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Want to study in Canada? Here's what you need to know

We take you through specifics about the Canadian post-education system, from popular schools to how much living here will cost.

If you're a newcomer to Canada and want to further your education, or if you're considering coming to Canada to attend post-secondary school, you likely have a lot of questions. From how much you can expect to pay for tuition to what your housing options are, it can be hard to track down all the important information.

But don't worry — we'll walk you through everything you need to know about the Canadian education system.

Canadian post-secondary 101

The first thing you need to know about Canadian post-secondary schools is that we have two main types of educational institutions: colleges and universities.

Canadian colleges

Colleges in Canada tend to focus on applied professions and offer diplomas instead of degrees. So, if you're interested in learning a trade to become a plumber or electrician, a college is the institution you'd choose. Colleges can also offer certain nursing programs or diplomas in fields like business or graphic design.

Programs at colleges can be as short as a year or as long as several years. Some include apprenticeship programs as part of your studies.

Many international students choose to go to Canadian colleges because the international fees and tuition tend to be cheaper than at Canadian universities.

Canadian universities

Universities offer degree programs. While not all universities have undergraduate and graduate program options in Canada, many do. An undergraduate program in Canada typically lasts four years, while master's degree programs can be one to three years and PhD programs vary in length by program and school.

Other key info

While Canada's colleges and universities are primarily public institutions that are partly funded with tax dollars, Canada has a limited number of for-profit and non-profit private colleges and universities. These tend to cost more than public schools.

The other important thing to note is that although most schools offer instruction in English, Canada also has a number of French-speaking post-secondary options at various levels of education.

Finally, international students considering studying in Canada should be aware of frauds and scams that target them and other students. If you do your homework, you can protect yourself against common scams like fake apartment rentals, fraudulent job postings or offers and check overpayment scams.

List of colleges and universities

For a full list of colleges and universities, see the Government of Canada's website. However, here are some of Canada's best known schools in each province:


University of Alberta
University of Calgary
Mount Royal College

British Columbia

University of British Columbia
University of Victoria
Douglas College


University of Manitoba
University of Winnipeg
St. John's College

New Brunswick

Mount Allison University
Saint Thomas University

Newfoundland and Labrador

Memorial University
Sir Wilfred Grenfell College

Nova Scotia

Acadia University
Dalhousie University


University of Toronto
Queen's University
University of Ottawa
University of Waterloo

Prince Edward Island

University of Prince Edward Island


Concordia University
McGill University
Ecole Polytechnique


University of Regina
University of Saskatchewan
Campion College

Living expenses in Canada for students

It's important to understand how much it costs to attend school in Canada so you can properly budget for it.

Let's break down some of those expenses!

1. Tuition fees

Canada has two different tuition fees: domestic tuition fees and international tuition fees. As Canada's universities are publicly funded, provincial tax dollars supplement the expenses of domestic tuition for Canadian citizens and permanent residents. But international students must pay the international tuition rate, which represents the full, unsubsidized amount.

In 2021/2022, the average tuition in Canada for domestic undergraduate students was $6,693. For domestic graduate students, the average tuition was $7,472. In the same year, the average tuition in Canada for international students was $33,623 for undergraduate tuition and $20,120 for graduate tuition.1

Actual tuition costs can vary significantly from province to province and school to school. If you're interested in a school, your best bet for finding out how much tuition will cost is researching that specific school's tuition and enrollment fees.

2. Housing and accommodations in Canada

There are many housing and accommodation options for students in Canada. They depend on the school and city you'll study in and range greatly in costs.

Living on campus at college or university

Canadian schools often offer on-campus residence options for students. This can be convenient for students as they'll live near their classes and typically won't have to pay residence fees during the summer when there aren't any classes. But this can make it hard for students to find a place to live during the summer if they're not planning to return home at the end of the school year.

Many schools also only offer guaranteed residence for the first year or offer residence spots through a lottery. Be sure to look at the residence options at the schools you're considering.

Residence costs vary by city and the type of accommodation. For example, at the University of Toronto, residence costs range from $12,580 to $22,447 for eight months for a single room and a meal plan.2 To compare, at Dalhousie University in Halifax, you'll pay $8,754 to $10,169 per academic year, including a meal plan.3

Residence room options

Not all student residences are the same. Depending on the school, you might be able to choose from a few options.

Shared rooms: These are rooms where you share your whole living space with a roommate. They tend to be cheaper and are often reserved for first years.

Single rooms, shared common space: These are rooms where you have a single room, but you share your common space with a whole floor or with a smaller group of people. The smaller group can be as few as two or three other people or as many as six.

Single rooms, own common space: These types of rooms are rare and usually reserved for graduate students. In this case, you get a single room with a kitchenette and a small living room area.

Family accommodations: These types of rooms are also typically reserved for graduate students and allow a couple with or without children to live together in residence. This type of accommodation tends to be the most expensive.

Living off campus in private housing

Many schools don't offer residence or have limited residence options, and not every student gets a residence placement due to a lack of available rooms to meet demand. If you don't get into residence, you'll have to find off-campus housing yourself.

The costs for off-campus housing can vary widely. For example, living off-campus in student housing in Vancouver or Toronto will cost more than in Halifax, a much smaller town.

Besides the city you're living in, rental costs will also depend on how close you want to be to campus, whether or not you're willing to have roommates, and what kind of accommodations you're looking for. To get an idea of the costs, you can look at the average rental prices in the city you're planning to study in to help you build a student housing budget.

Average rental prices in Canada are $1,345 for a studio and $1,657 for a one-bedroom apartment.4 However, when students live with roommates, they could pay less. For example, a two-bedroom apartment is $2,030 on average.4 That means splitting it with another student would work out to be $1,015 each.

Most schools have services to help students find off-campus housing by connecting them with rental housing listings or special accommodations. You should reach out to the schools you're interested in applying to in order to learn more.

3. Food and other expenses

What you'll pay in food and other expenses depends on whether you're staying in a residence with a meal plan or not. Not all residences offer meal plans in Canada. If yours does, that can cover all your meals or one to two meals a day, depending on the plan.

If you live in a residence without a meal plan or if you live off-campus, you'll have to buy groceries and make your own food. On average, groceries cost $365 a month for a college-aged man and $317 a month for a college-aged woman in Canada.5

Other expenses you might have to pay as a student include costs for:

  • Transportation
  • Cell phone
  • Utilities
  • Clothing (especially jackets and warm weather clothing)
  • Textbooks
  • Enrollment and student fees
  • Health care
  • Other necessities
  • Entertainment
  • Transportation back home
  • Emergencies

These expenses will vary from one person to another and from city to city, but could cost several thousand dollars a year.

The bottom line

Canada is a great place to get an education, but it's important to budget for all the costs of attending school in Canada, including tuition, fees, textbooks, housing and food. As you explore schools you're interested in, look into the specific costs involved in attending that school as costs can vary considerably depending on the school and where it's located.

The good news is that schools in Canada have offices to help potential students learn more about the costs and logistics of going to school there. If you have questions, you only need to reach out to the admissions offices and ask.

Visit us at StartRight for tips and tools on how to make the most out of your life in Canada.

This article is provided for information purposes only. It is not to be relied upon as financial, tax or investment advice or guarantees about the future, nor should it be considered a recommendation to buy or sell. Information contained in this article, including information relating to interest rates, market conditions, tax rules, and other investment factors are subject to change without notice and The Bank of Nova Scotia is not responsible to update this information. All third party sources are believed to be accurate and reliable as of the date of publication and The Bank of Nova Scotia does not guarantee its accuracy or reliability. Readers should consult their own professional advisor for specific financial, investment and/or tax advice tailored to their needs to ensure that individual circumstances are considered properly and action is taken based on the latest available information.