Not sure how to study in Canada as an international student? We've got you. You decided that you wanted to study in Canada, figured out how to apply to universities in Canada as an international student, and got in. Well done! It is no easy feat. That said, that's only the beginning of the journey. Now, you have to acclimate to this new environment and keep your grades up if you want to graduate. Especially if you are already thinking about how to get into grad school or pursuing a different specialized program after your undergraduate degree. In this blog, we'll go over some important concepts that you need to know about, and we'll give you tips and strategies to help you study in Canada as an international student.

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Article Contents
9 min read

The structure of your degree The course syllabus University essays and plagiarism Academic culture Five tips for studying in Canada as an international student Conclusion FAQs

University is challenging in general but is especially so for international students who do not know the ins and outs of the Canadian higher education system. So, before we go over the tips and strategies that we promised you, there are a few intricacies of the Canadian higher education system that tend to easily trip up international students. To help you prepare, let’s talk about them: 

The structure of your degree

It is essential to understand what courses are required for you to graduate. Depending on where you’re from, you might come from a system in which every course you take is assigned to you, or you are given complete freedom to take different classes about your area of study. In Canada, you will have a combination of the two. You have to enroll in the various courses yourself, and you are free to choose any of them, but there are also specific courses that you are required to take in order to advance and graduate.

 Most undergraduate degrees can take either three or four years to complete in Canada, depending on the university and your chosen program. Depending on the school and your particular background, either you will be admitted to university straight into your faculty, or you will need to take a few fundamental classes before you can be admitted to the faculty that teaches your major. For example, if you are pursuing a degree in Engineering but you do not meet the calculus requirement, the university may require you to take a calculus course in your first year before taking any engineering classes. 

We recommend booking an appointment to speak with one of the school’s academic advisors to find out more about the degree that you want to obtain. They’ll be able to tell you what courses count towards your major, how many electives you need to take, what GPA you need to graduate, what GPA is required to graduate with honors, and so much more. This information will make things easier for you when you are picking your classes and studying for your various courses. 

 Working with an international student advisor could be beneficial to you, as well. We especially recommend investing in this service for those thinking about pursuing any form of graduate program or specialized programs like medical school or dental school. This is because your university student advisor is equipped to help you with planning within the scope of the school you are currently in. At the same time, an external advisor will be able to provide additional information that is specific to your plan. For example, let’s say that you are on your journey from high school to medical school, and you’ve decided to pursue an undergraduate degree in biology. The school’s academic advisor will be able to help you figure out what your required courses are and what GPA you need to get that Science BA with honors. On the other hand, an international student advisor will tell you the best medical school prerequisites and the best way to secure the best medical school recommendation letters. So working with the two of them would be ideal. 

The course syllabus

At the beginning of the semester, most professors will give you a course syllabus. You should take the time to carefully read this document and understand it. Your syllabus is essentially your roadmap for the class. It will include a lot of valuable information that you do not want to be struggling to remember later in the semester. Every syllabus is different, but often, it will include the following information: 

Instructor information:  Their name, contact details, and office hours will all be listed on the syllabus. Some professors even include instructions for contacting them, and whenever that is the case, you want to make a note of it and follow those instructions. For example, an instructor might ask students to CC their personal email address on any written communication to ensure that they are notified of the email even when they are not at work. If you miss this information and email their school email only with an important question, it might take you much longer to get a response. 

Course details: Most of the time, you already have access to some information about the course you registered for, but the syllabus will usually have additional details. Your syllabus will include a summary of the course, the objective of the course, a list of required textbooks or other materials, and any other information that the instructor deems relevant. This will help you figure out if the class is what you thought it would be, thus giving you a chance to withdraw from the class before the deadline. 

Class schedule: The syllabus will usually include a schedule that will tell you when the instructor plans to cover different topics, the dates of your midterm and final exams, and the due date for any big project or research papers. Instructors give you this information so that you can be informed, but also so that you can prepare yourself. Knowing what topic will be covered during your next lecture gives you a chance to read about it ahead of time. Reading ahead can enhance your understanding of the material, making it easier for you to contribute in class. 

Additionally, having the dates of your midterm exams from the beginning means that you can plan your study schedule around it. We recommend putting these dates in your calendar and preparing a study schedule that will allow you to revise properly in the weeks leading up to your exams. This way, you can avoid last-minute, late-night cramming sessions. 

Course Requirements & Grading: The course syllabus also allows you to learn how to do well in a class. Usually, instructors will include some information about their expectations and how your final grades will be decided on the syllabus. In the Canadian higher education system, your final grade isn't necessarily an average of all the assignments and exams that you will have during the course. Professors can decide how much weight different assignments, exams, or other class activities carry. For example, some professors like to encourage student participation, so they assign a percentage of your final grade to class participation. 

For context, here is an example of how your final grade for a class could be divided: 

University essays and Plagiarism 

It’s a known fact that tertiary education institutions love essays and academic papers. If you are majoring in a humanities or social science field, you will probably have to write hundreds of these. If you majored in a STEM field, business, or other faculty, you won’t have to write as many, but you will still have to write quite a few of them. Often, they carry a lot of weight in your final grades. Therefore, it is important that you understand how essays at the university level differ from the papers you wrote in high school and how you can write outstanding ones.

Not all high school programs teach how to write formal academic papers, and not every university instructor will take the time to explain what “MLA style” means. We recommend that you familiarize yourself with the different essay formats before your first semester. Most universities have a tutoring or writing center where you can be taught about different essay formats and writing styles. You can also choose to start with a google search. Either way, learning the different formats and writing styles will give you a leg up once the semester begins, and it will also help you avoid accidental plagiarism.

It would also be best to look into your university’s plagiarism rules. Plagiarism is essentially the practice of taking someone else’s work or ideas and passing them off as one’s own. We do not assume that you will cheat or try to steal someone’s work. We’re hoping that you know not to do that! However, accidental plagiarism is easier to commit and, therefore, more common than you may think. It could be as simple as forgetting to use quotation marks for a quote or paraphrasing too closely to the original text. These are simple mistakes that are very common with students, especially when they are not familiar with the other rules of academic writing.

It is important to familiarize yourself with the rules so that you can be prepared in case you ever need to appeal a decision or ever find yourself in a situation where you’ve been accused of plagiarism. Depending on the context, the consequences of plagiarism can range from failing an assignment to serious ramifications like failing the class, being put on academic probation, or even expulsion.

Need a visual summary of the key points covered in this blog? This infographic is for you:

The academic culture

When you're moving to Canada to study, people will often tell you about the culture shock that you might experience but rarely do they tell you about how it applies to the classroom. The differences might be slight or jarring depending on where you're from. Either way, you should prepare yourself for a structured but relatively relaxed atmosphere. For example, if you went to high school in Nigeria, where some universities require students to dress a certain way, you might be shocked to find that some students get dressed up to come to class, and others prefer to be comfortable in their sweatpants.

You should also expect to have a lot of freedom and responsibility. For example, you will rarely be given assigned readings for the next class, but you are given a syllabus that tells you what you will be studying during that class, so it is up to you to read on the subject beforehand. Another example is that you can leave the classroom anytime you like to take an important phone call or use the restroom. However, it is up to you to make sure you attend your lectures and only leave when you have to, not just because you can.

Furthermore, the way students engage with professors might be slightly different from what you're accustomed to. Most instructors will usually tell you how they want to be addressed, and most of the time, it is by their first name. Additionally, you can usually just ask questions or contribute without raising your hand and asking permission, depending on the class. You simply have to be respectful and make sure you're not interrupting others. Most instructors will tell you how they want students to engage in their classroom.

We encourage you to embrace these differences to make the best of your education. Specifically, we highly encourage you to participate in class. Some lecturers will include participation or attendance in their grading system for a class, but you should try to be active, even in the classes that don't. Interacting with your fellow students and your instructor is a great way to make sure you understand the material being taught. It is also a great way to network and make a good impression.

Five tips for studying in Canada as an international student: 


Bering an international student in Canada gives you access to a top-notch education, but you need to be organized and knowledgeable about the Canadian higher education system. To do well in Canadian universities, you need to understand the structure of your degree and take the time to understand every syllabus that you get at the beginning of the semester. You should also be sure to use the numerous resources provided by the professors, student union, and the school. If you follow the tips we've outlined above, you'll find that studying as an international student in Canada doesn't need to be so overwhelming.


1. Is Canada a good place for international students?

Canada is a very popular destination for international students because of the quality of its higher education system and the fact that it is consistently ranked as one of the best countries in the world when it comes to quality of life. 

2. How hard is it to get into Canadian universities?

Canadian universities can be very selective, depending on the school and program you are applying to. You might want to work with an international student advisor to help you through the process of applying to Canadian schools. 

3. What is Pomodoro?

Pomodoro is a studying technique that consists of diving your time in half-hour blocks where you study for 25 minutes and reward yourself with a five-minute break. After the 4th cycle, you can take a more extended break. 

4. Can you really get expelled for plagiarism in Canada?

 Different schools handle plagiarism allegations differently, but the consequences can be very severe. They can include academic probation, suspension, or expulsion. 

5. Why should students attend office hours?

Office hours give you a chance to get some personalized feedback and one-on-one help with your instructors. They are also a great way to find a build relationships with your professors and find a potential mentor.

6. How many years does it take to get a degree in Canada?

Typically 3 or 4 years, depending on the program that you're studying. 

7. Why is class participation important in Canada?

Class participation allows you to engage with the material that you're learning, and with your classmates, as well as your instructor. In addition to that, some instructors actually grade you on how active you are in class.

8. What are high-yield study techniques?

High-yield study techniques are strategies for studying that produce results. The Pomodoro technique, mnemonic devices, study groups, and flashcards are a few examples.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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