Thinking of Moving From the U.S. to Canada for Graduate School? This is What You Need to Know

Posted on February 14, 2017.  Canada has always been a good place to pursue a university education. Not only a baccalaureate, but also for graduate studies at the master’s or doctoral level. Now, more than ever, students across the U.S. are thinking about it, talking about it, and there will no doubt be a surge in the number actually doing it over the next few years.

Canada is home to around 100 universities, and while some are primarily undergraduate universities that offer only a few graduate programs, there are several dozen more comprehensive universities that offer a wide range of doctoral and professional degree programs.

If you are an American student who is trying to decide whether going to grad school in Canada is a good idea, there are some key things you need to know. Here are some of them:

1. You will not have to make compromises in the quality of your graduate education by choosing a Canadian university over one in the U.S. There are no significant differences between Canadian and American universities in the range of graduate programs available, and no differences in quality of education and training. This is so important to understand that I will repeat it: There are no significant differences between the U.S. and Canada in terms of the quality of graduate training available. This is true for all STEM disciplines and social sciences.

2. Graduate schools in Canada are also equivalent to American schools in terms of preparing people for gainful employment and successful careers – including opportunities in Canada, back in the U.S., or in countries abroad. This reality arises from the previous point – the quality standards of training at the master’s or doctoral levels are the same in the U.S. and Canada. Program accreditation is governed by different organizations in the two countries, but they apply similar criteria.

3. Graduate schools in Canada and the U.S. evaluate applicants to their programs the same way, using the same criteria, and with similar standards. This means that the keys to applying successfully to the right programs are also the same. Aside from having to arrange for a student visa to study in Canada, the rest of the application process is the same as for universities in the U.S.

4. Applicants to programs in either Canada or the U.S. must do the same things to prepare, and to apply successfully. Luckily, if you are reading this, you have arrived at the best place to get comprehensive, insightful, and actionable advice on how to manage all aspects of your preparation for and application to graduate school. This is what I aim to provide through this blog, and I encourage you to browse the archives of my previous posts. You will find numerous articles on topics related to letters of recommendation, the personal statement, myths and misconceptions about the role of grades and GPA, writing cover letters, choosing schools and programs, communicating with potential graduate supervisors, and more.

5. Tuition fees are generally lower in Canada than in the U.S., but as a foreign student, an American studying in Canada will have probably have to pay international tuition fees. Overall, this may bring the direct costs in U.S. dollar terms into line with what those costs would be for most in-state students at universities of similar size in the U.S. International fee remissions are available to a limited number of foreign applicants to most Canadian universities, but there is a lot of variation across schools and programs in this respect. Talk to prospective supervisors or program directors about this — don’t just rely on what you can find on the university websites.

6. You don’t need to speak French! Not even in primarily French-speaking Quebec. While there are a handful of French-language universities in the province of Quebec, there are also large English-language universities, including McGill and Concordia, and the much smaller Bishops University. Outside of Quebec, the remaining nine Canadian provinces host major universities that are all English.

7. To most Americans, Canada is only a foreign country in the technical sense. A long border separates us geographically, and we have different governments, but living in a Canadian city is just like living in a city in the U.S. – but with significantly less crime, fewer deeply impoverished and homeless people, and overall better treatment of minority groups and vulnerable members of society.

8. You will be feel welcome in Canada, no matter your country of birth or citizenship, your religion, or your political views. If one reason you’re thinking of grad school in Canada is because you would like to get some distance from the new political landscape and brewing turmoil in United States, your reasoning is sound. Canada is safe, Canada is free, and Canada is stable. Canada is also rich in cultural and geographical diversity. These qualities are part of our national identity, and they are ever present on our university campuses.

How to find the right Canadian graduate programs

Let’s suppose you’re serious about moving to Canada for graduate school. Now that you know it wouldn’t require any compromises in the quality of education and training, you can move directly to the serious business of figuring out which schools and programs to apply to. What’s the best approach?

It’s easy to find out what you need to know about any graduate or professional programs, its faculty members and their research interests, the city in which you would live. But there are many Canadian cities with one or more universities to choose from. All the choices can be a bit overwhelming.

The location of the university may be an important factor and one that can be used to help you narrow down your search. You need to be willing to live in a particular city or town for the next several years. It’s easy enough to learn all there is to know about a place through diligent Internet research. As you learn about different places, remove from your list of potential programs any that are in undesirable locations.

Being in a comfortable and supportive environment is essential for success in graduate school. Interpersonal compatibility with your graduate supervisor is also important. Few things are more miserable than working with someone you dislike, so you want to have some idea of whether you will get along with your potential supervisor, and you want to figure this out before you apply to any program. This is one reason you should directly contact potential supervisors at least a few weeks before the application deadline. There are other important reasons to have this pre-application communication with potential supervisors, but those are discussed elsewhere in this blog.

Finding the right program and a compatible graduate supervisor can be a daunting task, but if you do your research, and contact potential supervisors before you apply, you can avoid wasting a lot of time and money on unsuccessful applications, or on successful applications to the wrong places.

Sorry… can I help?

As you may have guessed by now, I am a Canadian. I am familiar with many of our universities, and I have lived in a few different cities and in different regions of the country. I can answer any question about what to expect if you come to Canada for graduate studies.

Plus, regardless of whether you’re applying to schools in Canada or the U.S., I have the insider’s advice that will help you get in. As a psychology professor for the past 23 years, I have supervised numerous graduate students, served on graduate-admissions and scholarship-ranking committees, and advised countless undergraduate students on educational and career planning. Aside from my research expertise in behavioral neuroscience, my main specialization is helping students understand what they need to know — and what they need to do — in order to prepare for graduate school, to put together a winning application to the right programs, and to succeed in grad school once there. I wrote a book on the topic, which has been published in two editions (1997 and 2012), and I have given guest lectures on the topic at several universities across Canada. For individuals, I offer 30 – 60 minute personalized consultation sessions by phone or Skype. Give me a chance to help, and you won’t be disappointed. For more information on this service, visit my Frequently Asked Questions.


  1. Are you familiar with the process if a Canadian student pursues her /his degree in the United States (because of a sports scholarhsip) if it will be the same procedure to get into a Canadian graduate school? Ie. Graduates with a B Sc from an accredited university. Is the degree equivalent to a Canadian degree?


  2. Dr. Mumby:

    Having studied in the US (MSEE) and now later on in life studying Biomedical Engineering (MsBME in May 2017 and Ph.D. start in Fall 2017) still in the US, it’s my opinion that Canadian Universities are academically superior to most schools in the US.

    I have examined the curricular of the top US (CalTech, MIT) and Canadian universities in EE and now BME and feel angry and jealous at the superior graduate course offerings from the Canadian schools, such as McGill University. The diversity of coursework and research is much greater than what most US schools offer. Sadly, most US company executives only know about US schools (by name) and hardly know much about Canada’s offerings.

    The minus side, what you mentioned is that US students will be forced to pay International Student fees … and yes, the French language thing could be an issue? Even though not in class, but the society around me, on campus and within the cities and communities of Quebec will be in French mode 24/7 all year long. I’d feel incredibly isolated and lonely after a while.



    1. David, thank-you for your comment. I can neither confirm nor refute that Canadian universities hold some kind of edge over U.S. universities in some academic areas. There are so many aspects to what makes a university what it is, and the academic aspects are often lower on the list of priorities than other things. I discussed this issue previously in a commentary on how university rankings are useless when trying to figure out the best place to go for an undergraduate education; much the same is also true for advanced-degree programs. It sounds like you’ve done some looking into a few different graduate programs in Canada that might interest you. While your impressions so far may be that the Canadian schools you’ve looked at are more appealing than the U.S. schools to which you’ve compared them, I would encourage you to keep exploring different programs in both countries. You will probably uncover some wonderful programs in the U.S., too. Just don’t expect the general reputation of a so-called “top school” will be related to the quality of the graduate curriculum. That’s not how they became “top schools”!
      But chances are, since you’re expecting to start a new PhD program this upcoming September, you’re no longer thinking seriously about other options, so I don’t really expect you’ll be doing any more comparisons of different doctoral programs in engineering. Thanks for sharing your observations from your previous comparisons

      You also mention the issue of French, and suggest that it will be so pervasive within cities and communities of Quebec that an English-speaker is likely to feel lonely and isolated. It’s not really an issue, David. The two large english universities (McGill and Concordia) are both in Montreal, which is not as French of a city as one might expect, given that it is in Quebec. Montreal is very much a bilingual city, and you will hear people using English as much as you hear them using French. The majority of anglophone Montrealers live in the western regions of the city, downtown, or in outlying suburban communities. In these areas, English is the dominant language and most people use it for all aspects of daily business. There are tens of thousands of people in these regions who cannot speak French, and it presents no real issues for them. I even know several anglophones who grew up in or around Montreal, but never even learned how to speak French. That’s because they never had to. Not only is Montreal a very welcoming city for Anglophones from other parts of Canada or from the U.S., it was just recently rated the top cities in the world for students. (Just another BS rankings list, but still might have some merit, as this time students’ opinions were considered).

      Anyway, the issue of the French language only comes up in Quebec, as the rest of the country is predominantly English speaking and hardly anyone even knows rudimentary French, let alone uses it. Personally, I grew up in Alberta and went to university in Edmonton. I was in my teens before I ever heard anyone speak French in public. Until then, I had only heard French on TV a few times, and that was when flipping through the channels and pausing briefly on the one French-language station that broadcast nationally. I did my PhD at UBC, in Vancouver; no French is evident there either, unless you look for it.

      Thanks again for your comment, David. I wish you the best with your studies and establishing your career. – Dave Mumby

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s