Ad: University of Toronto

Our CISM editions:

more to come …

Canadian Education: What International Students Must Know

Canadian Education: What International Students Must Know

The Canadian education system can feel complex, however it is necessary to understand to make the most of your studies. International students coming to Canada may be entering the K-12 system, a language school, postsecondary institution or a professional certification institution. Knowing what to expect at each will help you feel more comfortable once you start your education abroad!

Understanding the K-12 System

Linear vs Semester

Schools in Canada have either linear or semester system. Linear system refers to the system where students complete their courses spending one whole year while the semester system refers to the system where students complete their courses (½ number of courses compared to linear) within a semester, which is half of the year. This means, the number of courses students need to take are the same in both systems. For example, if you are required to complete 8 courses in one school year, you may use a whole year to complete them all together OR use half of the year for 4 courses and another half of the year for the other 4 courses.

The majority of schools with either system starts in September. In the linear system, students complete their studies in June. In the semester system, students complete their first semester in January and use February to June for the second semester. July and August are usually summer break for students unless they decide to take summer sessions offered.

Credits, graduation requirements

In Canada, students can choose which courses they want to take in each semester or school year. This gives students more freedom of what they want to do in their schools; however, students also need to pay attention to the required courses for graduation. For example, most provinces require students to complete English, Social studies, Math, Science, Career Education and PE in each grade, which are requirements (other courses are called electives). It is also noted that students may need to take provincial exams in order to complete their courses.


ESL students usually do not need English proficiency exam scores; however, depending on their English levels, they may need to take more ESL courses in order for them to take academic courses.

Postsecondary Programs

Transfer Pathways

In Canada, it is very common for students to use the transfer system. In this system, students can start their post-secondary education in colleges and after spending 1-2 years in the colleges, and they transfer the credits to universities to complete degrees. Students may or may not complete their studies at the colleges before transferring. Transfer system is also popular for international students because 1) students can save some money as tuition at universities are a lot more expensive than colleges 2) colleges are more ESL-friendly in a way that number of students per class is smaller and it is easier for students to ask for help with their studies.

Degree Types

  • Certificate: proof that students have completed some specific courses, which can be used for job hunting and/or applying for another school.
  • Diploma:  most of the programs are for 2 years and career-focused.
  • Associate Degree: a 2-year program where students can transfer these credits to universities
  • Bachelor’s Degree: a 4-year degree where students can study both general studies, such as English writing/ Math and specific programs offered in each major. After completing the degree, students can start working or pursue post-graduate degrees.
  • Master’s Degree: 1-2 years program after completing the Bachelor’s Degree
  • Ph.D.: 3-6  years program after the completion of the Master’s Degree

Work Experience

Students who study at Canadian post-secondary institutions with DLI numbers are allowed to work for a maximum of 20 hours/week either on-campus or off-campus unless specified in the study permit. (ESL/FSL programs and courses are not eligible for having part-time jobs).

Some colleges/universities may offer internship/co-op and practicum programs. Usually, internship/co-op programs are paid jobs and practicum is unpaid training. These programs are practical and recommended for students who would like to gain some work experience related to their fields of study. Some of the programs can be converted to credits for requirements.

ESL Program

Postsecondary Most of the post-secondary schools offers ESL programs. These programs are available for students who have the intention to take academic courses at the same school or who just want to upgrade their English levels academically. Usually, the minimum length of the programs is one semester (3-4 months).

Language Schools

Language schools are private ESL schools that offer a variety of courses designed for each need. Most of the schools are located in big cities, such as downtown Vancouver and Toronto. Courses are available for a min of one week and there are usually no minimum English requirements.

Professional Certifications

Canadian certifications offer you practical knowledge, support and credibility to enhance your career both in Canada and abroad. It provides a pathway to employment, placing you above your peers who may not be certified. In fact, professional certification validates your expertise and often generates a higher salary later on!

Generally, all you need to do to get in is to prove your proficiency in either French or English.

Knowing the details of Canadian education is key to your success in Canada. Just having that overview will make the process feel less confusing, and you’ll be overall less overwhelmed. So, be sure to study up on the program and school you intend to study at before getting there! Always good to minimize stress where possible, right?
Share This Post
Additonal Setting with CSS
Related Articles​
Please feel free to contact us about this article
Please note : We will generally reply to you within 2-3 business days. Please contact us at if you don't get any reply from CISM.

Copyright & Disclaimer

The information on this site is for information purposes only. Canada International Student Magazine Inc (CISM) assumes no liability or responsibility for any inaccurate, delayed or incomplete information, nor for any actions taken in reliance thereon. The information contained about each individual, event or organization has been provided by such individual, event organizers or organization, or third parties without verification by us.

Any form of reproduction of any content on this website without the written permission of the publisher, is strictly prohibited. CISM is operated by Canada International Student Magazine Inc. a trademarked company; all rights reserved.

Contact to CISM

Please note : We will generally reply to you within 2-3 business days. Please contact us at if you don't get any reply from CISM.
subscribe to our newsletter​ icon

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Sign up to our CISM newsletter for International student and Immigration in Canada