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Education Systems in Canada

Canada's education system consistently ranks among the best in the world. In 2009, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) ranked Canada 3rd among OECD member countries in reading, and 5th in both Mathematics and Science. Again in 2012, Canada maintained strong performance and outperformed other English-speaking countries in all three evaluations. Canada excels not only in studies in the English language but also specializes in bilingual education.

Canada is a well-educated nation at the post-secondary level. The proportion of Canadians aged 25 to 64 with a post-secondary degree or diploma is 53%, the highest in the OECD. Graduate degrees from Canadian universities, including masters and doctoral degrees, are highly regarded internationally and generally offer competitive tuition fees.

Canada is among the leaders in the G8 in terms of its per capita investment in education, leading to well-respected and superior faculty, programs, and institutions. Each province also offers students the ability to student in English, in French, or in both. Canada gives an excellent option to students for transfers between levels/types of education. The study pattern is flexible and exciting. Moreover, Canada is known for its laws allowing eligible students to work in Canada while studying and after graduation, and for providing opportunities for eligible graduates to attain permanent residence. The systems of education in Canada are comprehensive and recognized internationally for their high quality.

In the Canadian education system, students can have both between an academic education and a practical, experience-based one. In many programs of study, it is possible for students to do research or complete a co-op within the industry they wish to enter upon graduation. This is especially valuable for students seeking work in Canada after graduation and, possibly, to be permanent residents.

Levels of Education

The graphic below shows which educational pathways are available to students in various regions of Canada.

All school boards across Canada offer educational programs for children aged five to 17–18 years old. The levels range from Kindergarten to grade 11 (in Quebec) or grade 12. International students can expect to pay between $9,500 and $14,000 in tuition a year to study at the public elementary or secondary levels in Canada. After completion of the secondary school students have various options for study:

  • They can choose from colleges, universities, or technical institutes.
  • They can choose to take diploma or certificate courses, or full degree programs.
  • They can begin in one program or type of post-secondary institution, and then transfer to another as their interests and goals evolve.

University and college semesters generally run as follows:

  • First semester: early September to mid-December
  • Second semester: early January to early May
  • Summer holidays/Summer courses: May to September

Duration for each level

Bachelor Degree: 4 years

Diplomas: 1 -3 years

Masters/ Post Graduate: 2 yrs

Doctoral Programs: 4-7 yrs

What Is a Study Pathway?

A study pathway is the study plan the student will follow—as it relates to the institution(s) and degree(s), diploma(s), and certificate(s) they will use to gain the credentials and experience required for their desired career

Traditionally, students wanting full degrees in Canada have begun their post-secondary studies at universities with undergraduate degrees—bachelor’s—that generally require three to four years when undertaken on a full-time basis. They could then choose, either immediately upon successful completion of their “undergrad” degree or after working for a period of time, to progress to graduate degrees—master's and possibly then the highest level, doctoral—or to degrees in law or medicine (both of which require some level of prior undergraduate study), with admission contingent on high enough grades and/or other program-specific criteria.

Program searches should therefore include a broad range of institutions to ensure all possibilities are covered. It will be important to speak with specific institutions of interest to see what kind of study pathways are available to the student as they relate to the program of interest (e.g., opportunities for joint programs, co-operative education, internships, etc.) Co-operative education, or "co-op," allows students to gain academic credit for hands-on work experience related to their program of study.

When conducting a program search, you can use our searchable course database of Canadian institutions .

University Transfer Programs

Many colleges and polytechnics have agreements with universities whereby certain courses are transferable and will be recognized by the university as counting toward a university degree. These transfer programs are increasingly popular because they allow students to take the first one or two years of a typical four-year university degree at a college, before transferring to complete the final two years of the degree at university. There are also some colleges and universities that offer joint diplomas and degrees, including agreements with other international institutions.

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