IES University Prep

Applying to Canadian universities


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Applying to Canadian universities

Canada is an increasingly popular study destination for international students. It is seen as a safe country to live in (particularly compared to the USA, where numbers of applications from international students have fallen because of political issues and COVID-19). Canada is regularly voted one of the top countries globally for quality of life. It is stable politically, offers an enormous variety of lifestyles – from the buzzing and international city of Toronto (almost 50% of the 3 million inhabitants of Toronto were born outside of Canada) to the wonderful outdoor opportunities of Vancouver; and Canada encourages international students by providing clear post-graduation work routes that can lead to residency.

Canadian degrees are recognised worldwide, and there is a great deal of choice in the subjects offered, and the option to combine more than one subject. Depending on the year and which ranking organisation is used, top ranked Canadian universities occupy between 5 and 10 places in the world top universities, around the same number as Australia and only beaten by the USA and UK. The top ranked Canadian universities include:

  • Toronto
  • McGill
  • University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • Montreal
  • Alberta
  • McMaster

Canada is an enormous country and so location needs to be carefully considered. Given the size of the country, there are dramatic differences in climate between cities, as well as cultural differences. Websites such as are a good source of information about the merits of, and differences between, the major cities in Canada, from the diversity and job opportunities of Toronto, the historic city of Vancouver with its stunning coast and mountains, to the French heritage and culture of Montreal.

Undergraduate courses

The Canadian university academic year starts in the Autumn/Fall, and applications are made from around a year before the course starts. A Bachelor degree can be 3 or 4 years in duration, depending on the university. An Honours degree involves some degree of extra specialisation and may involve an extra year of study. Unlike the USA system, students choose a major subject when they apply. In some of the top universities, students can add a minor subject which might complement the major (for example, choosing Commerce alongside Economics) or could be something unrelated, such as a language. For some courses, such as Engineering or Medicine, the subjects that form the degree are regulated so there is less flexibility.


If you are applying to universities in the UK or USA you are most likely to use a centralised admission system – UCAS in the UK, or the Common App/University of California application. For Canadian universities there are some more localised centralised systems such as OUAC for the Ontario universities (such as Toronto) but most international students will apply directly to their chosen universities. This can be both an advantage for students as you can tailor your application to each university; but also can be very time-consuming as it involves multiple applications with different requirements and deadlines. The earlier you start to prepare and research the more likely you are to get an offer.

Deadlines for applications are generally in mid-January of the year that you start the university course. For example, if you are aiming for an October 2022 start, you will apply between September 2021 and January 2022. This means that you need to start preparing for your application at least 18-months before the course starts. You will receive the result of your application from March to May.

Each degree major will have its own academic entry requirements, and like the UK or USA, the academic entry requirements are the bottom rung of the ladder, and they will then look at other factors, such as your suitability for the course or university. Universities will publish Admissions cut-offs – the minimum academic requirements for entry. This does not mean that you will be automatically offered a place if you reach this standard, but that it is unlikely that you would be considered if you fall below this level. They will also list the prerequisite subjects for each course. Students should research these thoroughly. For example, for some courses that involve mathematics, not all of the IB mathematics options are acceptable.

Universities may also require some/all of the following:

  • School transcripts
  • Predicted IB or A level results (or actual results if you are applying after receiving the results)
  • Recommendation letters or references
  • English Language qualifications if your schooling was in a country where English is not the predominant language

The top universities in Canada often require additional essays, video profiles or personal statements. For some courses at McGill, for example, an online Student Profile is required which involves written essays and a video presentation. Students applying to UBC need to complete a Personal Profile  – short essays between 50 and 200 words. Examples of the essay titles are given below (source:

  • Explain how you responded to a problem and/or an unfamiliar situation. What did you do, what was the outcome, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Give us an example of how the pandemic has changed your involvement in the community or group most important to you. What have you learned from this experience?
  • Tell us about who you are. How would your family, friends, and/or members of your community describe you? If possible, please include something about yourself that you are most proud of and why.
  • What is important to you? And why?
  • Describe up to five activities that you have pursued or accomplishments achieved in one or more of the following areas. Please outline the nature of your responsibilities within these activities. (50 words per description)
    • Club
    • Family/community responsibilities
    • Creative or performing arts
    • Work/employment
    • Athletics
    • Volunteer
    • Service to others
    • Other(s)
  • Tell us more about one or two activities listed above that are most important to you. Please explain the role you played and what you learned in the process. You will be asked for a reference who can speak to your response.
  • Additional information: You may wish to use the space below to provide UBC with more information on your academic history to date and/or your future academic plans. For example: How did you choose your courses in secondary school? Are there life circumstances that have affected your academic decisions to date? What have you done to prepare yourself specifically for your intended area of study at UBC?

You will also be asked to provide the names of two referees (normally from your school) who can comment on your essay answers.



  • Applications are submitted between 8 and 12 months before the university degree course starts. So your planning needs to begin at least 18 months before the start date.
  • Research into universities and courses is vital.
  • Unlike the USA, you choose your major when you apply.
  • Each university has its own requirements for academic achievement, and for supporting materials for the application, such as personal statements and references.
  • Canada is increasingly popular for international students, but there are limited places, so early preparation and specialised help with your application will help you gain a place at a top university.

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