How Do University Admissions Work in Canada?

Are you a high school student thinking ahead to university admissions in Canada? Are you a parent of a high school student? Here’s what you need to know.

There are high-quality universities across the country and you can get a fine education at any of them. Grab a pen and paper or open a document on your laptop and get ready to take notes and do some research. Take some time to answer the six questions below. Your answers will guide your approach to university planning and applications.

1. Grades: What’s your GPA in your academic classes? 

Your final marks in Grade 11 and your first and second term marks in Grade 12 will be the most important factor when schools evaluate your application. Knowing the average GPA of students accepted to programs you’re interested in will help you plan, and you can often find these averages on university websites. 

2. Area of Study: Do you know what you’re interested in studying? 

Most Canadian universities are divided into faculties. When applying, you’ll select a ‘faculty’ or ‘degree’: for example, Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor of Commerce. If this question makes you feel anxious, you’re not alone. Most of the high school students we work with don’t feel entirely ready to choose an area of study. That’s okay – you’re not required to have a specific focus yet. Many students choose a faculty or degree that seems most interesting to them now, and can still adjust their path later. Once you decide on the general area, you’ll need to make sure you take the right prerequisite courses in high school. These are not standard across universities, so make a list of the schools that interest you and check each of their websites.

3. Location: Do you want or need to live at home or are you willing and able to go anywhere in Canada?

If you live within commuting distance of a school that interests you, living at home can be a good option that keeps the cost of university down. On the other hand, living on or near a university campus – whether near home or far away – can be a great way to learn to live independently. If it’s some distance from home, you’ll have the chance to experience life in a different province, city, or community.

4. Cost: Do you have funding available or will you need to work or take out loans?

Tuition can vary significantly depending on the program you choose, so it’s important to look at the total ‘cost of attendance’ (tuition, books, student fees, housing, meal plan, commuting costs) for each program you’re considering. 

5. Vibe: Does school spirit matter to you? 

Universities in big cities tend to be filled with ‘commuters’ who go home after school and on weekends. Universities in smaller towns tend to have more students living on or near campus, making evenings and weekends livelier and building a sense of community. What kind of environment appeals to you?  

6. Size: How will the size of the school affect you? 

Canadian universities have student populations ranging from less than 1,000 to more than 60,000, and can be roughly categorized in declining order of size as ‘major research’, ‘comprehensive’, and ‘primarily undergraduate’. There are pros and cons to all sizes; what’s important to consider is where you’ll thrive best. Are you more likely to reach your goals at a school offering small classes taught by professors instead of teaching assistants? If this sounds appealing to you, be sure to check out Canada’s primarily undergraduate universities.

Thinking about and answering these questions to the best of your ability will help you plan your next steps. Once you’ve calculated your GPA and checked on prerequisite courses for programs of interest, you’ll know what courses you need to take in Grades 11 and 12 and you might be motivated to raise your grades in specific prerequisite courses. After comparing the total cost of attendance of living at home or on campus, you might decide it’s best to live at home. If so, you’ll know to focus on universities and colleges within commuting distance. If you have funding to live away from home, learning about the campus life and vibe at schools that interest you will be important. After all, this will be your home for four years. Once you’re familiar with the sizes of various Canadian universities, you can consider which ones will suit you best.

At Academic Pathways, we guide students and their families through this process. If you’re interested in learning about working one-to-one with us, we can be reached at