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Finding your university: US versus Canada

Finding the right university can be difficult – and when it comes to international students, the US and Canada are both popular destinations. Below we have highlighted the differences in the application process, aspects of university life and tuition fees to help you make your final decision

    Grace McCabe's avatar

    Grace McCabe

    Content Writer, THE Student
    July 12 2022
    US versus Canada


    With some of the top universities in the world, Canada and the US are two of the top destinations for international students. Although they share a border, there are some differences in how university life takes place in each country. Canada has a simpler application process, but the US has more universities to choose from.

    We have compiled all the information together to explain the application process, the education system, grading, accommodation, tuition fees and student life in each country.

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    United States

    Application and admissions Applications and admissions

    Students choose the subject or topic they would like to study and then find a university that offers that course.

    Students find a university they would like to attend.

    Students apply to the university directly.

    Students apply directly to the university or through the Common App.

    Canadian universities focus on grades as the main requirement in applications. However, international students are required to write an essay and a personal statement to explain why they are the perfect candidate for their chosen programme.

    US universities require essays, recommendations and evidence of extracurricular activities.

    Most of the top Canadian universities require SAT or ACT scores, including Acadia University, Dalhousie University and St Mary’s University. If English is not your first language, you must also prove proficiency through a test like the IELTS.

    Most US universities require SAT or ACT scores. If English is not your first language, you must also prove proficiency through a test like the IELTS or TOEFL.

    Once you accept a university offer, you begin your study permit application.

    Once you accept a university offer, you begin your visa application.

    Visas Visas
    International students require a study permit to attend university in Canada. To qualify, they must be fully vaccinated, enrolled at a designated learning institution and able to demonstrate they have the financial resources to cover tuition fees, living expenses and return travel home. International students require a visa to study in the US. There are a few options, but most students will need an F1 visa. To qualify, students must provide identification documentation, prove that they are enrolled as a student at a recognised university and demonstrate proof of funds.
    Education system Education system

    Canada has private and public universities.

    The US has private and public universities.

    Most universities are public, governed by the provinces. Private universities are less common.

    Public universities are funded by the state governments. Private universities receive financial support from alumni, donations, foundations and research grants. Some private universities are affiliated with churches or religious groups.

    Canada has 94 universities and 4,000 colleges offering associate, undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD programmes. The US has about 5,300 universities and colleges offering associate, undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD programmes.

    The academic year consists of two terms; it varies depending on province, but most begin in September and end around May. Quebec uses a trimester system with three 15-week terms.

    The academic year consists of two terms lasting between 16 and 18 weeks. Some universities use a trimester or quarter academic schedule.

    Because students choose their major from the first year of their undergraduate degree, classes are more focused.

    Students can choose from a wide range of subjects and classes in the first couple of years.

    Students can change majors, but it often requires resits and may change your graduation year.

    Students can take the first year or two of their degree to choose their major and can declare it in second or third year.

    Most universities offer three-year bachelor’s degrees. Students who wish to pursue postgraduate studies may require a four-year bachelor’s.

    Most universities offer four to five-year bachelor’s degrees and three-plus year postgraduate degrees.

    Grading Grading

    Each province in Canada has its own grading system. Some use a simpler version of GPA (grade point average), others use letter grades, and some use a number system ranging from zero to 10.

    Most universities employ GPA (grade point average), which uses a four-point scale between zero and four.

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    United States

    Accommodation Accommodation

    University campuses are large, and housing is scarce – so many students live off campus.

    Most students live on campus in dormitories and have facilities on campus for dining, exercising and socialising.

    Students also have the option to live in privately rented accommodation off campus or in homestays with local families. Students also have the option to share accommodation with friends, renting a room in a family home or renting private accommodation.
    Tuition fees Tuition fees

    International students can expect to pay about $29,500 in fees across their time at university.

    International students can pay up to $56,000 a year in tuition fees. Public universities will be slightly less expensive.

    Financial aid is available to students in the form of scholarships, grants and student loans. Financial aid is available to students as scholarships, student loans and work-study programmes.
    Student life Student life

    The cost of living in Canada is lower than major cities in the US. Students pay an average of $1,500 on accommodation each month.

    The larger cities are more expensive for students, with New York ranking the highest in the US for cost of living. Accommodation can be almost $3,000 per month, compared with Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where students will pay about $850 per month on living costs.

    Depending on the province your university is in, the legal drinking age will be 18 or 19 years old.

    The legal drinking age is 21 years old.

    Varsity sports teams are popular at Canadian universities and compete across the country throughout the year.

    Sporting events play a key role in student life. Students regularly support their university in different sports throughout the academic year.

    Top student athletes have access to varsity scholarships, although they are rare and competitive. If students do achieve these scholarships, it may allow them to attend a university that previously was unavailable to them.

    Many students secure their place at university through sporting scholarships and funding.

    Both destinations rank highly thanks to the education their graduates receive and the skills individuals develop during their time at university. Canada will provide an environment where you will grow as an independent individual. At a US university, you will find the more traditional “college experience” and will learn skills and develop relationships that will last a lifetime.

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