The basics
Canada: Destination Guides

A beginners guide to study in Canada

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From playing ice hockey on a frozen lake, to a very successful mentoring programme for international students, studying in Canada ticks all the boxes. Whether you’re using the country as a stepping stone to further your career, or you’re just excited to explore the beautiful countryside, there is no doubt that Canada is a brilliant place to hold your study abroad journey. If you want to know more about studying in the country which is home to the world’s longest beaver dam and the largest numbers of lakes on the planet, you’ve come to the right place.

 

Use our handy jump links to get to the section you are most interested in:

 

 

Will studying in Canada help to further my career?

 

There are few countries that prepare their students for working life better than Canada. Universities provide a first-class work-study programme for eligible students, which gives them invaluable work experience, and some even provide a bilingual study experience, standing graduates in good stead for jobs all over the world.

 

It doesn’t stop there, either! As Natalie Morris, Orientation, Integration and Academic Support Success Manager at University of Ottawa, explains, “The thing that comes up the most as a positive for students about Canada is the high quality of education that they get here.”

 

With 13 universities in the top 300 of the QS world university rankings, Canadian universities are well recognised all around the world. And with both state-wide and nationwide standards to live up to for all the universities in the country, none can fall behind.

 

For more advice about find a graduate career in Canada, check out our article.

 

Bilingual:

 

“Some universities in Canada – such as University of Ottawa – are bilingual.” Says Natalie, “You can come here and study English and then French as a second language, for example. That is a great way of gaining knowledge in that language.”

 

Interestingly, Canada as a country is bilingual, meaning documents used in government are produced both in French and English (see below). So, even if you are studying at an English-speaking university, you will find that you will encounter the French language at points when you are out there.

 

 

Having good knowledge of a second language can set you apart from other applicants when in pursuit of a job, so having evidence of utilising your French whilst at university can be very useful.

 

The University of Ottawa, for example, actively encourages their students to develop their French, and even have a bilingualism centre where students can go to practice other languages. There, you can get paired up with another student and do half an hour speaking one language, and half an hour speaking another.

 

Co-op programmes:

 

Arguably, the most useful way that Canadian universities prepare you for working life is with the co-op programmes that their universities offer. Co-op programmes offer you the opportunity to get a real taste for working life, as you alternate between working and studying throughout your time at the institution. You will usually have one semester of studying followed by one semester of working, and so on.

 

You are only eligible to these programmes after your second year of study, and they can mean that you finish your degree later than everyone else, because you still need to complete all of the necessary modules. But, having completed 4 work terms of roughly 3-4 months each, you will have at least a years’ worth of work experience by the time you have graduated. You’ll be an employer’s dream - a recent graduate with professional experience in their field of study is something unique.

 

Natalie says that she loves the co-op scheme, “I personally hire co-op students which is really great, because we can help to correct little things that they do before they go on to the job market, so it really is a place for them to learn how to be in a work environment. Also, these are paid work placements so the students can earn anywhere between $4,000-$6000 per term which is great for them too.”

 

Read this article to find out more about student living costs in Canada.

 

 

Work study programme and volunteering:

 

There is also the work study programme at Canadian universities, where you can appeal to your institution for help in finding a job whilst still studying. This usually encompasses an effort by the university to create on-campus work positions, to make their graduates as marketable as possible for employers.

 

There is a real determination among Canadian universities to get their graduates ready for employers, and Natalie thinks that can be extra useful for international students coming to the country.

 

“All the work experience stuff is very interesting for international students because they often come here with limited work experience, whereas a lot of Canadian students have been working since they were 16.” She says, “Volunteering, the Work-Study programme or the Co-Op programme is a very good way of getting some work experience, and it can help with getting a job after university, too!”

 

 

What is the student accommodation like in Canada?

 

In Canada, like many other countries, there are a variety of options to choose from in terms of accommodation. In your first year, the norm is to go into university residences. After that, you will usually go into an apartment with friends or some other kind of private accommodation. 

 

There is a lot of effort by universities to make international students feel comfortable and integrated, so you should feel at home in no time in your first year!

 

Different options:

 

There are three different types of housing for you to choose from.

 

There is the traditional style, which is similar to what you might see on American TV shows and movies. This is a room shared by two students, with two beds and two desks for you to do work on. In this residence, you will share a kitchen, bathroom and living room with your roommate, and the other people on your floor.

 

There are also suite style residences, which are a bit harder to come by than the traditional style. In these, you and your roommate will have your own rooms and then share a bathroom. But don’t worry, you can still meet the people living on your floor. There will usually be a common area for the entire floor, which will include a decent-sized living area and a kitchen.

 

The third option available to you is available for first-year students, but is usually only something you will take up in second year and beyond. Once you have really settled into the university, you will usually decide to get a crew of mates together and live in a shared apartment. These can have numerous rooms, shared bathrooms and a shared kitchen and living room.

 

 

Facilities:

 

Living at Canadian university residences has a lot of perks, and it’s up to you to make the most of them.

 

You will be really well supported, with a community advisor/residence worker on each floor, who can help with anything from telling you where the library is, all the way to telling you the best place to go for a night out. They really are there for any query about university life you may have, so don’t be afraid to speak to them. There are also mental health councillors available at a lot of student residences too, meaning that if university pressures are getting too much for you, there may be a trained professional there for you to talk to.

 

Whether you fancy yourself as a top chef, or you struggle to fry an egg, there are food options which can be tailored to suit you as well. When in university residence, you can usually choose to have all your meals cooked for you, or to have self-catered accommodation – where you can whip up your favourite meals in the comfort of your own kitchen! If you do decide to have your meals cooked for you, there should be a cafeteria on campus, which is often open 24/7, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner to keep you going.

 

Click here for more details on student accommodation in Canada.

 

 

What support services are there for international students at Canadian universities?

 

Support services for international students are something that Canada certainly do not lack. With everything from a very successful mentoring scheme, all the way through to travel clinics, Canadian universities do their best to accommodate international students.

 

As Natalie says, “Canadian universities definitely have a lot of support services. International students will have access to all the services available to Canadian students so that includes sport services, food services, housing. We also have SASS (Student Academic Success Service) which includes mentoring, workshops, coaching/counselling for mental health and wellbeing, and access services for those students who need accomodations, such as those with dyslexia or visual/hearing impairments.”

 

At Canadian universities, it is clear that whatever you need, you’ll find it.

 

 

Mentors:

 

When you go on a study abroad journey, it is reassuring to have a familiar face that you can go to whenever you need help. This is one of the reasons why so many Canadian universities have a mentoring scheme, and why it is so successful for international students.

 

At a lot of universities, as soon as you are accepted onto your chosen course, you will be matched with an international mentor. From there, you will receive an email from your mentor where they will introduce themselves and explain how they can help you.

 

Natalie says it is a great scheme, and it can really help international students adapt to a new country, “we usually find that because it’s an international student contacting another international student, they often speak the same language and they create a connection really quickly”, she says. “when they [the international student] get here they all usually say ‘where’s my mentor? I want to meet them, I want to thank them’”.

 

Throughout your university experience, you can contact your mentor at any time. They will be a great person to speak to, as – being an international student themselves - they will have gone through similar situations to you, and they will know where to point you for help from anyone else around the university.

 

Homesickness:

 

Another reason why the mentor scheme works so well in Canada is that your mentor is your first port of call for any issues with homesickness.

 

Usually, your mentor will be from the same country or region as you. This means that doing something with them that reminds you of home every now and again may be all you need to keep you happy.

 

If it is more than that, the university should have a protocol in place that your mentor should be able to guide you through. Natalie explained the University of Ottawa’s process, “if the student is at the point where they feel unable to study or the homesickness is reaching a critical point, we can refer them to coaching and counselling, where they can meet with someone who is professionally trained to deal with these situations and we find that is usually very helpful for them.”

 

 

Variety of services:

 

It doesn’t stop with mentors, either.

 

As soon as you get off the plane, some universities provide a kiosk at the airport where you can get advice from student volunteers, get a campus map and even bus tickets if you’re lucky!

 

Once you arrive, there will be community life services that organise different activities throughout the year that you can get involved in.

 

There will usually also be a Careers Centre of some kind, where you can go to simulate interviews for jobs, get help with your job search or get advice on your CVs and cover letters. There may be a volunteering office, where you can find schemes to help with around the local community.

 

Most Canadian universities will also have a campus police service, a dentist, a pharmacy and doctors that can help with anything from mental health issues to substance abuse.

 

There is also what the University of Ottawa call the ‘buddy programme’, which is a more informal way of introducing international students to home students. Natalie explains, “the buddy programme is a bit different, it’s really interesting. We match a domestic student with an international student and it’s much more informal, it is more for social things, it is more friendly… It really is a cultural exchange and that is something that a lot of students find really helpful.”

 

Want to read about even more reasons why you should study in Canada, have a look at this page.

 

 

What can I do outside of my degree in Canada?

 

You won’t find many more intriguing places to explore on a study abroad adventure than Canada.

 

With 46 national parks, Canada is well known for its treks and walking routes. But walking is not the only thing that those parks are known for. In fact, you can do anything from canoe across the mesmerising aqua blue lakes to skydive towards them from 15,000 feet.

 

Often, the International Student Services team will offer activities for you to do with your peers, too. That is the case at the University of Ottawa, as Natalie says, “our office actually organises some different cultural activities for international students every few weeks throughout term time. Being in the capital of Canada, we have a lot of access to a lot of museums, and a lot of history so we go to Parliament, we go to Rideau Hall which is the governor general’s residence, we have the museum of civilisation, the museum of nature, the museum of science.”

 

You have to be aware of the seasons too, as Canada has a diverse climate. For example, the Rideau Canal in Ottawa freezes over every winter, allowing more space for Canada’s favourite sport, ice hockey within the University’s boundaries.

 

 

It is also worth going to check out an ice hockey game too, as it’s a pretty big deal there!

 

An ice hockey match is on our top five things to do in Canada, can you name any more?

 

It is not just the weather that is diverse though. There is a lot more to studying in Canada than just the course. As Marc Andre-Gougeon, who manages the recruitment of international students from China and India for the University of Ottawa, says, “[Canada] offer a very multi-cultural society, and an open society. Getting that education and that Canadian experience through the degree, working with a very multi-cultural campus, you’re getting that experience that will be very useful on the global market.”

 

So, what are you waiting for? Get searching for your dream Canada university right NOW.

 

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About Author

Raif is a huge football fan and loves an infographic. He studied on the NCTJ-accredited University of Sheffield Journalism course, which has recently been voted the UK's number one for journalism in the Guardian's University League Table. Raif will look out for any mentions on social media, and will always be happy to help with any queries on your study abroad journey.