Why choose Canada as a possible study destination?
- Its universities have an excellent international reputation, with at least four of them in the top 100 worldwide.
- There is a huge range of courses to choose between, and the approach to education is flexible enough for you not to have to commit to one specific area too early on in your academic career.
- Many of the campuses are large enough to be like small cities in their own right – they have a great range of services and facilities, for everything from sports to cultural activities.
- In many cases, you can take a part-time job while you are studying.
- Canada makes it relatively easy for you to stay on in the country after graduation to get some work experience, possibly to remain longer-term.
- Canada is a very diverse, multi-cultural country, with fascinating towns and cities to explore.
- It’s also a very forward-looking country, with a diverse economy offering potential for growth in many different areas.
- The natural environment is amazing; you can explore forested coastlines, huge mountain ranges, thousands of lakes, cast areas of wilderness. The sharp contrasts between the seasons make for some fascinating experiences.
- Canada is large and spacious. Everything seems big, in fact! It has huge shopping malls with a great selection of items to buy, high-rise buildings, but extensive suburbs with individual houses and space all around.
- For a (largely) English-speaking country, Canada is not excessively expensive. Some things are really cheap – public transport, for example, is excellent value for money. Most importantly of all, tuition fees are generally lower than they are in the USA or in the UK.
- Canada is a very diverse and tolerant society, and people have the freedom to live their lives in whatever way they choose. At the same time, it’s a generally well-run and well-organised place, with good public services.
And… don’t be put off by the thought of winter! Yes, in most places it does get very cold, but all the buildings are warm, and outside the effects of the sun on the snow can be truly magical! Don’t forget to try the skiing or snowboarding…
Population: 35 million
Main cities: Toronto, Montreal, Quebec, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver
Divided into: 10 provinces and 3 territories
Perhaps to the annoyance of its citizens, people outside Canada tend to think of it in relation to the United States, with which it shares the longest border in the world. With little more than one-tenth of the population of the US, it’s not surprising that Canada attracts less attention than its powerful neighbour to the south. But Canada – the world’s second largest country after Russia – is in fact slightly bigger than the USA, and it plays an important part in world affairs. Canada is a member of the G7 group of the world’s leading nations, and it has the world’s 11th largest economy. It has tremendous natural resources, and vast areas of forest and farmland.
But how is it different from the United States? If you were suddenly dropped into, say, a huge Canadian retail park, you wouldn’t really know whether you were in Canada or the US, and many of the suburbs look very similar. Overall, the standard of living is comparable. So here are some of the key differences:
- Canada is a bilingual nation, with French as well as English as an official language. French is the main language spoken in the province of Quebec, but you will find French-speaking communities across the country. Many of the signs you see are written in French as well as English.
- Canada uses the metric system of weights and measurements, so you buy goods from the supermarket in kilos, and travel on roads with signs in kilometres.
- Whereas the United States has a president, Canada has a prime minister. It’s a member of the Commonwealth, and Queen Elizabeth is the head of state.
Also worth noting (with perhaps some similarities here)…
- Like the USA, Canada is a federal country. Its provinces have their own governments, and quite a lot of independence. Much like Washington, the federal capital, Ottawa, is not one of the largest cities in the country.
- Canada has long attracted migrants from across the world, so that it is now a multi-cultural country, and this is especially obvious in its cities.
- Canada has a reputation as a very stable, liberal, tolerant and welcoming country.
- Most people find Canadian English to be very similar to American English. However, a few sounds are different (in Canadian English, the word ‘out’ sounds like ‘oat’), and some people would say that Canadian English sounds ‘softer’ somehow. Canadians spell some words the American way, some words the British way!
- The unit of currency in Canada is the Canadian dollar (CAD), divided into 100 cents.
- Whenever you buy something, you are never quite sure exactly what you are going to pay. Various taxes might be added to the prices that you see, and these taxes vary from province to province, item to item. You may wish to ask whether taxes are added, or whether they’re included.
KE programmes only take you to a very small part of this huge country. But still you see quite a lot of very different places, including many of those which are most famous! These are the areas we concentrate on:
The province of Alberta is regarded as one of Canada’s prairie provinces, and most of the land is quite flat. There is farmland in the south, forest further north. However, the land rises steadily from east to west, and the western border of the province is marked by the long chain of the Rocky Mountains. The Rockies extend nearly 5,000 kilometres from northern Canada to the south of the USA. The stretch in Alberta is truly spectacular, with soaring peaks, glaciers, canyons, lakes and waterfalls.
Alberta is by far the richest of Canada’s provinces, thanks largely to its oil reserves, but also to its technology-based industries and agriculture. A combination of high incomes and reasonable costs of living enable its population of just 3.7 million to enjoy a very high standard of living. Over half the population live in its two main cities, Edmonton and Calgary.
The two main universities in Alberta are the University of Alberta, based in Edmonton, and the University of Calgary. We visit the former, and are based at the latter. Both universities are in the top ten nationally.
On the west side of the Rockies is the province of British Columbia (BC). Much of the province is forest, with most of the population living in the south-western corner around Vancouver. Vancouver has a population of about 2.5 million – if you include its suburbs, which extend all the way to the very busy border with the USA. BC is noted for its excellent quality of life, and Vancouver is a very attractive and appealing city, with its lively, modern centre contrasting with the sea, the beaches, the forests and the mountains just on its doorstep.
The two most prestigious universities in Vancouver are the University of British Columbia (UBC) and Simon Fraser University – again, both featuring in the top ten nationwide.
Canada is the second largest country in the world, so it’s not surprising that there is a huge variation in the climate.
The northern half of the country has a harsh, very cold climate, with temperatures below freezing for much of the year. However, very few people live there, and we don’t go there with KE, so we don’t need to focus on it!
Most people, in fact, live in a fairly narrow strip of territory in the far south, close to the border with the USA. Here we could perhaps identify three types of climate.
In the East, where KE operates one of its two programmes, winters are very cold, but quite dry. Summers are shorter, but very warm, sometimes hot and humid.
In more central parts, in the prairie provinces, for example, including Alberta, where KE is also based, winters are again very cold and dry. Summers are drier and fresher than they are in the East, but it can still feel very warm or even hot in the strong sunshine.
In the West, near the Pacific coast and the city of Vancouver, the climate is different again. Here winters are much milder, with more rain than snow. It does also rain in the summer, but less than in the winter, and most days are warm and sunny.
Across Canada, autumn is a spectacular season, with amazing colours in the fresh, sunny days. That’s when the maple leaf, symbol of Canada, is at its best!
Overall levels of crime are lower in Canada than they are in the USA, and people do not generally carry guns. But sensible precautions should still be taken.
During the daytime, you can walk around quite comfortably in all the places we visit, including the big cities. After dark, a little more caution is sensible. We suggest that students of all ages go around in pairs or small groups at all times. Take care with possessions, and don’t leave wallets and purses in back pockets or other places where they can easily be seen. Leave valuables at the centre for safekeeping, and only take small amounts of cash with you.
You should be aware that the Pacific Coast is potentially at risk from earthquakes.
Essentially, there are two types of institution offering higher education in Canada: the universities offer programmes leading to degrees, while colleges (or community colleges) offer lower-level diplomas. There are 98 universities in total. The majority of these are state or public. There are a few private universities, but they are all quite small, and they don’t include any of the best-known universities in the country.
As in every country, there is a general recognition that certain universities are in some sense better than others. Although the ranking systems always vary in their assessment, the four visited on the KE programme in the West (Calgary, Alberta, UBC and Simon Fraser) always feature close to the top. In the East, there is even greater selection, and KE’s programme there incorporates visits too no fewer than eight of them, including Toronto (the largest), Ottawa and McGill. All of the universities we visit are predominantly English-speaking, although Ottawa is bilingual (English and French).
There is no centralised admissions service as there is, say, in the UK. Instead, students apply direct to one or more universities. There is no theoretical limit to the number of applications which can be made, though each application will generally incur a fee. Students may receive a number of offers, and they can usually wait until the summer before they are due to start before making a definite commitment.
Canada does not have specific tests like ACT and SAT in the USA – tests designed to demonstrate students’ academic potential. Entry to university is based largely on high school results, and very often conditional offers will be made if the final results are not yet known. The universities are free to make their own choices as to who they admit, so there is no guarantee that any particular qualification will secure entry.
Generally speaking, Canadian universities do not interview prospective students. They may require the drafting of a personal profile in addition to the standard application, and students should pay careful attention to the way that they write this.
It can be generally assumed that the universities look for a range of useful experiences and qualities outside the purely academic: as in most English-speaking countries, Canadian authorities try to see the whole person.
If students are not native speakers of English (or French), they might be asked to take a test to prove their competence in the language. Both TOEFL and IELTS are widely used as evidence of English skills, and results in certain other systems will also be considered.
Most degree programmes run for 4 years, and the academic year runs from September until June. Initially, the programmes are often quite general, but students specialise increasingly as they proceed through their studies. As in the united States, students in Canada don’t normally embark upon highly specialised, vocational courses such as law and medicine straight from high school: these are generally studied at postgraduate level.