How to Apply to a Canadian University as an International Student: A Personal Experience

Updated on November 17, 2018
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I tutor students in the English Language and English Literature at A Levels. I also help students with their college applications.

A Personal Journey

My daughter is currently an undergraduate in the University of British Columbia. We are from Malaysia. As an international student, our journey required a lot of research from the beginning to the end. The purpose of this article is to help others hoping to undertake a similar journey. It will save you time and eliminate many of the mistakes we made.

Why Canada?

Before embarking on this journey to do a Bachelor's Degree in Canada, you have to be sure of your decision and rationale of studying in Canada. As an international student, you have to be aware of what you are getting yourself into:

The Advantages

1. Quality Education

2. Better Employment Chances In Canada After Undergraduate Studies

3. You Can Get A Work Permit While Studying

4. A Truly Beautiful Country

The Disadvantages

1. Expensive

2. Cold Weather

3. Far From Home

Identifying The University

There are many good and established universities in Canada. The university that you will finally end up going to will depend on a few specific factors.

  • Cost – Higher education is expensive. Determine the status of your finance from the very beginning. This is a crucial starting point. Determine the exchange rate and convert what you have allocated for education into Canadian dollars. Remember, as an international student, your fees could be as much as five times of that what locals pay. Undergraduate studies usually take about four years, look at cost of tuition, lodging and other cost of living. Small things do add up.
  • Ranking – Although university rankings are NOT an accurate predictor of the quality of education offered, it is an easy starting point for international students. As an international student, you would not have the luxury of visiting many colleges and talking to the counsellors there. Hence, university rankings will help you narrow down your search.
  • Information From Others - Seek information from others who have already completed their studies there or are still studying there. They are a valuable source of information. Do not be shy to ask questions if you harbour any doubts. At one point, I was such an information junkie that I just kept talking to the alumni and reading so many articles on the subject. The hours on the internet, definitely gave me a clearer perspective.
  • College Websites - Visit each and every college website of the colleges that you are interested in. Check out the the course that you are seeking. Sometimes there are differences in the degrees offered. The curriculum might be different based of the focus of the different universities. Universities have their niche areas. Keep digging. Compare what you will be learning between the universities so as to ensure you get to learn what you are really interested in.
  • Location - Canada is a cold, cold country. If you are coming for a warm, sunny region of the world, this could be a real problem. Remember, you are going to spend 4 years in Canada on your undergraduate studies. Check the winter temperatures and ask yourself if you can manage in such extreme weather. If you are going to be miserable, you are not going to do well in your studies. Apart from this, do some research to find out about the nearest towns. Toronto and Vancouver are huge. While it may be more expensive to live here, the facilities are better. You can get any type of food here. These cities are a melting pot of various cultures. You will not feel so isolated. The international flights land here. This is important. If you have to change flights or take a bus to campus, there is extra time, money and hassle involved. Many international students ignore this point and later come to regret it. For an example, domestic flights only allow a smaller baggage weight. So if you have to take a domestic flight to the nearest college town when you land in eg Vancouver Airport, you will end up paying for the extra baggage which is very expensive.
  • Size of the student body - This refers to the size of the university and the number of students enrolled. More importantly, check the percentage of international students enrolled in the university. For international students, I would recommend going to a university that has a strong international student representation. These universities are better able to cope with the needs of international students. Anyway, the last thing you need is to be the last man standing, when the Canadians disappear during the weekends or long holidays!
  • Course Requirements - You have to do your due diligence. Once you have identified a set of universities, check the entry requirements. Look out for the English Language requirement. You might have to take the the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing) exam. Be sure to take note of the score required for that particular university. Take note of the grades required for entry. For an example, if you are coming in with the Cambridge A Levels, carefully look at the requirements on the university website. Every course offered has a different entry requirement.
  • Important Dates - Take notes of the important dates and don't leave things to the last minute. Most universities are open for new applications, by the end of September, so make sure you have everything you need by then. These include, your official grades, TOFEL scores, letters of recommendations, bank statements as proof of financial status and of course the application fee.

The Next Step

Once you have obtained all the information needed, create a spreadsheet as I have given below. It would help you compare the universities especially in terms of cost. Most Canadian universities do not really give much scholarships to international students, so this is important. I started off with about twenty universities in the USA and Canada and finally narrowed it down to 8 which my daughter applied to. She was accepted to six of them. UBC was her first choice university and she was accepted there.

Create A Spreadsheet

Program of Interest
Cost per year
Financial aid available for international students?
Size (number of students)
% of international students
English language test?/Required scores
Required high school coursework
Average test scores, GPA of most recent class
Acceptance rate
Application deadline
Application fee
Application website
Are essays required
Questions about the school
Contact Person
Contact No
Store All the Information that you Have Gathered Into A Spreadsheet

The Final Step

Once you have narrowed down the universities that would be a good fit, you should start looking at each of these universities in detail. Talk to the counsellors if there are anything you are not sure about. Apart from the academics, look at the facilities. I would strongly recommend staying within the campus during the first year. Check out their meal plans. Is it a compulsory feature for first year students? Sometimes it is cheaper not to take it. It depends on the student and his/her eating habits. Some universities even conduct webinars, which you can sign up for and ask your questions and clarify specific details about the university and the course offered. It is also an excellent opportunity to make contact with other students from your own country who are planning to enrol there. Sometimes representatives from the universities even come down during education fairs. Keep a look out for this and make sure you attend them.

Have Confidence

The journey from a dream to a reality, is very different for an international student when compared to a local. The cost is so much higher and parents have to sacrifice so much to make it happen. Hence, you cannot make a mistake and it is important that the university chosen is the perfect fit. The time and effort put in to ensure this endeavour is something only those who have done it will know. Many locals do not realise that applying from a distance to a university that we can only see in pictures is very different from making a road trip, visiting and talking to the student counsellors at a university. I do hope my article helps. Do let me know if more information is needed.

My Daughter's Current Home!


Get A Few Books

For US college applications I found the books by College Board really helpful. Lots of questions were cleared and it was a bumper source of information, especially for an international application who is starting from scratch. You would not need to get many books, just one or two with the latest information is all you need. For Canadian applications, I found - Canada's national current affairs and news magazine since 1905 very informative. I spent hours prowling the net seeking informations, reading reviews and making decisions. Today, I have become, a bit reluctantly, a source of information for students and parents who are in a similar predicament.

Where would you rather further your education?

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    © 2018 Kalaichelvi Panchalingam


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