GRADUATE STUDIES IN CANADA
A collaborative partnership
Graduate study programs are a
collaborative partnership built on the cornerstones of intellectual
curiosity, original thinking, research excellence and sound academic
scholarship. Graduate programs allow students to enhance their
understanding of their chosen discipline and earn a valuable credential.
Universities see graduate
students as academic colleagues, whose fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm
help to enliven the scholarly enterprise. Graduate students help to
further the interests of university departments by enhancing departmental
research capabilities, contributing to the advancement of knowledge and
building the department's reputation for excellence - within the
university, within the academic community and among potential employers.
Students in Canada take on
graduate studies for a variety of reasons. Many are motivated by their
love of learning and their passion for a particular discipline. Career
plans are another factor, since graduate degrees usually lead to
accelerated professional advancement and higher earning power. Entering
academic professions or research careers usually requires a graduate
For many students, the
decision to enter graduate school is a progressive one. Often, decisions
about graduate studies are made during the undergraduate years, and
graduate work builds on the research and learning that has taken place at
the undergraduate level.
A variety of credentials and
There are currently 75,000
full-time and 40,000 part-time graduate students enrolled across Canada.
International students account for about 11 per cent of the country's
total graduate school enrolment.
Generally speaking, there are
three types of graduate degrees offered by Canadian universities a
course-based master's, which requires the successful completion of a
specific program of graduate-level courses; a research-oriented master's,
which requires both graduate-level course work and a thesis; and the
doctorate or PhD, which requires the candidate to undertake original
research and to develop and defend a thesis that makes a substantial
contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the student's chosen field
The first type of master's
degree often has a professional orientation. It is normally completed
after one calendar year of full-time studies and may include a
professional internship. Evaluation is based on the student's course work
and field assignments, and in some programs a research project is also
Generally speaking, these
programs do not lead to studies at the doctoral level.
master's degree is normally completed after two years of full-time study,
although sometimes a slightly longer period is required to complete the
thesis due to the nature of certain types of research.
In these programs, the first
year focuses on the successful completion of course work and the
development of a research proposal. A course in research methods is
usually a requirement. Reading assignments, independent study, graduate
seminars, consultations with departmental faculty and periodic evaluation
are also typical of most programs.
The second year is usually
devoted to researching and writing the thesis. Most departments encourage
their graduate students to present papers and take part in discussions at
academic seminars and conferences related to their fields of study.
The doctoral degree usually
requires either two or three years of full-time residency, although it is
common that four to six years of directed research and writing are
required to complete the doctoral thesis.
The first 12 to 18 months of
a doctoral program involve advanced level courses and sometimes a
preliminary examination. Doctoral students are required to prepare and
defend a research proposal and undertake comprehensive examinations prior
to commencing the main research for the thesis. The comprehensives usually
occur before the end of the second year, and must be passed successfully
in order for the student to proceed to candidacy for the PhD.
Theses at both the master's
and doctoral level include an oral defence before a board of examiners
(although this is not uniformly required at the master's level), usually
made up of departmental faculty along with scholars drawn from other
departments and institutions.
At the doctoral level, the
defences are often public events which are advertised within the
university and local community.
Many universities offer a
variety of graduate-level certificate and diploma programs in addition to
degree programs at the master's and doctoral levels. Certificate and
diploma programs generally have a professional focus. Most require either
one or two years of full-time course work.
Some graduate programs offer
the option of either full-time or part-time studies. In addition, a number
of Canadian universities offer master's programs via distance education.
Most of these programs require at least some course work to be completed
In addition to graduate
programs, most universities offer a variety of other post-baccalaureate
programs leading to professional degrees in areas such as law, medicine,
veterinary medicine and pharmacy. Often, an internship or certification is
required in order to obtain a license to practice in such fields. Medical
specialization requires additional study, internship and certification.
A program that's right for you
The search for an appropriate
graduate program begins with an assessment of your own academic and career
objectives. Once you have a clear understanding of what your interests are
and what you hope to accomplish through your studies, you can begin to
search for the university programs that are best suited to help you
achieve your objectives.
Focus on the research and
academic orientation of the university department in which you intend to
study and on the scholarly achievements of its faculty members. When
searching for a suitable graduate program, it is often more important to
consider the reputation and strengths of the particular department and its
faculty than those of the university as a whole.
If your interests are in
macro-economics, for example, be sure the department you're considering
has expertise in this area of the discipline. Does it offer courses in
your chosen area of concentration? Have its faculty members published on
the subject? Does the department have both a depth and breadth of research
expertise related to your areas of interest? Given the increasing
importance of collaborative research in Canada, does the department have
linkages with other institutions and organizations? How successful is the
department in obtaining external research funding?
If you are planning to enter
a research-oriented master's program, you will typically choose your
thesis topic in consultation with your supervisor. Some universities
assign a team of supervisors to work with you during your first year of
studies - affording you an opportunity to get to know more about the
interests and work habits of your faculty colleagues before you select a
thesis supervisor in the second year. In other cases, you may be assigned
a thesis supervisor as soon as you enter the program, or your choice of
supervisor may be left to your discretion entirely.
Since university practices
with respect to the selection of thesis topics and thesis supervisors vary
from institution to institution and from department to department, you are
advised to investigate before deciding on a particular school or program.
It is important, however,
that you demonstrate some consideration of your area of research interest
when applying to a research master's program. Many universities require a
statement of research interests as part of their application, or you can
make a brief statement in a covering letter.
For doctoral students it is
especially important to do some research on the universities to which you
intend to apply.
At the doctoral level, your
thesis supervisor plays a critical role in helping you choose an
appropriate research topic, designing and directing your research studies
within a realistic time frame and providing you with professional training
in your chosen field. Since your thesis topic will often determine your
ultimate career path, your choice of program and thesis supervisor
requires thoughtful planning and expert advice.
Financial support is also a
critical issue for doctoral students, as in most universities is it
impossible to undertake a doctoral program without funding to support at
least three years of full-time study in residence at the campus.
Does the prospective program
offer an appropriate selection of research topics? Has your prospective
supervisor been successful helping doctoral students obtain their degrees
within a reasonable time frame? What is his or her publication record? Has
your prospective supervisor been successful in obtaining federal or
private-sector research grants? What is his or her supervisory style? Will
you receive the guidance you need?
As you undertake doctoral
studies, consult your graduate school professors to get a reading on the
qualities of potential supervisors. Review recent publications in your
field to identify the Canadian scholars who are leaders in the discipline.
Talk with other graduate students who are already in the program.
In addition, you should
contact the federal research granting council that is responsible for
supporting research activities in your field of interest the
Institutes of Health Research
(formerly the Medical Research Council), the
and Engineering Research Council
and Humanities Research Council to determine the number of graduate students and research programs
within your prospective program that are receiving federal funding
Visit the university's Web
site to obtain information about the school's research programs, academic
resources, research facilities and support services. Contact the director
of graduate studies to learn more about the department's policies and
Begin your investigation at
least a year before you intend to begin your studies and ensure that the
prospective school and supervisor meet all of your priority concerns.
If you are considering a
professional master's program, then you will be concerned both for the
quality and reputation of the program and the institution. Degree
recognition can be a factor in seeking professional employment.
universities have an overall reputation for high quality programs,
although some institutions promote their professional programs more than
Again, it is important to do
your own research on the programs you are interested in, and to make sure
that the orientation of the program is right for you. For example, many
MBA programs are developing specific market niches, such as financial
services or information technology, and you need to match the program with
your own interests and career goals.
Most professional degree
programs produce their own recruitment literature and will be eager to
send you such materials. Be aware that some professional programs have
limited enrolment, and others, especially in medical and health
professions, may have restrictions on non-Canadian admissions.
Most graduate programs at
Canadian universities are administered by a faculty or school of graduate
studies, which is responsible for overseeing admissions to programs at
both the master's and doctoral levels.
Admission criteria for
graduate study vary from university to university and from program to
Generally speaking, an
honours baccalaureate (or equivalent) and high academic standing are
required for admission to a master's program. Candidates who fail to meet
this requirement are sometimes offered conditional acceptance pending
successful completion of an additional year of study.
Master's degree programs that
have a professional focus often require work experience in the intended
field of study.
A high level of achievement
at the master's level is typically required for admission to a doctoral
program. A growing number of universities are introducing fast-track
policies that allow students to proceed from an honours baccalaureate
program directly into doctoral studies, especially in the fields of
science and engineering.
In addition to an official
transcript of marks, some graduate programs, especially professional ones,
require you to submit official test scores on one or more standardized
tests. The most common are the Graduate Record Examination or GRE and the
Graduate & Management Admission Test or GMAT.
Most graduate schools or
faculties require your application to be supported by two or three letters
of recommendation from faculty members or professional colleagues who can
attest to your scholastic abilities and aptitudes.
As well, most schools require
a letter from you in which you describe your academic and career
objectives and your reasons for applying to the program. The graduate
school admissions committee will be looking for evidence that your goals
are realistic, that the program is appropriate to your interests and that
you have the qualities that are required to successfully complete your
Canadian universities set
their own admission requirements for international students. These
requirements are usually comparable to those demanded of Canadian
applicants. However, universities often require international students to
provide evidence of their proficiency in either English or French,
depending on the language of instruction at the university to which they
are applying. TOEFL scores of 560 or higher are usually required by most
English-language universities. While TOEFL is the standard test used, most
graduate schools also consider and accept other internationally recognized
English language tests such as IELTS, MELAB and CanTEST. However, you must
make sure that the university will accept a particular test before
submitting the scores in place of a TOEFL result.
The Canadian Information
Centre for International Credentials advises individuals and organizations
on what they need to do to have their credentials assessed and recognized
While universities and
licencing bodies have the sole authority to recognize foreign programs and
degrees, in some provinces, credential evaluation services have been
established to provide expert opinion regarding the value of foreign
Once you have received your
official letter of acceptance from the university, you will need to
contact the Canadian mission serving your area to obtain a student
authorization for study in Canada. Canadian immigration authorities will
require proof that you have at least $10,000 to cover living expenses over
a 12-month period. This figure is in addition to the funds you will need
to cover the cost of tuition.
In every province other than
British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan you will also need to take out
medical insurance for the duration of your studies in Canada.
If you have been admitted to
a university in Quebec, you must obtain a Quebec Certificate of Acceptance
prior to your arrival in Canada. Candidates apply for the certificate
through the Quebec Immigration Service or the Canadian diplomatic mission
serving their country.
Many universities have
sizable international student populations. Special services for
international students, including orientation programs, counseling, and
international student clubs, are common.
Fees, finances and student aid
Graduate tuition fees vary
from university to university and from program to program. In most cases,
fees charged to international students are higher than those for Canadian
citizens and permanent residents. However, in some instances,
international students may qualify for tuition fee waivers or they may be
eligible to pay the same fees as those charged to Canadian students. This
is usually case for students who are studying in Canada under the
sponsorship of the Canadian International Development Agency or under
bilateral agreements between provincial and foreign governments.
Most Canadian graduate
students can expect to receive some type of financial assistance from the
university where they're studying, although many (especially in
professional master's programs) are relying more and more upon student
Financial aid is provided
through graduate scholarships, bursaries, grants, research assistantships
and fellowships and teaching assistantships.
Competition for university
graduate scholarships is often keen and is generally based on the strength
of your admissions average. Also, once admitted on a scholarship you are
expected to maintain high grades and academic achievement in order to keep
the award from year to year.
Bursary programs are
generally based on financial need, and are usually only available to
students once they are registered at the university.
Most universities do not
require a separate application for scholarships or other financial
support, but some institutions will ask you to complete a financial aid
form that requests information in addition to that which appears on your
graduate school admission form.
Research fellowships and
teaching assistantships can provide you with a reasonable income as well
as valuable work experience. Workloads can vary substantially, depending
on the institution and the nature of your program.
Teaching and research
assistantships are important for international students on student visas
as it is usually the only form of employment they are allowed to undertake
in Canada. It is important that international applicants check with their
prospective institutions in order to find out the availability of such
positions for international students.
All three federal research
granting councils offer programs to support graduate studies, but these
are restricted to Canadian citizens and landed immigrants.
Various other government and
private sector scholarship programs are also available. Private sector
scholarship programs are often linked to a particular discipline or are
designed to increase the participation levels of women, minorities or
other designated groups.
Some scholarship competitions
are available only to students who are already accepted into a program;
others, open to prospective students, can enhance your chances of gaining
admission to the program of your choice.
Many graduate students in
research-orientated programs, especially in science and engineering, are
supported financially by supervisors from their research grants, and this
support is not limited to Canadian students only.
Provincial loan programs are
another source of financial aid. Based on financial need, these programs
are designed to cover the difference between your household income and
assets and the actual costs you will incur as a student. Since it is
generally easier for a graduate student to qualify as an independent,
parental income is usually not a factor in determining the size of your
loan. Loans are interest-free as long as you maintain your studies.
Association for Graduate Studies
cautions against taking on part-time or full-time employment other than
that provided through university assistantship programs. This being said,
CAGS notes that financial worries are often a cause for failure at the
graduate level, so planning is key. You should begin planning your
finances at least 10 months before submitting your application to graduate
school, especially since the deadline for many scholarship and awards
programs predate university application deadlines.
Many universities listed in
this directory that offer graduate programs have provided a brief
description of financial assistance programs available to graduate
Where to get more information
University graduate calendars
provide a comprehensive look at individual program requirements,
admissions criteria, tuition fees, scholarship information and university
and departmental policies and procedures, including those dealing with
issues such as the protection of intellectual property rights and research
Most universities now have
their calendars on their Web sites as well as hardcopy versions.
Faculty members who have
taught you during the course of your undergraduate studies can provide you
with a valuable assessment of various programs at the next level of your
academic career. They can also give you valuable insights into the
accomplishments of your prospective thesis supervisor and of his or her
standing in the Canadian research community. Academic and professional
journals are another important source of information in this regard.
The Canadian Association for
Graduate Studies offers a practical guide to graduate studies in Canada.
The guide provides a wealth of common sense advice on how to choose a
thesis supervisor and the various steps you'll need to take in planning
your studies and assessing your progress.
The guide is available from
the CAGS Web site at
The CAGS Web site also has
links to most Canadian university Web sites and to graduate school/faculty