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Canadian Study System

Canadian Study System

Canadian Study System

Canada ranks among the top countries in the world for accessible, quality education for international students. To understand which program is right for you, first you must understand Canada’s levels of study.

Elementary & Secondary Education

By law, all children in Canada are required to attend school. Based on the province or territory, schooling for children begins at the age of five or six and continues until the child is 16 or 18. The school system for Canadian children begins with kindergarten (elementary school) and progresses to grades 1 to 12. Upon completion of Grade 12, a student is awarded high school diploma which makes them eligible for post-secondary education (college and university). If foreign national aspires to attend college or university in Canada, they should be able to demonstrate that they possess a high school diploma.

Canadian schooling system comprises of both private and public schools. Private schools offer specialized curriculums and resources and charge tuition fee. On the contrary, public schools are fully funded by the Canadian government and teach government-mandated curriculums to their students.

Cost of high school in Canada

Public secondary or high school is free in Canada for residents of the country. Many schools charge fees for international students, which can range from approximately $8,000 CAD to $14,000 CAD per year. Please check with the school you want your teenager to attend to confirm the cost, if any, for international students. 

Post-Secondary Education

Any educational program that is offered post high school diploma is considered as post-secondary education. There are different types of post-secondary schools, as mentioned below, each with a different purpose.

  • University
  • College
  • Trade School/Apprenticeships
  • Vocational School

Governments ensure that these schools and their offered programs meet the standards and are recognized to grant degrees, diplomas, certificates, and other qualifications.


A university is a post-secondary educational institution which is authorized to grant different types of degrees in many disciplines and subjects. Following are the types of degrees offered:

  • Bachelor’s Degree: A basic degree that takes three to four years to complete.
  • Master’s Degree: A more advanced degree that usually takes one to three more years of study.
  • Doctoral degree: The most advanced degree offered by Canadian universities that requires three or more years of study and research following a master’s degree.

A college is a post-secondary educational institution which cannot grant degrees but offer programs that award certificates and/or diplomas. However, some recognized colleges can offer bachelor’s degree and in some cases master’s degree. In general, college programs are more career-oriented when compared to universities. Colleges often have courses to improve a person’s skills and employability, such as language training. Also, many colleges have training programs or apprenticeships in skilled trade occupations like carpentry or welding.

Trade School/Apprenticeships

A skilled trade refers to a specialized occupation, usually emphasizing some form of manual labour, which requires hands-on training and formal education. A skilled trade rarely requires a bachelor’s degree, so education in the trades usually occurs through trade schools, which are often smaller programs contained within colleges or vocational schools. As well, once an aspiring tradesperson has sufficient training, they may undertake an apprenticeship. As an apprentice, the student works closely with an experienced tradesperson to refine their skills in the trade.

Vocational School

A vocational school may have educational programs at either the secondary or post-secondary level, so it is not always necessary to have a high school diploma to attend vocational school. Vocational programs teach students the technical skills required to perform the tasks of a specific job. These programs prepare students to enter directly into the workforce, either in skilled or low-skilled occupations.

Levels of Education in Quebec

In every province of Canada except for Quebec, elementary and secondary school is made up of the twelve-grade system. After a student completes Grade Twelve, they graduate from secondary school and receive a high school diploma. Only after completing high school will they become eligible for post-secondary studies. Quebec’s education system operates in a slightly different manner.

In Quebec, unlike other Canadian provinces, elementary and secondary school is only made up of eleven grades. Once a person completes Grade Eleven, they are awarded a secondary school certificate. However, Quebec has another level of education between secondary school and undergraduate university programs called CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel). CEGEPs are educational institutions that permit students to select a specialized program which leads to a Diplôme d’études collégiales (DEC). Students in Quebec are only eligible to begin an undergraduate university program after completing a CEGEP program. In the CEGEP system there are two types of programs:

Levels of Post-Secondary studies

Canadian universities, colleges, and vocational school use the same terms to describe common educational pathways and credentials. The length and composition of the educational programs effect on eligibility for employment and immigration opportunities in Canada for international students.

Undergraduate Studies
  • Certificate Programs (1-2 Academic Years)
  • Diploma (1-2 Academic Years)
  • Associate Degree (2 Academic Years)
  • Bachelor’s Degree (3-5 Academic Years)
Graduate Studies
  • Postgraduate Diploma/Certificate (1-2 Academic Years)
  • Master’s Degree (1-3 Academic Years)
  • Doctorate Degree (PhD) (4-6 Academic Years)

University Transfer Program

University Transfer programs are offered through Canadian colleges and technical institutes that have agreements or relationships with universities. These determine which of the college’s programs are transferable to a degree program, where a student may transfer to, and which courses will apply towards the degree. University transfer program gives students the convenience of taking the first two years of a typical four-year university degree at a college, before transferring to complete the final two years of the degree at university. 

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