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Canadian Education System - Understand How it Works

Everything you need to know about the education system in Canada.

One of the major reasons behind Canada’s popularity among students is its affordable quality education. The Canadian government spends generously on higher education and is among the top three countries to spend per capital on post-secondary education. Let’s find out more about the Canadian education system.

Study levels in Canada

Since the education system in Canada is managed by the provincial governments, the study levels and educational stages may lie in different clusters with different names. Here’s a synopsis:

Certificates and Diploma

1 to 2 years

Vocational and job-oriented programs, mainly technical

Associate Degree

2 years

Equivalent to first two years of a 4-year bachelor’s degree

Bachelor's degree

3 to 4 years

An undergraduate degree which requires successful completion of secondary school. The duration of your course depends on the province and type of program although most courses last for 4 years. Certain provinces like Quebec have bachelor’s degree of 3 years.

Bachelor's Honors degree

4 years

This will require getting a specific GPA or credits, a majors or a specialist program

Postgraduate diploma

1 to 2 years

A post Bachelor’s degree qualification

Master's degree (by thesis)

1 to 2 years

Often referred to as research masters, this requires mandatory submission of thesis for assessment and course completion

Master's degree (by non-thesis)

1 to 2 years

This is a taught master’s degree, not requiring thesis submission

Doctorate or PhD

4 to 7 years

Ph.D. is awarded when students complete dissertation and successfully defend their work before a panel of faculty members

Post-Doctoral Programs

No time limit

Specialized research-oriented programs

Academic Year

Most colleges and universities typically offer classes from early September until the end of April or early May. The winter session is usually divided into two terms that operate from September to December and then from January to April. There are several different kinds of summer studies offered between May and August. There are also a few select schools in Canada that offer year-round schooling.

Depending on the university, undergraduate degrees can take either three or four years to complete. Depending on the type of degree, postgraduate degrees take between one and two years to complete. Master’s programs generally take between one to two years and PhD programs are longer than in other countries. They usually take between four and seven years to complete.

Teaching and Leaning Style

As well as Canadian universities being devoted to research and high-quality teaching, they also aim to provide opportunities that improve students’ learning, career and life. Classes at university are a combination of lectures and tutorials. Lectures are taught by professors and can contain anywhere between 30 to 200 students. They usually have a linked component such as a lab or a tutorial.

A tutorial or lab allows a more in-depth discussion of topics within a course. The sizes of tutorials generally range anywhere from 20 to 30 students.

Education costs

There’s no doubt that it can be expensive for students to study overseas. However, in comparison to the UK, Australia, New Zealand and the US, Canada offers the lowest tuition rates for foreign students. To cover tuition fees, you will need between CA$7000 and CA$29,000 a year. However, this is a general guide only and cost varies in relation to the institution and program you are applying for, as well as the location and lifestyle.

Generally speaking, humanities, education and arts courses are cheaper, while subjects such as medicine and engineering are likely to be more expensive. If you wish to study at postgraduate level, the tuition fees are typically higher and the costs vary depending on the program. As with most other countries, MBA programs are often the most expensive. The average cost for these programs is around CA$42,000.


Some Canadian universities and schools offer scholarships and awards for international students who achieve outstanding results. The amount of money available and type of award varies between the various institutions. Getting a scholarship is competitive and you must generally apply directly to the school that offers them.

Listed below are some of the more popular scholarships.

Canadian Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan

This program is designed to enable students to pursue programs of advanced study and research at the master and PhD level in Commonwealth countries other than their own. The award comprises travel, living allowance and all compulsory tuition fees.

Shastri Indo – Canadian Institute

Offers several fellowships at various levels from graduate to postdoctorate and from research to training fellowships.

National Research Council of Canada (NRCC)

Research associateships are offered to Master’s degree holders in engineering and PhD holders in natural science or engineering disciplines.

Ontario Graduate Scholarship Program

For graduate students in a wide variety of disciplines. Students must accept an offer from a university in Ontario and obtain a valid student permit (visa).


Supports both basic university research through research grants and project research via partnerships of universities and industry.

Quebec Provincial Government Scholarship

For students studying in Quebec. Financial assistance is available to students studying master’s level or above. Each application is assessed on its own merit.

Ontario Trillium Scholarship

First announced in November 2010 for the best doctoral students from around the world to study in Ontario. Each scholarship is worth $40,000 annually, renewable for a maximum of four years. 75 scholarships are awarded each year.

Ontario universities are responsible for selecting and awarding scholarships to international PhD students based on merit and program.

Interested in studying abroad with DPIMMI ?​