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A Guide to Studying in Canada after Grade XII

Canada is among the most popular study-abroad destinations for international students targeting undergraduate programs. High-quality education at a relatively lower cost, opportunities for research, a welcoming environment, a vibrant student life, a diverse community, and scholarship opportunities for deserving students are just a few factors contributing to this. The cherry on top is that it is a lucrative destination for Permanent Residency (PR).

Most Canadian undergraduate courses have a duration of 4 years, except a few that can be completed in 3 years. Students can choose between public and private colleges, universities, and polytechnic institutions. All universities in Canada offer bachelor’s degree programs. The colleges and polytechnic institutions are affiliated with universities and provide shorter, career-focused programs. These are usually industry-driven courses focusing on professional development. Most Canadian universities and colleges follow a two-semester system, where the first semester begins in September and ends in December while the second semester usually starts in January and ends in April/May.

Canadian undergraduate admissions process has become increasingly competitive over the last few years. Therefore, students need a clear action plan to put their best foot forward during their high school years – preferably Grade IX onwards – to get into their dream university/college in Canada.

Let us now answer some of the most common questions about Canada as a study destination.


What Are The Major Fields of Study?


Canada is a popular destination for studying Economics, Engineering, Public Health, Finance & Accounting, Business Administration, and History. Arts & Design and Hospitality & Tourism Management programs also attract many international students. Students interested in these fields must satisfy the minimum academic requirements to get admits in top universities. These requirements often vary from those in India. For example, to pursue a major in Business Studies in Canada, students must have mathematics as a core subject during high school. Therefore, it is important to choose the relevant optional subjects and streams from Grade IX.


What Are The Top Universities in Canada?


According to QS World University Rankings 2023, the top 5 Canadian universities are McGill University, University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, University of Alberta, and Université de Montréal respectively. Interestingly, University of Toronto has the highest score in terms of Academic Reputation (99.6 out of 100) while University of British Columbia holds the top position in International Research Network (97.9 out of 100). Students targeting these universities must be well-rounded with accolades in academics and extra-curricular activities. The most important aspects considered by top universities are:

  • Secondary school exams/grades/GPA
  • Grades in AP courses (some universities also recognize SAT scores)
  • Scores on English language proficiency tests (IELTS/TOEFL)
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Letters of reference


When to start preparing?


Ideally, students should start planning for their bachelor’s abroad as soon as they enter Grade IX. Since most universities will look at the students’ academic and co-curricular performance starting at this grade, it is essential that they maintain high scores, especially in their preferred subjects, right through Grade XII. Doing well in the board exams is a given, but universities also look at the scores obtained during midterms and year-end exams. Additionally, these years allow students to explore more meaningful avenues to develop a strong profile.

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Which co-curricular activities are considered?


Universities in Canada place more emphasis on co-curricular activities rather than extracurricular activities. Therefore, it is essential for students to participate in events that help them prove their expertise in different subjects. Participating in international or national Olympiads for Math, Science, or even English can help students here. They may also consider delving deeper in the subjects of their choice. Among the best ways of doing this is writing research papers under the guidance of erudite professors.


Which Standardized Test Scores are considered?


Canada requires international students to appear for either the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to assess whether they meet the minimum linguistic requirements. Most Canadian universities require an overall 6.5 Band Score (with no Bands less than 6.0) on the IELTS or an 80 on the TOEFL. Most Canadian universities also accept AP scores. Students aiming for top universities in Canada should go the extra mile and consider taking some AP courses.


Which essays are required?


Most Canadian universities will require students to write essays during their application process. Some of these essays can be university-specific while others focus on situations from daily life where students are required to write about how their traits helped them overcome challenges or contribute to society. Apart from these, some universities require a Statement of Purpose (SoP). The SoP highlights the reasons behind choosing a specific university or an area of study. It often shows the admissions committee how the applicant developed an interest in a particular field of study and how he/she has nurtured and strengthened it further. Students must research the universities they are applying to in order to draft personalized SoPs. It is difficult to make it to top universities with the same generic SoP.

Additionally, students are required to submit Letters of Recommendation (LoRs). These are written by the school counselors and/or subject teachers from the current school. It is essential to contact the right teachers for these. Students should maintain a good rapport with the teachers who teach them their favorite subjects, so that they can provide detailed LoRs with specific observations. LoRs should mainly contain the behavioral observations of the applicant. They should refer to students’ academic and co-curricular performance, any awards/achievements, or leadership positions held at school.


Are there any scholarship opportunities?


Many top universities in Canada offer scholarships to deserving international students. To be considered, the students must have a well-rounded profile as mentioned earlier. The nature of these scholarships varies depending on whether they are government-funded, non-government, or institutional. One of the most popular – the Lester B. Pearson scholarship – is offered by the University of Toronto. University of British Columbia and University of Waterloo also offer scholarships. Most of the government-funded scholarships are given to doctoral students while the non-government scholarships are mainly made available to students pursuing masters or doctoral degrees in Canada.


How to apply?


The application process for Canadian universities can be daunting for students. Many universities do not follow a centralized process and so, students may need to switch from one website to another if they are applying to multiple universities. Sometimes, the same university has different requirements for different majors. However, there are some central application portals like the OUAC (Ontario Universities’ Application Centre), ApplyAlberta, or EducationPlannerBC (for British Columbia) that allow students to apply to the universities of their choice in specific Canadian provinces. A small number of Canadian universities also accept applications through CommonApp.


What are the intakes and application deadlines?


There are three intakes in Canada. The table below lists all the important aspects of these intakes.

(Fall Intake)
(Winter/Spring Intake)
(Summer Intake)
NaturePrimary IntakeSecondary IntakeOnly for limited universities
AvailabilityAll programsMajority of programsOnly selected programs
Number of ApplicationsLargest numbersUsually for late applicantsVery limited applicants
ScholarshipsLargest numbersLimitedRare possibility
DeadlinesDecember to MarchSeptember to NovemberOctober to February

To sum up, students need to plan early if they wish to secure an admit in a top Canadian institution. They must research the university and ensure that they meet all the requirements. Canada does offer opportunities for scholarships, provided that the student has an excellent profile. Students need to visit the relevant websites to apply while keeping the application deadlines in mind.


About the Author: 

Aashay Ghadge is an American TESOL Certified English Trainer. He has spent over 5 years teaching 4000+ students from varied cultural and educational backgrounds across China and Thailand. He also has certifications for teaching IELTS, TOEFL iBT, and PTE from exam-conducting bodies like Cambridge, IDP, ETS, and Pearson. He has been helping students succeed in these tests since 2018.

Scholarly helps ambitious international students locate the right universities and courses to pursue their education. We provide college credit courses and research papers to students that want to learn more and differentiate themselves. We help students develop and present their best version to their dream university. Our recommendations are based on the student’s field of interest, academic performance, financial resources and career plans. We provide test preparation classes from the best teachers to help improve scores and thus the prospects for admission. We also assist students with their visa and loan applications to reduce the anxiety associated with international education.

For additional questions about international education, choice of majors, university selection or admission strategies please visit the Questions section of our website.

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