Canada isn’t only known for moose, mounted police and maple syrup.
Among a growing number of international students, it’s also known for its world-class higher education system.
About 336,400 international students came to Canada in 2014, up from 184,150 in 2008, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education. The country is the seventh most popular destination for international students, drawing about 60 percent of its overseas students from China, India, Korea, Saudi Arabia and France.
While Canadian universities do have some similarities to their U.S., U.K. and Australian counterparts, experts say the country’s higher education system is also unique. Here are three facts prospective international students should know about the country’s colleges.
1. They want international students – and lots of them: While international students can encounter hurdles studying in countries like the U.S. and the U.K., that’s not the case for Canada, whose government has made it a priority to welcome international students. In January 2014, the country announced plans to double the number of international students within its borders by 2022.
Once international students arrive in Canada, they may also have a means to support themselves. Through their study permit, students can work part time on or off campus during the school year, and full time during academic breaks. And when undergraduate students graduate, they can apply for a work permit which allows them to stay and work in the country for up to three years.
“The Canadian government has made a very conscious decision to look at international student recruitment as a way of immigration into Canada,” says Britta Baron, who oversees international programs at the University of Alberta. ”The fact that students can stay on once they have finished is huge – and it’s not necessarily known around the world.”
2. Canada is influenced by the U.S., but culturally distinct. Want a taste of the U.S., but not a full serving? Canada has “modern, predominately English-speaking cities, with just enough American influence that international students are looking for, but a Canadian multicultural experience that is safe and welcoming,” says Aaron Andersen, director of international recruitment at the University of British Columbia.
That “almost American” experience is a perk for Olivia Baker, a French and British citizen earning a bachelor’s in communications at the University of Montreal.
“It seems very superficial and silly but the whole ‘like in the movies’ aspect is kind of cool,” she said by email. “The red cups at parties, the cheerleaders, the university football team, the throwing hats in the air ceremony, etc., all without having to sell your kidneys to pay the tuition.”
In terms of Canada’s culture, visitors are apt to find friendly, polite people with an appreciation for diversity, experts say.
“As typical, humble Canadians, the students are really a part of the knowledge and the classroom experience and they don’t have that entitlement that can sometimes be in other top universities in the world,” he says.
3. Students can get a good bang for their buck. Although tuition at public Canadian universities varies by province, it tends to be lower than at U.S., U.K. or Australian universities, experts say.
On average, undergraduate tuition for international students ranges from about $20,000 to $24,000 in Canadian dollars (about $15,000 to $18,300) a year, says Jennifer Humphries, vice president of membership, public policy and communications for CBIE. And for those who want to try to whittle the cost down further, there are some, though few, scholarships available, she says.
Al Shaibani, a native of Iraq who graduated from the University of British Columbia in May, says his parents steered him toward Canada because they thought the universities were a great value.
“They wanted me in a world-class university and a research institution,” he says of UBC. “It’s good quality, but it’s also affordable. It’s nowhere near the crazy prices of the U.S., Australia or the U.K.”
While a Canadian higher education might be easier on the budget than colleges in other countries, applicants should weigh a few other factors before submitting an application – or several.
Aside from the province of Ontario, Canada doesn’t use a common application, which means international students will have to apply to schools individually.