Thinking about how to apply for university in Canada for international students? You're not the only one. Canada is not only one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world, but it is also one of the world leaders when it comes to tertiary education. So I am sure you won't be surprised to hear that it is an incredibly popular destination for international students and that the admissions landscape is highly competitive. That said, gaining admissions to a top undergraduate university program or a specialized program like one of these top law schools in Canada, for example, is possible. In this post, we'll go through everything you need to know about the process of applying and getting into a university in Canada as an international student.

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Article Contents
9 min read

Step 1: Choose the right Canadian universities to apply to Step 2: Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements Step 3: Apply to your chosen Canadian Universities Step 4: Get a study permit Step 5: Move to Canada and begin university Tips for navigating this process Conclusion FAQs

If you've decided to pursue your studies in the great white north, we can understand why. Canada is a great and beautiful country with top-tier universities. That is why many local and international students go through the highly complex process of applying to different schools every year in the hopes of getting admission to their chosen program. This process is challenging for all applicants, but especially so for international ones who have to research the schools, take language tests, prepare applications to various universities, and then apply for study permits and visas before transitioning to life in Canada. So to help you understand this process a little bit better, we've broken it down into five separate steps.

Step 1: Choose the right Canadian universities to apply to 

The first thing you want to do is decide what you want to study and where you want to do it. Canada is a vast country with many universities. Whether you're trying to figure out how to get into grad school in Canada, go from high school to medical school, or looking for a university for your undergraduate degree, there are many options. Once you decide on an area of study, there are several other factors that you need to consider as you look at different universities.

Before we go any further, are you still deciding between IB and AP classes? This infographic can help:  

Do they offer the program you want?

It may seem obvious, but it is worth noting that not all institutions offer all programs, especially specialized majors for bachelor's degrees or master's programs. For example, Let's say that you are interested in completing a degree in politics, and you've narrowed down your choices to Carleton University and the University of Manitoba. Your research will probably show you that Carlton university offers a Bachelor of Global Politics and International Studies. In contrast, the University of Manitoba offers a bachelor's in political science or a bachelor's in Global Political Economy. Although all of these specialties are related, they focus on different aspects of political science, and so you would need to decide if one of them is more interesting to you or if you have no preference.

Is it a Designated Learning Institution? 

A Designated Learning Institution (DLI) is a school that a provincial or territorial government has approved to host international students. To study in Canada, you will need to apply for a study permit, and you can only apply for one if you have an acceptance letter from a DLI. Many institutions are not on this list, and unfortunately, there are also many education scams out there that you want to avoid. So as you take a look at different universities and narrow down your choices, make sure you check this DLI list to ensure that the school you are considering is trustworthy and has been approved to admit an international student like yourself.

What language do you want to study in? 

As you probably know, Canada is a bilingual country- with English and French as national languages. This means that if you are proficient in either language, you have the option of pursuing your studies in English or French. Most of the country's provinces are English-speaking and have English institutions. If you are interested in completing or doing part of your studies in French, you should focus your search on universities in Quebec, New Brunswick, and Manitoba. Keep in mind that you will have to prove your proficiency level in the language that you chose.

What province is the university in? 

Remember how we said that Canada was a big and diverse country? It really is, in many ways. A lot of things vary depending on the province that you live in. The weather, for example. If you've chosen to study in Canada, there is no way to escape the winter, but you may want to decide how much snow you're willing to deal with. For example, suppose you are not a fan of the cold, and you feel that extreme temperatures might interfere with your academics or social life. In that case, you might prefer a school in British Columbia to a school in Manitoba. On the other hand, if you are a big fan of winter activities and the snow but dislike rain, British Columbia will definitely not be right for you, and you might prefer a province like Alberta.

Of course, the weather is only one thing that differs across provinces. You also want to look at the cost of living, the quality of life, health insurance, and anything else that interests you about the city or the town in which you will be living while completing your degree.

What are their tuition fees like? 

Tuition fees vary greatly depending on the program, the university, and the location. For example, universities in Newfoundland tend to have lower tuition fees than those in Ontario, especially for programs like Medicine, Engineering, and Social Sciences. Tuition fees for international students are generally more expensive. They average between 13 000 and 25 000 CAD per academic year. That doesn't include all the miscellaneous fees you need to pay to apply for visas, study permits, language tests, and other paperwork. That said, an international student scholarship consultant can help you find and apply for different financial aid programs that will help reduce these costs. 

Check out this summary of the key points we just highlighted above:

Step 2: Make sure you meet the eligibility requirements

 After you’ve identified the universities that would be right for you, we encourage you to go on their websites and find out what the admission requirements are and what the application process entails. The exact steps will depend on the schools and the programs you’ve chosen. That said, there are two things that are required by most programs: 

Step 3: Apply to your chosen Canadian Universities

Like the eligibility requirements, the application process for Canadian universities varies greatly by province, university, and faculty. Most programs have their own GPA thresholds and additional application components. For example, some schools may ask you to fill out a simple questionnaire, while others require college essays, or they may even need you to answer some college interview questions

Check out this video for great tips on answering personal questions during an interview:

 Depending on your chosen university and program, you may need to submit some or all of the following documents with your application: 

  1. Graduation certificate or diploma
  2. Language Proficiency test scores
  3. Application form
  4. Evidence that you can support yourself financially during your studies in Canada
  5. College letter of recommendation 
  6. Academic CV ( such as a High school resume, MBA resume, or CV for grad school )

Once you've confirmed that you're eligible, you should look at the application deadlines and prepare all the documents that you will need to apply. You might want to consider investing in college admissions counseling for international students to maximize your chances of admission. Additionally, you should keep in mind that you will also need to apply for your study permit and Canadian visa, so make sure you include the processing time for those two things in your timeline.

The application’s closing date is usually in January or February, depending on the program and university. Still, we recommend submitting your application at least ten to twelve months before courses are supposed to start, so you should aim to submit your application in September of the year before you plan to attend the university. This will leave you enough time to sort out your immigration documents, funding and plan your move comfortably. 

Step 4: Get a study permit

Regarding study permits, you will need to apply for one as soon as you get your acceptance letter from a Canadian university that is on the DLI list mentioned earlier. If you're planning on attending a university in Quebec, you will also need to obtain a Certificate of Acceptance of Quebec (CAQ). Depending on the country you’re in, you may also need a student visa to enter the country. It is imperative that you verify the Canadian Immigration and Citizenship ( CIC) website for the most up-to-date information regarding study permits and visa applications.

 You can apply online or submit a paper application to the Canadian visa office closest to you. You should expect to be asked for documentation that proves the following: 

Step 5: Move to Canada and begin university

This step is pretty self-explanatory, so we won't go into the details. Essentially, once you have your acceptance letter and your immigration documents, it's time to make the big move. You should ensure that your homestay, campus residence, or other living arrangements are secured before you book your flight. We also advise that you try to get to Canada a few weeks before classes start so that you have time to settle in and obtain a Social Insurance Number (SIN) from Service Canada if you intend to work while studying. Furthermore, we encourage you to research and use all of the resources available to international students on campus, as they make adjusting to your new environment much more effortless.

Tips for navigating this process

We just gave you a lot of information, and we know that it can all get very overwhelming. So, here are three practical tips to help you navigate this process as an international student: 

Start early:

We recommend applying to universities at least ten to twelve months before the expected semester start date. This means you need to start researching schools and gathering your application documents even earlier than that. The earlier you start, the more time you have to look through all the available information and make sure that you pick the right universities. Furthermore, study permits, student visas, and university application timeframes can change at any time, or complications that lengthen the process can arise. You want to ensure you've given yourself enough time to deal with any surprises. 

Have you started working on your college essay? Check out the infographic below for some helpful tips:

Get help from the experts:

Navigating the intricacies of preparing for and applying to Canadian universities is challenging. Mainly because Canadian post-secondary education is so well renowned that competition is fierce, but also because there are so many different admissions requirements, processes, components, and timelines to keep track of. It can be especially challenging for international students because they might be less familiar with the process. 

We recommend investing in the services of a Canadian university admissions consultant to help you through this process. It is their job to know Canada's admissions trends and application systems, so they can provide some valuable information. Additionally, a good International student advisor will be able to help you with other aspects of this process. Including your study permit and visa applications, finding and applying to scholarships, preparing challenging application components such as supplemental essays, and even transitioning to life abroad. 

Use the school resources:

Most Canadian universities have a page on their website with information about life on campus, one or various international student associations, and sometimes a center for international students. We highly recommend that you look for them and use the information provided by those pages or groups. 

It's easy to feel overwhelmed and isolated as an international applicant, but we can assure you of two things: You are not the only one going through this process, and you are not the only one feeling that way. Using these platforms can allow you to meet other applicants before you even get to Canada. Also, they provide a lot of information that will make your arrival and transition so much easier. For example, take a look at the international students' page of York University. You will find a lot of helpful information about transport in Toronto, accommodation, health insurance, and so much more. 


Applying to Canadian universities can be a long and complicated process, especially for international students. You need to give yourself enough time to prepare, research the different universities you are interested in, the provinces they are in, and make sure that the school is a Designated Learning Institution. Follow the step-by-step process that we’ve outlined above, and use the tips that we’ve given you. You’ll be well on your way to creating a winning application and getting admitted to a university in Canada as an international student.


1. Do Canadian universities accept international students?

Most Canadian colleges and universities accept international students as long as they meet their admission and language proficiency requirements. You should always check the school's website for the most up-to-date information. 

2. What Canadian universities should international students apply to?

International students should only apply to universities on the Designated Learning Institution (DLI) list that offer the program they are interested in. This is because you can only apply for a Canadian study permit if you have an acceptance letter from a DLI.

3. How competitive is admission to Canadian universities?

Some of the world's best post-secondary schools are in Canada, and they receive applications from all over the world every year. In other words, it is highly competitive, and prospective students need to submit an application that stands out to improve their chances of admission.

4. What documents do I need to apply to a Canadian university?

The exact documents and admission requirements will depend on the school and the program you are applying to. However, you will most likely need to provide your graduation certificate or diploma and your language proficiency test scores.

5. Is the process of applying to Canadian universities similar to the US?

The process is quite different from other countries. The Canadian application process can vary by province, university, and faculty, so you should definitely check the information specifically for the school you are interested in. 

6. What language proficiency test do Canadian universities prefer?

Different institutions accept several different tests, but the IELTS or TOEFL are the most popular English language proficiency tests, and most French-speaking institutions accept DALF

7. Should I apply to Canadian universities first or for my student visa first?

You will need an acceptance letter from a credible Canadian university to apply for your study permit and student visa, so applying to schools will have to come first. 

8. Are there Canadian university consultants that help international students?

Absolutely! For example, our consultants here at BeMo are ready to help you maximize your chances of getting admitted to a Canadian university as an international student. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 

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