Studying in Canada vs the United States

What are the distinctions and advantages of studying in each country?

Between studying in Canada and the United States (U.S.), there are an estimated 1.57 million foreign students, with tens of thousands more expected to enter North America each year in pursuit of higher education.

Many of these students will have to decide whether to study in the United States or Canada. While the two countries are equivalent in terms of educational quality and post-graduation career chances, there are significant disparities in tuition, financial assistance, and post-graduation immigration opportunities that have made Canada a popular destination for foreign students.

Quality of Education

Whilst educational quality is typically distinctive to individual academic institutions (and fields of study), there are considerable parallels between higher education in Canada and the United States.

QS (an globally respected higher education analytics group) identified the top student cities in the world in 2023. Canada claimed three of the top twenty positions (Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver), while the United States claimed two (Boston and New York City). This is a general indicator of equality in educational quality between the two countries—at least in the cities that serve as their post-secondary educational centres.

While this is beneficial, what happens when we examine data by country?

According to a recent survey conducted by the IDP (International Development Project), an international education organization specializing in student placement in Canada, Australia, and the United States, Canada is by far the most popular study destination among international students, with 27% of respondents naming Canada as their first choice. In comparison, just 15% of respondents chose the United States, which came in fourth place, following Australia and the United Kingdom (U.K.).

Since the quality of education is basically comparable, are there any additional reasons why overseas students choose Canada over the United States?

Price/ Cost

Tuition fees are a major consideration when deciding where to study abroad. The average cost of education in the United States ranges from $20,000 to $60,000 USD, depending on whether one attends a public or private college and the degree of study pursued.

In contrast, the average cost of post-secondary education in Canada ranges from $20,000 to $40,000 CAD, depending on the school and degree of study. Take note of the currency difference. Canada’s better exchange rate with international currencies (together with lower average tuition prices) makes it an appealing location for overseas students, particularly when compared to the United States.

Financial Aid

Scholarships and bursaries are another option for international students. While there are state-sponsored and institution-specific scholarships for foreign students in the United States, there are no federally supported programmes to provide financial help to international students. International students in the United States are also eligible for student loans, but they must have a creditworthy co-signer who is a United States citizen or permanent resident.

However, Canada offers international students scholarships and bursaries at the university, provincial, and federal levels that are generally considerably easier to get than analogous programmes in the United States. International students who are not eligible for the preceding financial assistance alternatives may instead choose to take out a private loan with a Canadian bank. These loans frequently feature student-specific interest rates, making repayment more manageable for overseas students.

Work possibilities for international students

Opportunities for overseas students to work
Employment results were basically the same for overseas students in both Canada and the United States, with minor differences highlighted.

According to a poll conducted by World Education News + Review (WENR), 62% of 1,095 foreign alumni respondents obtained full-time work following graduation. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, around 23% of Master’s graduates found jobs in their field of study.

In comparison, a 2022 survey performed by Statistics Canada discovered that overseas graduates at all levels of education had a 73% full-time employment rate on average.

In summary, whereas Canada has far higher foreign graduate labor-force participation, employment results are basically equivalent.

Immigration options

But, for many, job is not only a source of financial stability, but also a way of permanently relocating to the nation of study.

While getting a green card for permanent residency (PR) in the United States might be challenging, international students in Canada have it considerably easier, with clear avenues to PR accessible after graduation.

In the United States, after graduating as an international student, the road to a green card typically entails one of three options:

While there are several opportunities for international students to temporarily extend their stay in the United States as foreign employees, there are less choices for acquiring a green card later. It should be noted that the annual total of economic immigrants eligible for a green card (across all three “preference” streams) is only 140,000, with wives and children of accepted immigrants also counted. This is the first time I’ve heard of it, and it’s the first time I’ve seen it.

Meanwhile, in Canada, immigration for international students tends to be much simpler. Students who have studied in an eligible program (minimum one year), at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) may apply for a Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP). This is an open work permit that enables graduates to work in most industries, and for almost any employer. After obtaining at least one year of Canadian work experience, international students can pursue any of the following pathways to PR:

  • Express Entry—specifically the Canadian Experience Class (CEC) pathway, which is designed for newcomers with Canadian work experience to become permanent residents;
  • The Provincial Nominee Program, which allows specific provinces to nominate immigrants to settle in their province, with provinces often having specialized streams for international graduates;
  • Quebec immigration (which operates independently), including the Quebec Experience Program, designed for newcomers who have Quebecois work and education experience; or
  • Spousal sponsorship for newcomers who have married a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

These immigration prospects, along with globally acknowledged educational institutions, reasonable costs, a variety of financial aid choices, and favorable employment results have made Canada one of the most popular foreign study destinations. For many, education symbolizes a gateway to a better life, and Canada is ideally positioned to provide this opportunity to foreign students through its immigration programs.