- Difference between college in Canada and the US include price, title and campus experience.
- Joel Westheimer, University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa, shares what makes college different in the two countries.
- We list 12 ways that college differs in the two countries.
From government structure to healthcare, there are some key differences between the US and Canada – and education is no exception. If you or someone you know is considering attending college in the Great White North or the US of A, there are a few factors to keep in mind, from the cost of tuition to the campus experience.
To unpack the distinctions between American and Canadian higher education, INSIDER spoke to Joel Westheimer, University Research Chair in Democracy and Education at the University of Ottawa.
Keep reading to learn 12 ways in which college varies between the US and Canada.
In Canada, what Americans call “college” is typically called “university.”
As in other Commonwealth countries, college is called “university” in Canada.
However, there are smaller institutions in Canada called colleges that grant certificates and diplomas as opposed to degrees.
In the US, no matter if you attend a college or a university, it’s usually referred to as going to “college.”
College is much pricier in the US than in Canada.
It’s no secret that a college education typically costs less in Canada. In fact, it’s one reason why an increasing number of US and international students are opting to attend school there.
According to US News and World Report, the average cost of private tuition in the US for the 2018-2019 academic year is $US35,676, with public in-state tuition averaging to $US9,716. Depending which province you’re in, the average tuition for Canadian students ranges from $US6,653 (Ontario) to $US2,172 (Newfoundland and Labrador).
“Canada has a much better system for funding university education, a more egalitarian system,” Westheimer told INSIDER, explaining that funding comes from both the federal and provincial levels.
One of the central cultural differences between the US and Canada is that Canadians view education as more of a right than a privilege, he said. This ethos has been the driving force behind student protests in Quebec over surges in tuition.
Admission to Canadian universities is based mostly on GPA.
In the US, standardised tests are part and parcel with the college application process. However, admission to Canadian universities is a bit simpler.
Outside of Quebec, where students are required to complete the Diplôme d’Études Collégiales (a diploma that qualifies you for pre-university and technical studies), Canadians need a secondary school diploma to apply for undergraduate university programs.
The Canadian application process is not as competitive.
Without the pressure to excel at standardised testing, the application process is more relaxed than in the US, Westheimer said.
Students also apply to universities individually rather than with a universal tool such as the Common App.
In the US, there’s more of an emphasis on the dorm experience.
Unlike in the US, where many four-year colleges make it mandatory for students to live on campus for at least some of their education, the residential experience is rarer in Canada.
“There’s much more of a culture of independence,” Paula Tsvayg, a 2015 McGill University graduate, told Money magazine. “All McGill students had to move out after their first year, so we all had to sign leases and get our own apartments.”
It’s more common for Canadian students to go to a university close to home than it is in the US.
In the US, people often apply to colleges throughout their region and even across the country. But that’s not true in Canada, where it’s more common for students to live at home and commute.
According to a 2012 survey from Statistics Canada, only about 10% of students leave their province for university.
Class year isn’t as important in Canada.
While American college students often take pride in their graduating class year, when you graduate is not as big a deal in Canada.
Most Canadian universities offer three- or four-year education (generally equating to 90 and 120 credits), but there’s less emphasis on how long it takes you to finish your courses, according to Westheimer.
“You’re not tied so much to your class,” he said.
And school years have different names in both countries.
Instead of calling school years “sophomore” or “junior,” as they do in the US, Canadians typically say“second year,” “third year,” and so forth.
Most Canadian universities tend to be bigger than their US counterparts.
For example, the University of Toronto has an enrollment of more than 90,000 students, including over 55,000 undergrads. That’s an even larger student body than at the biggest US state school, the University of Central Florida, where about 66,000 students are currently enrolled.
They’re fewer and far between, but smaller schools akin to American liberal arts colleges do exist, like Bishop’s University in Quebec, where there are just 2,340 full-time undergrads enrolled.
Greek life is more prevalent in the US.
Although Greek life does exist on Canadian campuses, it’s less prevalent than at US colleges.
“At McGill [University] it wasn’t like being in a sorority or frat was necessary or even viewed as being something cool,” Supriya Dwivedi, a Canadian public-affairs consultant, told The Canadian Press.
A Quora user weighing in on the subject also noted that sororities and frats aren’t as ubiquitous as they are in the US: “Yes, there are sororities in Canada, but they are not a big thing here, especially not the movie kind where everyone lives in a huge old mansion. Some Universities don’t have sororities at all.”
There’s no equivalent to the Ivy League in Canada.
Despite frequent comparisons between Canada’s best universities and the most selective US institutions, there is no Canadian equivalent to the Ivy League.
As the editorial board of the Queen’s Journal, the student-run newspaper at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, delineated in a 2017 op-ed, higher education in the US is more hierarchical.
“It’s not always the degree itself that gets Harvard graduates a job when they leave – it’s the name. And while our system isn’t without its own elitism, the significance placed on reputation in the United States creates a difficulty in accessing these prestigious schools,” the board wrote.
There are more “experimental” colleges in the US.
A notable exception was Rochdale College in Toronto, which operated from 1964 to 1975 and offered free education. It was known for its student-run classes and living cooperative.
“There’s a host of schools that provide a radically different education in the US,” said Westheimer, citing Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, as examples.
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