Education System

Canada has a comprehensive, internationally recognized, high quality, publicly funded and private education system which is very popular amongst students from all over the world. Though education institutions are not officially ranked in Canada, one can find quality institutions across the country.

Canada has one of the highest rates of post-secondary education completion in the world. More than half (53%) of Canadians between the ages of 25 to 64 have completed some form of post-secondary education. Post secondary institutions are located throughout the country. There are just under 100 universities & 127 colleges in Canada.

Unlike education systems of other countries, what is unique about the Canadian Education System is that there is no national department of education. Instead, Elementary, Secondary & Post-Secondary education is the exclusive responsibility of each Province & Territory, along with its delivery, organization & evaluation. This can result in different eligibility criteria, curriculum (there is no national curriculum), types of available programs, minimum & maximum age requirements for students applying in each province or territory. However, the basic structure of the education systems across Canada are similar. Also, there are other similarities and national mechanisms to facilitate quality assurance, recognition & transferability of course credits & credentials (Canada has an excellent reputation for transfers between levels/types of education, making studying here flexible). And the quality of education across the country is uniformly high.

Although there is no one single education system, basic public education across Canada is free for all citizens & permanent residents of Canada until the 11th or 12th grade, depending on the province. International students, however, have to pay full tuition fees.

Education for Canadian citizens is compulsory up to the ages of 16 years or 18 years, depending on the province/territory.

The Education System in Quebec is slightly different. While students in all other provinces/territories of Canada graduate from high school after Grade 12, students in Quebec graduate from high school after Grade 11. They then normally continue their studies in another higher institution known as Cegep (College of General & Vocation Education), which is a 2-year general program or 3-year technical program that offers students a chance to weigh their options more realistically & to make right career choices and, if they so desire, have an easier transition into university/college.

Education across Canada can generally be divided into 4 stages –

  • Pre-school or early childhood education
  • primary or elementary education
  • secondary education
  • Post-secondary or tertiary education, which includes college and university programs and vocational/technical colleges.

The education system in Canada encompasses the following:


In general, Canadian children attend kindergarten for 1 or 2 years at the age of 4 or 5 years. All children begin Grade One at about 6 years of age. The school year normally runs from September through the following June but in some instances, January intake dates are possible.


International students not only receive excellent elementary & secondary school education (also known as K-12 in Canada), but also caring and supportive environments to live in, such as homestay with a Canadian family or dormitory at a private/boarding school.

Though 95% of Canadian students study in public schools, there are also very high quality private & independent schools. Cost is a major factor differentiating the two, with private schools being significantly costlier. The medium of instruction is either English or French. The school system comprises of the following stages :

  • Elementary School : Involves 6 years of primary education from Grades 1 – 6
  • Junior High School : Involves secondary education from Grades 7 – 8
  • High School : Involves secondary education from the Grades 9 – 12 (or 9 – 11 in Quebec)

Following secondary school completion, students have various options for study:

  • They can choose from colleges, universities, or technical institutes.
  • They can choose to take diploma or certificate courses, or full degree programs.
  • They can begin in one program or type of post-secondary institution, and then transfer to another as their interests and goals evolve.

Colleges, Technical and vocational Institutions

In Canada, the term college usually refers to a post-secondary community college or a technical, applied arts, or applied science school. They are officially known by a range of titles, including Community College, College, Technical Institute, University College, and Cégep. They grant certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, undergraduate degrees & postgraduate diplomas. Many students use college as a way to prepare further for a university education, gaining transferrable credits that can be applied once they transfer. Other students use college to prepare for a trade or vocation, earning a diploma or certificate that would allow them to immediately pursue employment opportunities following the completion of the program. A significant number of university graduates attend college upon completion of their degrees to acquire vocational skills for employment. Colleges and technical/vocational institutes are excellent choices for international students interested in more applied education, specifically geared to their desired profession/career, with smaller class sizes and hands-on learning opportunities.

Universities :

Canada has some of the top universities in the world. It has a large selection of universities and university colleges located in both urban and rural settings in every region of the country. The universities are internationally known for the quality of teaching and research. Degrees from Canadian universities are considered to be equivalent to those from American and other Commonwealth universities. Canadian universities are largely publicly funded. As a result they are of a consistently high quality, regardless of location or area of study. They also retain a high degree of academic autonomy. They offer a broad range of courses and a full range of degrees from undergraduate to doctorates, and can also offer certificates, diplomas and professional degrees. Tuition Fees of universities differ depending on the province, institution and program of study. Each university sets its own admission standards and assesses the qualifications of each applicant individually. Canadian universities offer students thriving campus communities, world-class research environments and invaluable hands-on experiences such as co-op placements and internships.

University Colleges :

A university college offers university degrees as well as college diploma and certificate programs. Students can expect to find a wide range of program choices at university colleges, including English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. University colleges offer students a choice of either academically-oriented university degree programs or the more practically-oriented college diplomas and certificates. University colleges are distinguished by their strong student support services, small classes and strong campus environments. They also may offer combined degree/diploma programs and university transfer programs.

Career Colleges :

Career Colleges in Canada are privately owned institutions that offer training programs to impart students with practical skills for the job market after a short period of instruction. Students seeking short-term training programs in multimedia, film studies, computer/internet studies, graphic design and hospitality, to name a few, may want to consider applying to a career college. These schools are provincially approved and regulated, ensuring that program standards and quality are maintained. Career colleges have highly competitive fee structures.

The academic year in Canadian Institutions usually starts in September and ends in May. Each academic year comprises of 2 semesters. The second semester commences in January. Some institutions have a trimester system.

Scholarships :

Merit-based financial assistance is available to students. Most of these are available at the graduate level, but there are some secondary & undergraduate scholarships available through individual institutions. This ranges from tuition waivers to various types of assistantships and fellowships. Students must apply early to ensure they are considered for scholarships. Also read “Scholarships

Contact Us to help you determine which course, institution & area of study will provide you with a career pathway that ensures a secure future for you & your family, as well as enables you to obtain the required Study Permit and/or Temporary visa for your chosen pathway.

Also read “Why Study in Canada”.