Canadian University Treasures

McGill University Arts Building.  Photo  by  TMAB2003  /  CC BY-ND

McGill University Arts Building. Photo by TMAB2003 / CC BY-ND

Canadian colleges are a meaningful option for American students. Every year almost 12,000 American undergraduate students enroll as full time students in Canada, about the same number that comes to Canada from France. Canadian colleges are world leaders in quality and value, are relatively easy to get to and from, are priced well compared to similar American colleges even at international student rates, and grant internationally recognizable diplomas. Canada is the world’s sixth most popular destination for international students, and 6.5% of Canadian college students are from outside of Canada.

Canadian admission officers are knowledgeable of American high schools and can process standard documents from high schools and testing services. Canadian college applications emphasize transcripts, often called “Marks.” All Canadian colleges are motivated to work with American applicants.

On-campus housing is generally less common among Canadian colleges than at comparable American colleges. Colleges historically assumed that students would enroll in the nearest school and live at home. Freshmen receive priority, but upperclassmen can expect to live off-campus. Because of the variability in room and board costs, families need to consider carefully housing arrangements when they project college costs

American students can use Direct/Stafford Loans to pay for Canadian colleges. They cannot use Pell Grants, FSEOG or state need-based awards (such as Cal-Grants in California).  

Like their American cousins, Canadian colleges offer a range of choices. Representative of broader choices, I’ve profiled ten Canadian university treasures. These schools are in six of Canada’s thirteen provinces and territories, including Ontario (38% of Canada’s population) and New Brunswick (2%). They are spread from the Atlantic (Nova Scotia) to the Pacific (British Columbia). Acknowledging Canada’s linguistic heritage, they are English- and French-taught. There is also a big spread in student population: 1,300 to 81,000. I picked these ten because, simply, I like them. Eight of these schools are proven winners, one is a strong surfer on a big wave, and one is a fascinating wildcard.


Research University Powerhouses

University of British Columbia, Vancouver

University of British Columbia is a major research university in crazy-diverse Vancouver. Capturing the value of being on the Pacific Rim, UBC’s East Asian Studies Department is a world leader. The Chinese language program was begun in 1957 and is the largest in North America. Chinese Language, Literature and Classical Chinese programs are structured differently for heritage and non-heritage learners, and there are classes for Cantonese speakers to learn Mandarin. Also offered: Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Punjabi and Sanskrit. Intercollegiate sports life is healthy, and the 2010 Winter Olympics left behind several fabulous facilities for UBC teams. 

Application deadline: January 31

Expenses: Tuition, Scholarships and Support

Fly to: Vancouver International Airport


McGill University, Montreal, Quebec

McGill is a world class public research university, and its students have the highest average entering grades of all colleges in Canada. McGill is exceptionally strong in the life sciences, and recently expanded biomedical research through the McGill University Life Sciences Complex. But it’s not always serious: each January McGill hosts theAnnual Intercollegiate Woodsmen Competition which includes challenges in axe throwing, swede sawing, pole climbing, snowshoe racing and water boiling. About 10% of McGill undergraduates are Americans.

Application deadline: January 15, plus rolling admission

Expenses: McGill Cost of Attendance

Fly to: Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport


University of Toronto, Ontario

Measured dollar per student, the University of Toronto is one of the most research intensive in North America. UT is huge: 65,612 undergraduates; 15,287 graduate students; 11,581 faculty; 32 libraries....and more. UT makes an effort to make undergraduate life comfortable, and divides students into 9 administrative units (called “Colleges”) of between 1,700 and 6,000 students. The Colleges provide some housing, advising and community life, and host some interdisciplinary departments. UT has Canada’s largest Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. Toronto gets great reviews as a student-friendly city.

Application deadline: March 1.

Expenses: University of Toronto Expected Costs

Fly to: Toronto Pearson International Airport


Math Powerhouse

University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario

Waterloo is the 5th most winning school since 1990 in the Putnam Mathematical Competition. No wonder--Waterloo is especially strong in business, economics, architecture, engineering, math and computer science. Math and computer science alone have 45 academic programs which can be built from 300 classes. Waterloo is consistently one of Google’s three leading recruiting hubs, and Blackberry started here. This school is a techie’s dream: the student newspaper gives advice on how to turn “Integration allows you to calculate the area under the curve” into poetry.

Application deadline: March 28, with departmental variations

Expenses: Undergraduate Tuition and Other Fees

Fly in to: Toronto Pearson International Airport


Game Changers

Art Institute of Vancouver, British Columbia

The explosive growth in game design has created a jumble of options for higher education, and VanArts -- “Where Creativity Goes to School” -- is a for-profit art school. VanArts offers a BS in Web Design and Game Programming, along with certificates in culinary arts, fashion and interior design, and recording arts. The largest Game Programing entry point is October, when a class of 30 to 50 begins, but there are other options. The campus bookstore is an Apple Store.  Education Management Corporation, a publicly traded company, owns VanArts.  

Application deadline: Rolling with two week admission decision

Expenses: Art Institute of Vancouver Tuition and Fees Schedule

Fly to: Vancouver International Airport


Les Universités Francophones de Canada

Université de Montréal, Quebec

Université de Montréal has Canada’s second largest student enrollment and third largest research funding. It is very popular with rising stars in the francophone world. Students are very politically-minded, and the university has seen more than its fair share of student strikes. All instruction and administration is in French. Students entering from non-francophone schools must take a French proficiency examination. Some support is available for French-as-Second-Language learners. An affiliated college, HEC Montréal, offers the Bachelor of Business Administration in French, French/English, and French/English/Spanish.  

Application deadline: February 1, although students are admitted as space allows

Expenses: Tuition, Room and Board, and Mandatory Fees vary between academic programs and student’s residency: Quebec, other Canadian provinces, France, refugee, francophone countries which have negotiated a relationship, and all other.

Fly to: Montréal-Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport


Outside the Box

Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia

Opened in 1965, Simon Fraser is Canada’s youngest public research university, and the most innovative. SFU is the only college outside of the US in the NCAA (Division II’s Great Northwest Athletic Conference). SFU offers dual degree programs with Monash University in Australia in several liberal arts fields, most notably “First Nations”. Partnering with Zheijang University, Dual Degrees in Computing Science grants students degrees from both schools, requiring all students to study English and Mandarin. With strong roots in technical co-op programs, these dual degree SFU students can readily access Chinese internships. And then there is UniverCity, a major urban development designed for sustainability on Simon Fraser land.

Admission deadline: April 30

Expenses: Undergraduate Fees

Fly to: Vancouver International Airport


Peaceful Places

Mount Allison University, Sackville, New Brunswick

Mount Allison is a Liberal Arts College with a breathtakingly beautiful campus in the middle of the Maritime provinces. Mount Allison attracts well rounded students, and in the past 10 years has graduated 8 Rhodes Scholars. Two noteworthy programs are The Interdisciplinary Aviation B.Sc. Program, and  The Meighen Centre for Learning Assistance and Research. The Meighen Center is one of the 20 best schools in North America for students with learning disabilities, and requires a separate application. Interdenominational Vespers are held every Sunday night. Just reading Mount Allison’s website is soothing.

Application deadline: Applications are accepted throughout the year for September and January admission. 

Expenses: Financial Info

Fly in to: Greater Moncton International Airport


University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

U of S is a public research university in a beautiful and often overlooked part of Canada. Some call Saskatoon “The Paris of the Prairies”, and the University of Saskatchewan, built in the early 1900’s, is its crown jewel. The university is surrounded by a sizable greenbelt and has easy access to some of the world’s best cross country skiing. Between theWestern College of Veterinary Medicine and historically strong agriculture programs, U of S is a great place for interdisciplinary animal sciences. Fun fact: Actor Kim Coates, “Tig” on Sons of Anarchy, graduated from University of Saskatchewan in 1981.

Application deadline:  April 1

Expenses: Explore Tuition and Costs

Fly to: Saskatoon International Airport


Wild Card

Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia

Dalhousie is the wildcard on this list. It has the look and charm of an old New England liberal arts campus and enrolls just under 200 American students. Dalhousie is cozy. It is also working to put itself ahead of the crash of budget cuts and declining provincial enrollment, and has targeted a more sustainable 18:1 student/teacher ratio.  Dalhousie’s stategic plan is worth reading to think about any college. Among the proposals: redirect research funds into teaching time, shore up residential life, recruit aggressively outside of Nova Scotia, strengthen campus activities, perhaps with a co-curricular transcript. Dalhousie has a lot of promise.

Application deadline: June 1 for Canadian and American students

Expenses: Tuition, Fees and Costs

Fly to: Halifax Stanfield International Airport