College Isn’t Free in Canada, But It Is Affordable

Since college is an optional educational experience for high school graduates, college becomes more of a privilege than a right. Those who can afford it can earn a diploma that gives them a competitive edge in the job market, while those who can’t either have to find jobs with a high school diploma or spend their first decade of working paying off student loans.

This is why many Americans seek affordable college education elsewhere. Many believe that Canada is filled with free college and university options, but this is not always the case. While plenty of institutions in Canada offer free education, financial aid, and scholarships to deserving students, it is not automatically given to everyone who applies.

However, compared to the rest of the world in terms of quality education and affordability, here’s why more and more students are looking for educational opportunities in Canada.

College vs. Universities in Canada

Before we continue, we have to first distinguish the difference between college and university. The terms are generally interchangeable in the United States, such as a student being able to say they went to college even if the institution they attended is a university. In Canada, however, the terms denote different meanings.

A “university” in Canada refers to the public institutions subsidized by provincial governments but are run independently in terms of their academic programs and policies. This is the equivalent of both colleges and universities in the US and other countries as you earn degrees (Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral) instead of diplomas. Like other universities and colleges in different countries, Canadian universities focus on academics and skills related to a specific degree. University programs have longer degree programs and are generally more expensive than colleges.

“Colleges” in Canada, on the other hand, refer to the technical and vocational training associated with technical, trade, or vocational schools in other countries. While most of these are also subsidized, some are private and receive no funding from the government.

Both colleges and universities in Canada are subsidized by provincial governments so that residents pay less for an education. However, the subsidy provided per student varies per province, so the cost of a university in one province may be different from the costs in another. College graduates receive technical training for whatever job they want to pursue after college, though usually students choose whatever job is in-demand.

Education Isn’t Free, But It’s Affordable

Universities and colleges in Canada aren’t automatically free for locals and foreign students. However, they are subsidized, so students can pay less for their education. Education subsidies vary between provinces, and institutions may charge differential fees for Canadians that live in different provinces and foreign students.

Despite college and university education not being free, the subsidy makes it relatively more affordable for locals and foreign students. The average cost for a Canadian citizen studying for an undergraduate degree is CA$6,463 (around US$4885) per year, while the average tuition fee for international students is CA$14,000 (US$10,581).

In comparison, take a look at tuition fees in the United States. The average tuition fee for public colleges cost around US$20,770 every year. And, for foreign students, this can rise to around US$26,290. And while the United States is one of the most popular go-to countries for foreign students, it’s not the most expensive one. In England, local students can pay up to £9,250 (around US$12,100) while international students can pay as much as £38,000 (US$53,700).

Full Scholarships in Canada

The only way to study free in Canada is to be offered a full scholarship. Many universities offer full scholarships for deserving students. However, expect that many Canadian and foreign students will be vying for these, so it’s going to be a competitive process. Universities have different criteria in choosing who gets these scholarships (universities have autonomy over their scholarship process even if they are subsidized by their provincial government), so here are a few tips to creating a competitive scholarship application.

  • Highlight your best academic features. Your application will be like a resume for this scholarship, so you need to put your best foot forward. If you’re applying for a degree program in the science and technology field, it helps to have research experience. Don’t be shy about mentioning your GPA if it is a 3.0 or higher, as most colleges and universities use it to determine how well a person will perform. Highlight your internships and community service as not all undergraduate and graduate students have this. Show your exam results, college entrance exam admissions, and other exams that give you a competitive advantage. And, for graduate students, having a published research paper in a credible journal will greatly help your application shine.
  • Do Your Research Thoroughly. You might find a university offering a full scholarship, and while it’s a legitimate university known for producing students who excel in a certain degree program, you might find that the degree you want has a mediocre or sub-par program. Don’t just settle for the first university you find that offers full scholarships, and take the time to see if their curriculum for the degree program you want to major in is worth exploring. This is your education, after all, and what you’ll learn for the next four years can be very important for the career path you want to follow.
  • Apply for Multiple Scholarships. Just like in job hunting, it’s likely that some universities will not even consider your application in favor of other applicant they think have a better application than yours. It is difficult applying for scholarships, so to increase your chances, try applying in several universities.
  • Consider Partial Scholarships. If you can afford to study even with a partial scholarship, consider applying for these as well. Government subsidies in Canada make tuition even more affordable, so you’re already paying a lot less compared to the average tuition in other countries. Maybe a 50% or 75% scholarship can still be doable, depending on your current financial status. By being flexible about the scholarships you’re applying for can increase the chances of you receiving scholarship offers.

Canadian universities and colleges are not automatically free, but they’re relatively more affordable compared to the post-secondary education tuition in other parts of the world. Consider applying for scholarships if the cost is still too steep, but given the quality of education in Canada, your tuition can be an investment for the future.

About the Author



Scroll to Top