Canadian tuition costs are considered to be relatively low when compared to universities in the UK or United States, but it can still be a financial burden – the costs of getting an undergraduate degree in Canada can vary between CAD 8,000 to CAD 50,000 yearly, with tuition fees usually being higher for students coming from abroad.
Still, studying in Canada proves to be an attractive option for many, with over 650,000 international students coming in each year, with the numbers growing each year. It comes as no surprise, as Canada has 10 out of 250 most prestigious universities in the world and its reputation as a highly developed country speaks for itself. Students who come to Canada have the freedom to study both in English or French (depending on the province), have the potential to get a world-class education and, if you don’t mind the cold winters, many job opportunities upon graduation.
Even though some Canadian universities tend to be more expensive, there are still many affordable options out there that offer top-tier education. With an extensive list of scholarships, most schools offer, studying for free in Canada is not too far from reality.
Is there free education in Canada for international students?
Well, the short answer is no: there are no tuition-free universities or colleges in Canada for international students. There aren’t even tuition-free universities for Canadians.
With this said, there are still a few workarounds that can help you get the best deal on your Canadian education. Thankfully, Canada offers scholarships and financial aid to international students, with some covering the complete cost of studying (and even living) at any stage of your education – from bachelor’s to doctorate levels. If you prepare your application early, do your research on potential scholarships and affordable universities, you might increase your chances of getting Canadian education for free.
How to study in Canada for free
Getting good grades and having an impressive list of extracurriculars to match might not be enough to secure your free education in Canada. You will have a better chance of getting accepted (and even getting a full ride) if you start preparing for your studies abroad ahead of time.
First, you will have to explore which university is the right fit for you. International tuition varies from school to school and the cost of living varies from province to province. Other than getting your grades in order and making sure you score the highest in your language test, you have to be aware of all the extra costs that come with studying in Canada, as well as research all scholarships that you might be eligible for. Second, if your research yearly, you will also have more time to prepare and write your applications and prove to the admissions team that you are an invaluable asset to the school. This way, when you are considered for scholarships, it will be a much easier decision for the admissions office to make.
If you’re coming from abroad, there is a big chance that you might need to apply for a student visa and prepare for your travels. Keep that in mind as well and organize your time accordingly.
Apply for scholarships
Academic scholarships can be the answer to your financial troubles, and if you follow our advice, do your research and prepare your application early, you might have a chance at securing them. At best, they can take you to Canada and guarantee that your education will be free. At worst, they can still relieve some financial burden of higher education. Various universities and colleges offer awards and entrance scholarships to all exceptional applicants, including students coming from abroad.
Some, like the Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship Program at the University of Toronto, don’t only cover tuition for the entire four years of undergrad but all the other costs that come with being a university student – books, residence, and all the incidental fees.
Most of them, however, offer scholarships that only cover the tuition fees for the students – either partially or fully. Incidentally, these scholarships are much easier to receive than Lester B. Pearson (which only gets awarded to 37 students annually) but can still make a huge difference for an international student. For example, the York University offers 10 scholarships for international students, depending on their program of study and campus. Ranging from CAD 40,000 to CAD 1000, some of their awards do not even require an application, as the university recognizes its most successful applicants and students automatically.
If you’re looking at more prestigious schools, like the University of British Columbia, ranked 20th in the world and 2nd in Canada, offers two partial scholarships to its international students: International Major Entrance Scholarship (IMES), which totals at CAD 40,000 or CAD 10,000 each year of undergrad and Outstanding International Student Award (OIS), the amount of which can vary between CAD 2,500 to CAD 10,000, and is only given once to a student.
Get in contact with the financial aid at the admissions office of your chosen university and ask about the guidelines for the international students. If you want to explore more options or feel like your preferred school doesn’t offer enough, keep in mind that there are scholarships that are offered by the Canadian and provincial governments, private institutions, and non-profit organizations. For example, Global Affairs Canada offers many major scholarship programs aimed at international students and their professional development in Canada.
Apply to affordable universities
Besides applying for scholarships and trying to get a full ride from the most popular universities in Canada, you might want to consider the most affordable schools (even for international students). Some of the cheapest universities are located in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Manitoba, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick, but if your heart is set on going to Ontario or British Columbia (which happened to be the most expensive provinces in Canada) there are still options for you to explore.
The cheapest universities for international students in Canada are:
- Brandon University. This school is located in Brandon, Manitoba and its tuition costs average out at CAD 7,500 yearly. The cheapest on our list, Brandon University claims that it has a long-standing relationship with international students and offers one-to-one interaction with professors and research opportunities, which are often not available at larger schools.
- Université de Saint-Boniface. Located in Manitoba as well, this Winnipeg school offers cheap tuition fees, averaging at CAD 9,000 yearly, and offers a French alternative to Brandon University. If you’re fluent in French and looking at furthering your education in Canada, at a small school Université de Saint-Boniface is a great option for you.
- Laval University. This major Canadian research university is located in the heart of Quebec City and offers over 500 undergraduate programs. The international tuition averages out at CAD 18,000, but the university offers numerous scholarships to support their students from abroad, giving out scholarships up to CAD 14,000 yearly. Besides Laval University high-tech laboratories, computer labs, sports facilities, tuition fees for international students, and the cost of living in Québec are among the lowest in North America.
- The University of Saskatchewan. Located in Saskatoon and having an acceptance rate of 72.3%, this university is known for its world-leading research and Saskatchewan for its high quality of life, which extends to its international student population as well. One of the more expensive universities on our list, the average tuition at the University of Saskatchewan is around CAD 24,000. However, the university offers many academic awards to its most outstanding international students ranging from CAD 10,000 to CAD 20,000.
- The University of Guelph. Established in 1964, this public university is located in Guelph, Ontario. The annual tuition for international students is CAD 28,000 a year, but the university considers all international students for scholarships as soon as they apply, and you can get upwards of CAD 20,000 during your four years. International students at Guelph also receive special assistance with their visa applications, language skills, housing and have access to an advisor to help them with anything they need.
Keep in mind that these tuition costs don’t cover other costs associated with costs of living and academic expenses. Some of these affordable universities also happen to be in affordable provinces, meaning that your cost of living will be lower as well, as on average, an international student in Canada spends anywhere from CAD 10,000 to CAD 20,000 a year on accommodations, transportation, food, health insurance and other costs that come with studying abroad.
Some of the scholarships outlined above cover some of the accommodation and academic materials costs, you have to consider the cost of living before making your final decision. Most universities tend to offer paid work-study positions that will comply with your study permit, are well-suited for full-time students, and most often are located on campus. This will allow you to earn extra money whilst keeping up with your studies.