD to $22,788 CAD per year, depending on the study program selected.
- Scholarships available: International students may qualify for several merit and need-based scholarships and awards offered by Conestoga.
- Programs: 165 programs in arts, business, adult special education, science, technology, commercial aviation, health and social development, trades and apprenticeship, and more.
- Credentials offered: Degree, diploma, and certificate programs.
- Campuses: Four campuses in Kelowna, Penticton, Vernon, and Salmon Arm.
- Tuition fees: Ranging between $14,730 CAD and $32,046 CAD per year, depending on the study program selected.
- Scholarships available: Several internal and external scholarships and awards are available.
- Programs: 177 study programs in arts, design, information technology, business, community services and education, health sciences, construction and engineering technologies, hospitality and culinary arts, and preparatory and liberal studies.
- Credentials offered: Certificate, diploma, advanced diploma, graduate certificate, and degree programs.
- Campuses: Three campuses in downtown Toronto.
- Tuition fees: Annual tuition fees range from $15,190 CAD to $41,895 CAD depending on the program selected.
- Scholarships: Several scholarships, awards, and bursaries are available for international students at George Brown.
- Programs: More than 170 programs across the fields of commerce and business administration, humanities and social sciences, health sciences, applied community studies, science and technology, and language, literature and performing arts.
- Credentials offered: Certificate, diploma, advanced diploma, and degree programs.
- Campuses: Two campuses in New Westminster and Coquitlam.
- Tuition fees: The annual tuition fee (30 credits) for international students is approximately $18,727 CAD.
- Scholarships: Entrance, merit, and athletic scholarships are available to international students.
- Programs: Over 80 study programs in arts, business, science and technology, humanities, social sciences, and health.
- Credentials offered: Certificate, diploma, degree, and post-degree programs.
- Campuses: Two campuses in Vancouver.
- Tuition fees: Ranging from $15,750 CAD to $18,762 CAD, depending on the program you select.
- Scholarships: Langara College offers several international student financial awards, including entrance scholarships, merit-based awards, and awards for athletics and student club contributions.
- Programs: 97 programs in business and management, computers and information technology, communications, technology, environment and natural resources, health and life sciences, hospitality, trades, and languages.
- Credentials offered: Certificate, diploma, and degree programs.
- Campuses: Three campuses in Edmonton and one in Spruce Grove, Alberta.
- Tuition fees: Ranging from $22,900 CAD to $32,600 CAD, depending on the program you select.
- Scholarships: Several merit-based scholarships are available to students enrolled in full-time study programs.
||Note: This list is not exhaustive and there are many renowned colleges in other Canadian provinces and territories. Be sure to research the reputation of the college before submitting your application.
Tips for choosing the right college in Canada as an international student
The educational institution you attend will have a strong bearing on your future. Not only will it determine the quality of education you receive, but also your experience of studying in Canada, and employability after graduation. Here are some tips to keep in mind while choosing a Canadian college:
Check if it is a Designated Learning Institution (DLI)
To qualify for a Canadian study permit, you require a letter of acceptance from a Designated Learning Institution (DLI). DLIs are colleges or universities approved by the federal or provincial government to accept international students. You will not be eligible for a study permit if your college isn’t on the government’s DLI list.
Choose a study program that aligns with your career goals
Spend time evaluating your career goals and find study programs that can help you achieve them. The study program you choose should be a logical continuation of your previous education and bring you closer to your career objectives. Once you have a list of programs you’re interested in, identify top colleges in Canada that offer those programs. If you intend to get a PGWP after graduation, you should verify that the program you have chosen makes you eligible for one.
||Note: If your study program isn’t aligned with your career goals, the visa officer may not be convinced that your reason for studying in Canada is legitimate and can reject your study permit application.
Check if you meet the eligibility criteria for admission
Each college sets out eligibility criteria for admission to its study programs. The admission process for colleges in Canada is competitive, and you can improve your chances by only applying to study programs you’re confident about getting into. Many colleges charge a non-refundable application fee, so you’ll save money by applying to fewer colleges.
Compare tuition fees and verify if it’s in your budget
The cost of education can vary significantly based on the college and study program you choose as well as the duration of your program. Although colleges in Canada are less expensive than universities, the tuition fees for international students can still be high. While shortlisting colleges, carefully review the tuition and other fees for study programs you’re interested in and make sure they are affordable. Also check if those colleges offer scholarships to international students with good academic records
Decide which province and city you want to live in
Canada has 10 provinces and three territories, and good colleges exist in most parts of the country. Many international students choose to study in major cities like Toronto (or the Greater Toronto Area), Vancouver, Ottawa, or Calgary to experience the urban lifestyle these cities offer. However, the cost of studying can be lower in smaller cities and less populated provinces.
In addition to your lifestyle, your college’s location can also impact your career prospects. If you plan on working part-time during your studies, account for the ease of finding a job close by. If you intend to stay and work in Canada after graduation on a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP), also consider if the college will enable you to build your professional network in your desired industry or field during your studies.
Network with college alumni
Reach out to current or past students of the colleges you’ve shortlisted. Their personal experience can often be more insightful than the information in college brochures. Networking with alumni of your college can help you understand the programs offered, the facilities available for students, the faculty, international student resources, employer networks, and more. The network you build before college admission can also be useful for your career after graduation.
How to get a student visa to attend college in Canada
To be eligible for a student visa, you must first get admission into a Canadian college or university that is an approved DLI. Once you receive a letter of acceptance (LOA) from your college, you must apply for a study permit.
In addition to the LOA, you need to provide proof of financial support in the form of a bank statement, education loan document, scholarship proof, or a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC). When your study permit application is approved, you receive a letter of introduction. You will need this letter to get your student visa when you arrive in Canada.
Students from 14 countries, including India, China, Brazil, and Pakistan are eligible for the Student Direct Stream through which your study permit application is usually processed within 20 calendar days. For international students applying under the SDS program, a GIC of $10,000 CAD ($11,000 CAD if you’re studying in Quebec) is mandatory.
College tuition fees for international students in Canada
Tuition fees will typically be your biggest expense while studying in Canada. The amount you pay will depend on the college you choose, the type and duration of your study program, and the city where your college is located.
On average, the international student tuition fee for a one-year certificate program is between $15,000 CAD and $27,000 CAD. For two-year diploma or three-year advanced diploma programs, the tuition fees may range from $12,000 CAD to $30,000 CAD per year. Some colleges in Canada also offer four-year bachelor’s degree programs and depending on the subject and college you pick, you should expect to spend between $12,000 CAD to $20,000 CAD on tuition fees.
Besides tuition, there are several other costs associated with studying in Canada. For instance, you’ll pay between $400 CAD to $1,800 CAD per month on accommodation, depending on the city you’re in and whether you plan to live on- or off-campus. You should also account for costs related to books, food, phone bills, transportation, and entertainment. You can use Arrive’s cost of studying calculator to get a detailed estimate of your annual and monthly cost of education in Canada.
Can I work in Canada while studying?
International students on a valid study permit can work while studying in Canada, provided they meet certain conditions. You must have a Social Insurance Number (SIN) and must already have started your studies.
To work on campus, you must be a full-time post-secondary student enrolled at a public school, a private school that can legally award degrees, or a private college-level school in Quebec that’s partially funded by government grants. There is no limit to the number of hours you can work on campus.
If you wish to work off campus while studying in a Canadian college, you must be a full-time student enrolled in a post-secondary program that’s at least six months long and leads to a degree, diploma, or certificate. You can only work off campus for up to 20 hours per week.
Can I stay in Canada after graduating?
You may be eligible for a Post-Graduation Work Permit that allows you to work in Canada after completing your studies. To qualify for a PGWP, you must have recently completed at least an eight-month long full-time study program at an approved DLI on a valid study permit. If you intend to work in Canada after graduation, make sure your study program meets the eligibility requirements for a PGWP. The length of your PGWP is linked to the duration of your study program, so a two-year program will qualify you for a two-year PGWP.
You also get additional points for your Canadian education when you apply for permanent residence (PR), provided you studied in Canada for at least one year. For instance, under the Express Entry program, a post-secondary Canadian credential is worth 15 to 30 Comprehensive Ranking System (CRS) points, depending on the length of your program.
If you plan to apply for PR after gathering Canadian work experience, you’ll get between 40 and 64 CRS points on your Express Entry profile and will also be eligible for the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) immigration program.
Studying in Canada can unlock a wide range of opportunities for international students and new permanent residents. Although some international students prefer universities, Canadian colleges have a lot to offer as well. With their focus on applied rather than theoretical learning, college programs can help international students become job-ready and learn skills that are sought after in Canada’s job market.