Post-secondary school in Canada

By Delaney Rombough

Posted on September 13, 2021

Post-secondary school in Canada includes universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutes (schools that offer advanced technical training for fields like engineering). Canadian schools consistently rank high in international university rankings. Students can earn a number of post-secondary qualifications at these institutions including certificates and diplomas, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, doctoral degrees, etc.
Colleges and universities across Canada offer a wide range of programs for students to choose from based on their educational and career goals. Canadian universities tend to be academic and research focused. Whereas colleges provide students with more hands-on, career-focused education and work experience. Attending university is a pathway to a master’s or PhD degree and many Canadian jobs require at least a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, colleges often offer direct pathways to specific jobs.

Applying to a post-secondary institution

Applying to university or college can be a daunting task for any student. The first thing students should do is determine what program they’d like to study, and then find out which schools offer that program. Students can apply for multiple programs at multiple schools, so they don’t need to make their final decision right away. Then students need to check the admissions requirements for their program of choice and make sure they complete the appropriate prerequisite courses. Students should be aware that there is an application fee for many universities and colleges.
Most colleges and universities require students to have completed Grade 12 English. If students are applying to math or science programs, they will also likely need to have Grade 12 calculus, Grade 12 physics, Grade 12 biology, and Grade 12 chemistry. Exact requirements may vary from province to province and from school to school, so students should check with their high school guidance counsellor or university program website to make sure they are meeting the requirements for the school and program they are applying to.

Once students are confident that they have met the admissions requirements, they’re ready to submit their online application. Most provinces have a centralized system that allows students to submit their applications to multiple schools with one application form. In Ontario, students use the Ontario Universities’ Applications Centre, also referred to as OUAC. In most cases, students’ high school transcripts will be sent directly from their high school to the school they are applying to. However, applying to school in another province may require additional documents. Applications are usually due in January, but it’s a good idea to start the process early.

Student life

Most Canadian universities and colleges operate on a semester system. A semester is typically between 12 and 14 weeks long, plus an exam period at the end of each semester. The first semester goes from September to December and the second semester goes from January to April. Some schools may also offer a summer semester from May to August. Students are given a personalized timetable. They may have the option to create their own schedule, or the school or department may determine their timetable.
Students on campus
Classes may start as early as 8:00 a.m. and end as late as 10:00 p.m. Students usually take four to six classes each semester. Classes may include large lectures, smaller tutorials, and labs. Typically, one class is approximately three hours per week of class time. Students can expect to do the majority of their school work outside of scheduled class hours. At most schools, students will need to take a certain number of credits in order to graduate.

The number of credits and class requirements vary from school to school and program to program. For example, students who attend the University of Toronto require 20.0 credits to graduate where most classes are equal to 0.5 credits. Meanwhile, students who attend McGill need 120 total credits where most classes are equal to 3 credits. Students will have to take specific courses to meet their program requirements, but there will also be a small number of elective courses. These are courses students can take outside of their major to fulfill the total number of credits required to graduate.

Student Services and Resources

Canadian universities offer a wide variety of resources and support services to their students. These resources range from academic support to on-campus events and activities. Here are some of the most common resources that Canadian universities offer:

  • Students’ Union: Students’ unions are the on-campus student government that protect the rights of students. They also offer programs and events and may organize student clubs and activities.
  • Libraries: Universities have extensive libraries where students can access academic resources and reading electronically or in hard copy. Most libraries have silent study spaces, group study rooms, and computers.
  • Health Services: On-campus health services are often available to students free of charge. Services may include first aid, birth control, pregnancy tests, sexually transmitted infection tests, physical exams, referrals, and mental health counselling.
  • Financial Aid Office: The financial aid office is the place to go if students have questions or concerns about tuition, their student loans, or scholarships and bursaries.
  • Sports and Recreation Facilities: Sports and recreation facilities are usually available free of charge for students. This may include gyms, pools, fitness classes, workout studios, and organized varsity and intramural sports.
  • Academic Support Services: Academic support services may include English language support, academic essay writing workshops, study skills workshops, and more.
  • Career Centre: The career centre may offer services, such as résumé and cover letter review, mock interviews, networking events, and individual career counselling.

Studying at a Canadian college or university is sure to help set students up for success no matter what their education and career goals are.

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