Affordable College Education in Canada

If the cost of college is a consideration, any bright, ambitious and adventurous American student would do well to consider adding a few Canadian universities to her list of target schools.

Canada’s top universities are a match for any school in the United States – and usually at a much lower cost. Canada’s provinces provide substantial financial support to their universities, which translates into very favorable tuition rates. Even an international student from the US would probably pay no more in tuition, fees and other costs than he would at a public university in his home state.

But of course, an American studying in Canada won’t be limited to schools within a few hours of home. There are educational bargains through this vast, continental republic – geographically as large, and nearly as varied, as the United States – which make Canada well worth a look.

While Canada resembles the US in many ways, there are marked differences. Canada has only one tenth the population of the US, so – outside of a few metropolitan areas – it feels far less crowded. No campus in Canada is far from natural scenes, and those who love the great outdoors – for spiritual reasons, for recreation, or for study – will find much to love in the “old West” landscapes of Alberta, the rocky coastlines of the Maritime provinces, and the glorious diversity of British Columbia.

There are also a subtle differences in the human landscape. While Canada is subject to all the problems of modernity, most American visitors notice a civility and generosity of spirit which seem to permeate Canadian society. It’s also true that Canada has no history of African slavery – and a very different story of westward expansion – two facts which have contributed to the creation of a distinctive Canadian national character.

As international students, young American will immerse themselves in the life of a nation which resembles America in many ways – but which lacks both the arrogance and the insecurities of a super-power struggling to maintain its world leadership. Canada, which has never been a super-power, tends to be more open toward the world – and more inclined to multinational cooperation. American students interested in working internationally – in business, in science or technology, in the non-profit sector, or in international relations – may find that four years in Canada will equip them with a useful perspective impossible to gain back home.

American students will also find themselves among classmates who are very serious about their academic work. Like the United States, Canadian society places a high value on education – but with interesting differences in emphasis. Canada has a higher percentage of young people enrolled in post-secondary education than the United States, but the percentage attending universities is somewhat smaller. The difference is accounted for by Canada’s greater emphasis on technical and career training for high school graduates. In Canada, universities exist to serve the most academically-oriented students – and the competition for admission and caliber of student bodies are accordingly high.

Canada’s universities range from huge institutions – the University of Toronto has over 60,000 undergraduates – to small, liberal arts and sciences schools such as top-rated Mount Allison University, with only 2300. Whatever their size, all degree-granting institutions of higher learning are termed “universities”. (In Canada, the term “college” is reserved for community colleges and career training schools.)

Finding an affordable college education in Canada is not all that hard to do. To be sure, most American students will have to do their own research. Few guidance counselors will be much help in exploring an educational landscape where universities as good as Harvard or Princeton, Michigan or Virginia, Hampshire or Reed – go by such unfamiliar names as McGill and Queen’s, Simon Fraser and Victoria, Mount Allison and Acadia.

For Americans and other international students beginning their research of Canada’s universities, two resources are invaluable.

Maclean’s magazine, Canada’s weekly news magazine, publishes annual rankings in three categories: Medical/Doctoral (larger universities offering a full range of graduate and professional programs); Comprehensive (universities offering some graduate and professional programs); and Primarily Undergraduate (universities which focus on undergraduate education, with few or no graduate programs). Maclean’s rankings use statistical data furnished by the participating schools and are widely recognized as a very helpful tool in college selection.

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s second largest-selling newspaper, offers another ranking system, which makes greater use of input from students. Through its E-zine, “Canadian University Report”, it provides a wealth of information in a very accessible format.

Because of the relatively small number of universities in Canada, an American student using these two resources should be able to narrow her list to a handful of choices fairly quickly. Three criteria will be helpful in this process:

First, students who don’t want to spend four years attending classes conducted in French can eliminate the francophone universities right off.

Second, students with a good idea what size school they prefer will discover that Canada’s universities tend to come in three sizes – very large, moderately large, and quite small.

Third, because of the distribution of Canada’s population, the majority of English-speaking universities are located in Atlantic Canada and the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario. There are, to be sure, excellent exceptions to this rule, but students planning to visit more than one campus will probably want to start by looking at these three regions.

Wherever he looks, an American student will discover that Canada offers outstanding educational opportunities at very affordable prices.

Then comes the fun part – planning that first trip north to visit the universities which made the list!


Wikipedia, “List of Universities in Canada”.

Globe and Mail, .

Macleans magazine, . .