What is the Difference Between College and University in Canada?

Canada has plenty of opportunities for foreign nationals settling in Canada. From quality education from world-leading Designated Learning Institutions (DLIs) to free universal healthcare, scholarships, and mentorships. Canada has the necessary resources to sustain your long-term settlement while studying in Canada.

Before you start your Canadian study journey, you may consider the question of what is the difference between college and university in Canada. This is because the college vs university comparison is vital in determining which colleges in Canada or universities in Canada are most suitable for your study needs.

International students in Canada have their own set of expectations of what they want from Canadian tertiary institutions, expectations that can be fulfilled by knowing the difference between college and university education in Canada.

If you want to learn more about the differences between colleges and universities in Canada, the following presents all you need to know about the significant differences.

Post-Secondary Education in Canada

Post-Secondary Education in Canada

By choosing to study at a Canadian college or vocational school, you’re choosing to obtain a diploma in Canada via a career-oriented experience that fits the changing global market.

Higher learning institutions in Canada range from small colleges with intimate learning environments to large research-intensive universities with world-class reputations.

Difference Between College and University in Canada

There are several significant differences between studying at a university and studying at a college in Canada. Most of the major factors of difference are significant enough to merit consideration when deciding to study at a university or college in Canada.

College vs University? Which one do you prefer? Which one is more suited to your studying needs? You can only answer these questions once you have found the answer to the overall question of what is the difference between college and university in Canada?

If you want to learn more about the differences between colleges and universities in Canada, the following presents all you need to know about the significant differences.

Teaching Style

Colleges and universities in Canada have different approaches to instruction. This is evident in the different teaching styles that college and university educators employ in their lectures, tutorials, seminars, and practicals.


While studying in Canada, you may notice that Canadian colleges have a mix of learning formats enabling students to gain real-life experiences and training in their chosen fields. This involves:

  • Student-led discussions
  • Work practices, and
  • Interactive classes/lessons

There are also blended in-class and online programs that offer practical learning experiences.


Canadian universities adopt a teaching style that is lecture-based programs with few offers for online studies. A distinct difference in the format of instruction between the two academic communities is that college lessons are held in classes while lectures are held in university theaters or lecture rooms.

College teaching styles deal more with training and practice while in university the students listen while the lecturer lectures.

Programs offered

Unlike the United States, where accredited universities and colleges can offer the same undergraduate (sometimes postgraduate) degree programs and qualifications within a particular discipline of study i.e. English Literature, colleges and universities in Canada offer different programs of study.


College in Canada is an institution created for students who interested in learning trades, technology, and applied arts and wanting hands-on career training. Colleges offer more career-oriented programs with apprenticeship training components.

Canadian college career-oriented programs are designed for employability and are open to health, tech, and business. Colleges offer full-time and part-time diploma and certificate programs for students.


Universities in Canada are academic institutions created for students looking to study academic and professional programs that grant degrees once they complete their studies.

Generally speaking these studies are focused on improving analytical skills. There are mainly two degrees you can obtain from Canadian universities:

  • Undergraduate degrees (generally known as a Bachelor’s degree)
  • Graduate degrees (Master's or Doctorate degrees)

Tuition Fees

The value of tuition depends on the specific field of study you have enrolled in e.g. for university, humanities degree programs tend to be cheaper than commerce and scientific degree programs. Comparing universities and colleges, although colleges tend to be cheaper than universities, the practical nature of instruction in colleges which requires the use of expensive infrastructure i.e. technical equipment, can raise the price of tuition fees.


Most colleges in Canada have high equipment costs compared to universities. Graphic design, cinematography, video editing, and photography study programs incur more costs for laptops, editing software, and cameras than others. Tech programs requiring students to have specific virtual machines or laptops are similarly costly and increase tuition fees.

Learn more about the cheapest colleges in Canada.


According to recent statistics from Educanada, the average yearly tuition fees for full-time study in universities in Canada are as follows:

  • Undergraduate students: 48 437,18 CAD
  • Graduate students: 28 319,36 CAD

Tuition fees for colleges and universities in Canada are comparable. The major difference is the study period each program takes to be completed. Because of this, you are likely to pay more for university studies than college studies in Canada.

Program length

The study programs in Canada between colleges and universities differ substantially enough to merit consideration. Let’s take a look at these differences.


College certificate programs in Canada generally take a year or less. A diploma in Canada takes about two to three years to earn.

College programs are generally more intensive than university programs in Canada. This is because training enables students to gain hands-on experience in their chosen fields of study. The trade-off is a shorter period of study.

Canadian colleges don’t allow you to create your schedule. Instead, it is put together for you to follow. Training in college programs is scheduled within your regular courses and you can be required to work during the summer.


Canadian university programs take 3-4 years to complete. Graduate programs can be completed after four years, but the duration often depends on your subject area because some programs require ten years.

Universities in Canada enable you to plan your own schedule. To hasten your graduation, you can take a full course which has five courses per semester. Part-time study has three or four courses per semester.

Class Size

Because of the different approaches to teaching styles and program length, there are noticeable differences in the median value of the class sizes of colleges and universities in Canada.


Generally, colleges in Canada tend to have smaller class sizes. This results in a lower student-to-instructor ratio. The aim is to assist each student by providing more hands-on practical training, instruction, and experience.


Generally, universities in Canada are larger than colleges. This reduces the efficacy of one-on-one help found in colleges. University classes can have over 100 students in a lecture hall. Attending university requires you to be more independent and self-led in your work.

Student Life


A significant number of Canadian colleges do not have accommodation facilities compared to universities. This affects student life in terms of the number of leisure gathering places that students have access to on-campus i.e. coffee shops, gyms etc.

Sports facilities on college campuses are minimal or non-existent at all and therefore the sense of camaraderie and fraternity created by sporting activities is not present on campus.

Canadian colleges also offer distance learning and some, depending on the subject of study, some almost entirely remote and digitally operated. This facilitates a barren student life compared to universities.


In contrast, a significant number of Canadian universities have on-site facilities, gyms, cafes, sports fields, theaters, halls, cafeterias, retail shops, etc that cater to student needs. Along with on-site accommodation, this creates a livelier campus atmosphere where student life can flourish.

Some universities have sororities, fraternities, and cultural clubs e.g. newspaper clubs, which help connect like-minded students. On-campus accommodation also allows for a much livelier student life at university than in college.

Find out more about how to get accommodation as an international student in Canada.

Opportunities After Graduation

International students in Canada who graduated from a Canadian college or university have different options for living and working in the country.

Post-Graduate Work Permit (PGWP)

Certain post-secondary school graduates can get work experience in Canada using a Post-Graduation Work Permit (PGWP). A PGWP is temporary. The work experience you get through the program helps support your application for permanent residency in Canada.

International graduates with a recently expired or expiring PGWP qualify for an extended work permit to gain additional work experience for up to 18 months, as of April 2023.

Find out more about which universities in Canada offer the best opportunities to get a job after graduation.

Express Entry

Graduates with work experience can settle in Canada permanently via the Express Entry application. Eligibility is based on your education, skills, work experience, and language abilities.

Learn more about Express Entry.

Provincial Nominee Programs

Graduates can settle in Canada permanently by applying for Provincial Nominee Programs (PNP). Each province and territory has its own PNP streams and eligibility requirements. To live in a particular province or territory you must be eligible based on an assessment of your education, skills, and work experience.

Learn more about PNP.

Work Permits

Most foreigners in Canada need a work permit to work, especially if they were unsuccessful in their attempts to receive permanent residency status. Besides PGWP, find out if you’re eligible to apply and how to apply for the following work permit programs:

Learn how to extend your work permit in Canada.

Pros and Cons of Studying at a Canadian College or University

Pros and cons of studying at a canadian college or university

Canadian College

Pros Cons
Work-oriented teaching style better prepares students for the workplace lack Lack of intensive research
Shorter courses allowing for intensive practical study Limited knowledge of the field of study due to minimal theoretical research
Develops skills through hands-on practice Lesser scholarship opportunities than University
Affordable Fees compared to university Not enough to apply for Ph.D. Programs
Individual Student Attention is provided due to smaller classes Focused on Skill-building only and neglects other learning competencies e.g theory

Canadian Universities

Pros Cons
Diverse Programs offering more learning options Longer Study Duration
Multiple Facilities allows access to better material study aids e.g labs Apply to Jobs after Graduation
Funding Opportunities are more and better than colleges Expensive Fees compared to colleges
Recognized Qualifications Theory-Based Learnings which lack hands-on practice for skills development
Overview of Real-world is more comprehensive Covers All Subjects which can derail the focus gained from a single subject study in colleges

How Can I Study in Canada?

how can i study in canada?

Most foreign nationals need a study permit to study in Canada. You must have all your documents before applying for a study permit. Apply before you travel to Canada.

You need a visitor visa or an electronic travel authorization (eTA) along with a study permit to gain entry into Canada. Study permits are documents issued by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that enable foreign nationals to study at designated learning institutions (DLIs) in Canada.

What is a Designated Learning Institution

You need an acceptance letter from a designated learning institution (DLI) before you apply for a study permit. DLIs’ are educational institutions approved by a provincial or territorial government to host international students.

Not all Canadian colleges and universities are on the DLI list so please make sure that your chosen tertiary institution is on that list before you apply. Find out more about universities and colleges that are DLI's in Canada.

Learn about choosing the right university or college in Canada with the video below.

Why Choose to Study in Canada?

A Renowned Quality of Life

Canada has a high standard of living. International students benefit from the same rights and freedoms protecting all Canadians, including respect for human rights, equality, diversity, and a stable, peaceful society.

Variety of High-Quality Education Options

Across all tiers of education, Canada offers high-quality education and research opportunities. You can transfer between types and levels of education without running into roadblocks and red-tape common in other parts of the world.

Experience New Cultural Communities

Canada is a safe, open and culturally diverse country. As an international student, you can feel at home in both your own and other communities and classrooms.


You can access scholarships and work opportunities in Canada to help pay for your education. Many study programs offer cooperative work placements or internships to enable students to gain hands-on experience while they study. 

Learn how International students are eligible to work during their studies and after graduation and can get a PGWP to extend their life and work period in Canada.


Can You Study in Canada Without a Study Permit?

If your course of study is less than six months as a foreign student studying in Canada, you don’t need a study permit. Other valid, permissible reasons for studying in Canada without a study permit include:

  • Preschool attendance;
  • Enrollment in a distance learning program;
  • Following audit courses (attending classes without obtaining credits);
  • Enrollment in courses included in tour packages for tourists;
  • Enrollment in a non-academic, non-professional or non-vocational course;

What Are The Top-Rated Universities in Canada?

According to QS World University Rankings, the top-rated Canadian universities, all of which are in the top 150 universities in the world, are:

What Are The Top-Rated Colleges in Canada?

According to Canadaedu.in, the following represents some of the top-rated colleges in Canada.