In Canada, there are significant differences between higher education institutions labeled colleges and those designated universities. Knowing the distinctions will help you decide which institution is the better option among the different between college and university in Canada for you.

Canadian Colleges

Unlike in the United States, where the term college refers to local or community schools that confer undergraduate degrees, the college system in Canada was developed to provide technical training and diplomas that respond to shifting labour trends and the needs of a changing economy.

Canadian colleges tend to:

  • serve local communities
  • focus on preparing students for professions in the trades
  • provide students with career training, such as apprenticeships
  • develop students’ employment skills with a focus on vocational training
  • have smaller class sizes that provide more individualized attention per student
  • offer short-term certificate and diploma programs

Canadian Universities

Universities are academic institutions regulated by provincial legislation, but they are autonomous when it comes to academic matters, such as setting the course for their own programs, the hiring of faculty and instructors, and establishing policies and procedures. Distinct from colleges, which award diplomas and certificates, universities in Canada are defined as degree-granting institutions that offer bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.

Canadian universities typically:

  • focus on developing students’ analytical skills
  • provide academic and professional programs
  • have larger class sizes
  • offer degree programs that take approximately three to four years to complete
  • require significant self-directed study and student independence

Many international students and newcomers to Canada initially gravitate toward colleges because they are more affordable, offer shorter programs, and allow students to secure a quick, stackable credential that can translate to more immediate employment opportunities. However, if you are looking to obtain your undergraduate degree, or pursue a professional career in a field such as medicine, law, academia, or research, then a university is the better option. Whether you choose a college or university depends on your academic goals and future career aspirations.

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