Unsurprisingly, Canada stands out as a top study-abroad destination among international students. It is particularly popular among students who prioritize a high-quality education and exposure to a multicultural environment. Canada is the best place to pursue education if you aim to enjoy the work-study options available to international students.

Whether you’re interested in engineering, arts, business, or medicine, Canadian universities offer many programs that will match your interests. Canada boasts several excellent programs for international students, from degree programs to professional diplomas. If you believe Canada is your best study destination, you’re in the right place. This article covers the eligibility criteria, required documents, deadlines, and more!

Can International Students Apply to a University in Canada?

International students can apply to Canadian universities if they fulfill the requirements specified by their program and meet the criteria set by the university they’re applying to. English is the primary language of instruction in most Canadian universities, apart from a handful of institutions in Quebec and other regions. Quebec universities offer programs in French and, in some cases, may offer bilingual programs.

International students who want to study English language programs must provide proof of English language proficiency. The common practice is to take standardized tests, such as IELTS, TOEFL, or PTE Academic, and forward scores to the institute you’re applying to. The University of Toronto, for instance, requires a minimum TOEFL score of 89 (internet-based test).

Similarly, the university specifies a minimum score of 6.5 on the IELTS test. Some Canadian universities also accept a medium of instruction certificate from the previous academic institute as proof of English language proficiency.

What are the Entry Requirements to Study in Canada?

Once received at a designated learning institute (DLI), you will need a study permit to enter Canada. A study permit allows students to study in Canada for a specific period. However, it is not the same as a visa. Thus, students might also have to obtain a visitor visa or an electronic travel authorization.

Although not always required, additional clearance may be necessary through a medical examination or police certificate to enter Canada for study purposes. Financial stability is part of the entry requirements in Canada. Students must demonstrate financial stability and provide proof of financial aid (if provided by the university).

Steps on How to Apply to Canadian Universities

Are you ready to take the next leap in your academic journey in Canada? Applying to Canadian universities is quite simple. Here is a step-by-step guide for international students applying to universities in Canada:

Step 1. Research Canadian universities and programs

Before applying to any Canadian university, you must conduct thorough research. This could involve checking which programs Canadian universities offer, admission requirements, English proficiency requirements, and the tuition fee for international students.

One way to find out is by checking each institute’s website for details. You could also use the Canadian University Application Center (CUAC), a centralized platform that offers program details and other admission requirements for Canadian universities.

Step 2. Make your final selection

Conducting research will help determine which institutes and programs align with your career objectives and academic background. Shortlisting universities and programs that appeal to you the most is an excellent way to remain organized during the application process.

If you’re applying to multiple universities, don’t forget to consider the specific deadlines and varying application procedures. Make sure to check the application fee for each selected institute.

Step 3. Complete application forms

Follow the admission guidelines to fill out the application forms for your selected schools. You can do this on the university website or through centralized application portals such as the Ontario Universities Application Center (OUAC), which is specifically designed for undergraduate students.

Specific instructions on filling out the application forms are variable. This makes it essential to check the university website for further clarification.

Step 4. Upload the required documents

Your application is considered incomplete without submitting the required documents. This includes academic transcripts, recommendation letters, and portfolios based on the specific program requirements.

Academic transcripts must be sent from the official institute email to be considered official. Some undergraduate and graduate programs require students to submit a personal statement or other supplemental essays, without which their application is considered incomplete.

Step 5. Apply for a study permit and visa

Upon acceptance, you will receive an admission letter from the schools you have applied to. You will need this letter to apply for a study permit and visa to stay in Canada for your studies.

You can apply for a visa and study permit online or through a visa application center in your country. Don’t forget to submit the required documents, such as your acceptance letter, proof of funds, identity documents, biometrics, and medical exam results.

Step 6. Prepare for arrival

Before departing from your home country, arrange travel, accommodation, health insurance, and banking. The institute’s international student services or association can assist with settling abroad as an international student.

For instance, the International Student Services at McGill University offers vital information to international students regarding healthcare, immigration, and programs and events.

Step 7. Register for courses and pay tuition fees

To secure admission at a specific Canadian university, it is imperative to pay the tuition fee. The student portal for each university provides a detailed overview of the tuition fees and payment methods for international students.

Once you have paid the fee, contact your academic advisor or program coordinator for assistance with course selection. They can also provide details regarding extracurricular activities and other opportunities most suitable for you.

General Admission Documents

1. High School Diploma or Bachelor’s Degree Certificate

Students applying to bachelor’s programs must submit their high school diploma as proof of their academic qualifications and program eligibility. If the original document is not in English or French, you must ensure certified translations for it to be considered valid by the admission committee.

If you’re applying for a master’s program, submit your Bachelor’s Degree Certificate and the high school diploma to ensure you meet the admission requirements.

2. Academic Transcripts

Academic transcripts give the admissions committee a detailed overview of your academic performance through your grades and coursework from previous institutions. Many Canadian universities, such as the University of Alberta, the University of Waterloo, and McGill University, provide entrance scholarships to students based on their previous academic performance evaluated through academic transcripts.

3. Language Proficiency Documents

As an international student, you must demonstrate language proficiency by submitting your scores on standardized language tests. Canadian universities generally accept IELTS, TOEFL, and Cambridge C1 advanced tests. The minimum score for each test varies from university to university. For instance, McMaster University accepts a minimum IELTS score of 6.5, while the University of Toronto requires a 7.0 score.

If you’re applying for a program in French, the TEF, TCF, DELF, and the DALF test. Some universities, such as the University of Ottawa, conduct French as a Second Language Test (FSL) to check language proficiency.

4. Recommendation Letters

Certain Canadian universities require students to provide recommendation letters. This includes the University of Ottawa, which requires students to submit a specific number of letters of recommendation depending on the program they are applying to.

According to the program requirements, the letters must be written in English or French. Ensure they are written by teachers or professors, attesting to your professional and educational performance.

5. Personal Statement (graduate programs)

A personal statement or an essay may be required when applying to more competitive programs. These are usually part of the application for several professional and graduate programs at universities such as the University of Toronto.

The essay elaborates on your academic background, work experience, motivation, and career objectives. It offers a more holistic perspective and allows applicants to stand out from other students.

6. Resume (graduate programs)

Some graduate programs at Canadian universities may require students to submit resumes summarizing their work experience and professional background.

The University of Ottawa, for example, requires graduate students to submit a current resume that includes awards and recognitions. However, the university requires three professional and academic references and contact information mentioned in the resume for verification.

7. Portfolio/ Work Samples

Some programs require students to submit portfolios to showcase their practical skills and talents. Such programs include Architecture, Landscape, and Design programs where the admissions committee must assess applicants’ creative work through their portfolio.

Although the requirements vary by university, most institutes (such as the University of Toronto) require students to submit at least 5 work samples, sequencing them according to what they want to communicate. A concise description, including your role, the context of work, and the project’s duration, must accompany the project. If applying for different programs, you must upload a separate portfolio for each application.

Optional Materials / Documents to Consider

Although your academic transcript, personal statement, and resume will highlight your strengths comprehensively, submitting the following optional materials strengthens your application:

1. Awards and Achievements

Awards and achievements include certificates, trophies, and other awards for academic and extracurricular activities or community service. These items can highlight your talents and skills, enhancing other aspects of your personality besides academic achievements.

2. Research Projects and Publications

Graduate applicants can supplement their application by submitting research projects they have participated in. They could also share publications such as reports, articles, or posters that shed light on your contributions to your field of study.

3. Volunteer Experience and Personal Activities

Presenting records of your volunteer work, internships, or paid positions that align with your field of study can complement your application, especially if you are a prospective graduate student.

You could also highlight personal hobbies, interests, and passions that, although unrelated to your academic program, provide the admissions committee with an interesting aspect of your personality.

Key Facts for Applying to Canadian Universities

1. Canada Boasts Affordable and Flexible Study Options

Contrary to popular opinion, Canadian universities offer relatively low tuition fees and living costs for international students compared to European countries.

Apart from the low costs, these institutes offer flexible study options to students with various programs ranging from degree programs (graduate, undergraduate, and post-doctoral) to professional programs and professional diplomas for international students. Several universities also offer Cooperative education programs that combine academic study with paid work experience, aiming to equip students with professional work experience.

2. International Students Can Avail Scholarships and Funding Opportunities

Despite the relatively low tuition costs, Canadian universities provide several scholarships and funding options for international students. Many universities offer entrance awards based on the admission average of the prospective student. They also provide other scholarships, including the Emerging Leaders in the Americas Programs, Banting Postdoctoral fellowships, and the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships.

Some Canadian universities offer awards to domestic and international students, automatically considering first-year applicants for such awards. This includes the President’s Scholars of Excellence Program (provided by the University of Toronto), offering a $ 10,000 prize to 150 outstanding students during their first year.

3. International Students Enjoy Several Post-Graduation and Immigration Opportunities

The flexible post-graduation work permit and immigration programs make Canada an appealing option for international students. After completing your degree, you may be eligible for a post-graduation work permit, allowing you to stay and gain work experience in Canada for up to three years. However, only students who graduated from a DLI (designated learning institute) may be eligible for the PGWP.

4. Each Canadian University Has Different Application Processes and Deadlines

Unlike most American universities, Canadian universities have very different admission requirements, which vary from institution to institution. Although many colleges use centralized application portals like the OUAC, others feature their application platforms. This necessitates thorough research regarding admission requirements and deadlines, especially as an international student.

5. Canadian Universities Offer Education Competitive With Ivy Leagues

Although there are no Ivy League colleges in Canada, it boasts excellent education standards that are competitive with Ivy League colleges. The top ten universities in Canada fall under the category of U15, a group of leading research universities in Canada. The University of Toronto, The University of Waterloo, McGill University, and McMaster University fall under this category.

Canada is known for its perks, high-quality education, affordable tuition fees, and flexible visa options, making it a popular study-abroad destination among international students.


We hope this comprehensive guide offered valuable insights regarding applying to Canadian universities with in-depth details. To learn more information about studying in Canada, check out the Study in Canada page and browse through the Canada Programs for International Students to explore your study options.

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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