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A group of teenagers are sitting together on the stairs; image used for HSBC Looking to study in Canada

Looking to study in Canada?

Find out more about the application process for Canadian universities.

Canada is one of the most popular global destinations for undergraduate studies. In the last five years alone, the country/region has seen the number of international students increase by approximately 73 per cent, with 572,000 students enrolled last year. Indian students formed about 30 percent of that number, with over 172,600 students. In fact, India is now considered the “leading sending market” of students, according to an article by ICEF Monitor.

Canada has:

  • 572,000 international students
  • 172,600 Indian students
  • 26 schools in the QS World University Rankings
  • 3 schools in the QS Top 50

What does Canada have to offer?

According to a Universities Canada media release, the federal government in its budget for 2018-19 committed “CAD231.3 million over five years to assist universities with the institutional costs of research, such as facility costs and technology transfer support.” This ensures cutting edge technology and updated facilities at many universities, which, in turn, attracts eminent staff from around the world. It is commitment such as this, which is helping Canada establish itself as a frontrunner in global higher education. 

Spread across its 10 provinces, many Canadian universities are ranked highly in reputable university ranking lists, with each list using different criteria for their selection. For example, QS World University Rankings are based on academic and employer reputation, faculty/student ratio, citations per faculty, international faculty and student ratio. Out of the 26 Canadian universities on the QS list for 2019, University of Toronto (U of T), McGill University and the University of British Columbia (UBC) feature in the top 50

What is the Canadian university system like?

Canada generally has two types of post-secondary institutions to choose from: universities and colleges (including private career colleges and vocational/technical schools). With over 15,000 programmes ranging from a diploma, certificate or degree, there are many options available for international students. Some of the most popular courses with Indian students are computer science, engineering and business.  

Since education falls under the responsibility of provincial governments, there are a few differences in how universities in each region operate. For instance, Quebec has a mandatory Quebec Acceptance Certificate which is required for international students to get their study permits. This certification confirms that the student has fulfilled the necessary requirements to study as an international student in Quebec. To obtain this, students must apply through the province's Ministry for Immigration, Diversity, and Inclusion.

If you want to study in Canada, it is imperative to understand the application process. A few provinces have a centralised application system, such as the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC), but most universities (even those under the centralised system) require applications through their own unique application forms. Before applying, it is important to check (and recheck) each university’s requirements. 

Entry requirements:

Canadian universities attract students from all over the world and so are quite competitive. For most universities, you'll have to apply to a particular course or programme. However, a few, like York University, will allow you to apply undecided.

Each university programme has its own academic score requirements and may also have certain prerequisites like subject requirements. For example, McGill University requires a minimum 60 per cent overall average each year from 10th to 12th Standard. Their science programme requires you to have studied mathematics, and at least two sciences – either biology, chemistry or physics – in 11th and 12th Standard.

Similarly, at UBC, the minimum requirement is an overall average of 85 per cent in 12th Standard. Prerequisites of the science course here include mathematics, chemistry and physics, which can be waived with an 86 per cent in both mathematics and chemistry.

In general, most universities look for students with above-average academic scores in the 10th Standard final exams. Apart from this, universities will require 11th- and mid-year 12th Standard scores and some may also ask for your predicted scores. Standardised test scores like the SAT are not required. However, if you have taken them, you can submit these.

Offers of acceptance can be either conditional or unconditional, depending on the university. Most Indian boards are usually recognised, but some students may have to give an English proficiency exam like the IELTS or TOEFL. It is important to check the university websites for the minimum requirement of test scores. For instance, at U of T, the minimum requirement for TOEFL is a total score of 100 + 22 on Writing, and for IELTS is an overall band of 6.5, with no band below 6.0. While they do not have a discretionary range for IELTS, students with a TOEFL score of total score 89-99 + 22 on Writing could be considered.

Application process:

Application form

The first step is to shortlist the universities to apply to. Each university has its own specific application form. This usually asks for personal details, academic qualifications and activities. In the activities section, students need to provide evidence of extra and co-curricular activities and community service. Universities look for students who can show that they have pursued interests and passions over the years rather than a plethora of activities for a short time. However, exposure to a range of activities rather than just one will also help in creating an impact. 

Letters of recommendation

Apart from your application, universities may ask you for reference letters, or sometimes just the contact information of references, and they will reach out to them on your behalf. For instance, for undergraduate degrees at the University of Waterloo, only a few degrees like Social Work require reference letters. 

Personal statement

Most universities will also require an essay or statement of intent. UBC has a set of eight questions for its personal profile section where you are asked to answer some or all of the questions. Questions include:

  • What is important to you? And why?
  • 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?

Processing fees and supplement components:

Before you can submit your completed application form, you need to pay an application fee. This fee varies based upon both your home country/region and the university. For example, UBC charges international students approximately CAD120.

Occasionally, before a letter of acceptance is sent, students may have to send in a supplemental application. For example, applicants to Rottman Commerce at U of T are required to complete two short written components and a video response within an hour.

HSBC can help your adventure

HSBC has a global network, including branches in Canada. If you have decided that Canada is your destination of choice for study, work or living, we can help you get established there. To find out how we can help, get in touch with us and we'll contact you shortly.


The Article is published by The Red Pen, an independent third party not affiliated with HSBC. None of the Information represents the opinion of, counsel from, recommendation or endorsement by HSBC or Its Affiliates, Officers, Employees or Agents.

The Information is provided "as is", without warranty of any kind, it has not been independently verified by HSBC or Its Affiliates, Officers, Employees or Agents and use of the Information is at your sole risk. HSBC or Its Affiliates, Officers, Employees or Agents shall not be liable and expressly disclaim liability for any error or omission in the content of the Information, or for any actions taken by you or any third party, in reliance thereon. The Information is not guaranteed to be error-free, or to be relied upon for investment purposes, and HSBC or Its Affiliates, Officers, Employees or Agents make no representation or warranty as to the accuracy, truth, adequacy, timeliness or completeness, fitness for purpose, title, non-infringement of third party rights or continued availability of the Information.

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