ip target image
You are currently browsing our site with content tailored to students in your country

Our cookies

We use cookies to offer you a better browsing experience with personalized content, relevant ads and enhanced functionalities. By allowing all you agree to the use of cookies as per the cookie policy and remember you can manage your preferences anytime.
The basics
Canada: Applying to University - Must read

How to apply to study in Canada

Now that you’ve decided to study in Canada, you need to know how to apply to universities. Here we cover it all from academic and language requirements to deadlines and documents.

Student applying to university abroad


Canada is a top choice for many international students because of its friendly people and vibrant cities. If you’ve decided you want to start applying to study there, we take you through the application process, what it involves and where to begin.


Understanding the higher education system in Canada




Canada has over 200 universities, spread throughout almost every province in the country. At these institutions, you’ll obtain a world-class degree and (at the undergraduate level) will have the opportunity to select your major in advance so that you can focus your studies on the area that really interests you.




For a more vocational higher education experience, you’ll be more likely to find courses that suit you at one of Canada’s many colleges. Here, students learn in a more practical manner, undertaking technical training and gaining skills that can be directly applied to a future career. Typically, at the end of your studies, you’ll be awarded a diploma – a great addition to your CV/resume.


Remember, when choosing a college to apply to as an international student, it must be approved as a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) so be sure to check this before you make any final decisions.


Important application deadlines


The academic year at Canadian universities typically runs from the start of September through to the end of April, after which point you can choose to do summer studies if you want.


Most universities run on a trimester system, meaning the year is split into three terms: Fall (September – December), Winter (January – April) and Summer (May – July). Depending on where and what you study, you may be able to begin your course in the trimester of your choice, though standard entry times are September and January.


If you’re the sort of person who wants to get their application in early, you’ll usually be able to submit from 11 months before your start date. Because universities each have their own application system, deadlines can vary, but generally, you need to submit your application well before the start date, as stated by the university.


As a general rule, we’d advise starting to research universities and courses at least a year before you hope to start your studies. This will allow you plenty of time to reduce your options and prepare all necessary documentation.


There is no limit to the number of universities you can apply to in Canada, but we’d recommend no more than five, that way you can really focus your efforts on the institutions that excite you the most.


English / French language requirements


As Canada is a dual-language country, your course may be taught in English or French, depending on where you apply and what programme you sign up for. If you are not learning in your first language, you will need to provide evidence of your language proficiency.


For English language courses, the preferred certification for most universities is an IELTS test result. If you already have results from another well-known English language test (such as TOEFL or Cambridge English: Advanced), it’s worth checking with the university whether they’ll accept it before submission.


For French language courses, most universities will prefer that you supply results from the TEF exam, however others (TCF, DALF or DELF for example) may well be considered so you should definitely check with your university what they’ll accept.


Academic requirements


As a bare minimum, you’ll usually need to have graduated from a secondary school (or equivalent setting) and be in good academic standing in order to be accepted at a Canadian university as an undergraduate.


However, every university has its own academic requirements, so it’s likely you will need to have certain grades, often in related subjects. Be sure to check this with the university before you begin the application process.


At the postgraduate level, you’ll need to have obtained a Bachelor’s degree (or higher) to be accepted. Again, the grades you’ll need will depend on your programme and where you study.


If you are required to have certain grades before starting your course, you may not need to have received them before you apply, but you may be asked to provide evidence that you’re expected to receive them before you start the programme.


Important application documents


When applying to a Canadian university, you’ll usually need to supply various documentation alongside your application. Normally electronic copies are sufficient and you won’t need to provide originals, but be sure to check this well in advance of the deadline. Remember, for any document not in English, you’ll need to arrange for an official translation.


Commonly requested documents include:

  • academic transcripts (if you do not yet have your exam certificates) and/or exam/qualification certificates
  • English / French language test results
  • a copy of your passport or another valid identity document
  • proof you have the finances to fund your studies
  • CV/resume


Before you start your study programme, you will also need to provide a copy of your study permit. Read our article about applying for a student visa in Canada.


Letter of intent


Canadian universities do not always request a letter of intent, particularly at the undergraduate level. It’s more common as part of postgraduate applications.


Whatever level you’re applying to study at, we’d suggest you write one if you are given the opportunity to do so. A well-written letter of intent is a chance to stand out from the crowd and make your application really appeal to the admissions team.


It’s best to write in a professional but friendly tone, telling the university a bit about yourself and what you believe you can offer them and what they can offer you.


Academic reference


Depending on the university, you may also be asked to supply one or more academic references, especially if you are applying to study at the postgraduate level.


For this, you should ask a teacher, supervisor or professional person who knows you academically to supply a reference letter. This should be a written recommendation detailing your academic ability and work ethic. It may also need to give details about how you have prepared for your postgraduate studies.


The application process


There is no centralised system for university applications in Canada. Instead, you have two options:


  1. Applying directly through the university’s admissions portal; or
  2. Applying through a provincial portal (not available in all provinces).


Applying through a provincial portal, for example, Ontario Universties’ Application Centre can be a great way to speed up the application process if you’re applying to more than one institution in the same province. They are run at a provincial level, are safe and secure and remove the need of having to familiarise yourself with different admissions portals.


There’s no overall benefit to applying through a provincial portal. Your application won’t be treated any differently. So if you prefer to submit it directly to the university, that’s fine too.


Whatever the case, take time to familiarise yourself with platforms, requirements and deadlines well in advance as these can be very different between institutions and study programmes.


Don’t forget, you’ll also need to pay a fee to each university you apply to, usually in the region of CAD 100 to CAD 250.


What happens next


Many universities have a rolling admissions policy, which means they review each application individually when they are received. If this is the case with the institution you’ve applied to you, should receive a response fairly quickly.


However, some use a competitive admissions system (reviewing all applications once the submission deadline has passed). In these cases, it may take up to 7 weeks to receive a response


If your offer is marked as ‘conditional’ then there will be some requirements (for example an English or French language test result) that must be needed before you can start your study programme.


When you have your offer, you can start applying for student accommodation straight away if you want to. In fact, some student residences may even accept applications before you get your results, so it’s well worth looking into things sooner rather than later. Read about accommodation options and how much it costs to study in Canada.


Top application tips


Here are a few final tips:

  • Attend an Open Day / Open House tour of the university (either in person or virtually) so you can really get a feel for the atmosphere.
  • Make use of international admissions offices where you’ll find trained staff to answer all your questions.
  • Accept any help you’re offered. It can never hurt to let someone read over your application before you click submit.