There are an estimated 1.57 million international students between Canada and the United States (US), in pursuit of higher education, with tens of thousands more set to enter North America annually.
The decision of whether to study in the US or Canada is one that many of these students will be faced with. While the two nations are comparable with respect to education quality and post-graduation employment opportunities – there are significant differences in tuition, financial aid and post-graduation immigration opportunities, which has made Canada a preferred destination among international students .
quality of education
Although the quality of education is often specific to individual educational institutions (and programs of study), there are notable comparisons that can be made of higher education in Canada and the US.
In 2023, QS (an internationally recognized higher education analytics agency) ranked the best student cities internationally. Canada held three of the top 20 locations (Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver), while the United States held two (Boston and New York City). This is a general indication of the similarity in quality of education between the two countries – at least in the cities that form their centers of post-secondary education.
While this is helpful, what happens when we look at the data on a country-by-country basis?
A recent survey conducted by the IDP (International Development Project)—an international education organization specializing in the placement of students in Canada, Australia and the United States—found that Canada was the most preferred study destination among international students: 27 % of the respondents consider Canada as their first choice. By comparison only 15% of respondents chose the US, which ranked fourth behind Australia and the United Kingdom (UK) respectively.
If the quality of education is largely the same, are there other reasons why international students strongly prefer Canada over the US?
Tuition cost is a big factor in choosing where to study abroad. In the US, the average cost of education ranges from $20,000 to $60,000 USD, depending on whether one attends a public or private institution and the level of study.
In contrast, the average cost of post-secondary education in Canada is between $20,000 and $40,000 CAD – again depending on the institution and level of study. Note however, the difference in currency. Canada’s more favorable exchange rate with the international currency (in addition to lower average tuition costs) makes it an attractive destination for international students – especially when compared to the US.
International students may also consider the availability of scholarships and bursaries. While the United States has state funded, and institution-specific scholarships for international students – there are no federally funded programs to offer financial aid to international students. International students in the US are also eligible for student loans, although they will need a credit-eligible co-signer who is a US citizen or permanent resident.
Meanwhile, Canada has scholarships for international students at the university, provincial and federal levels, which are often much easier to find than comparable programs in the US. Citizen and Permanent Resident.
Job prospects for international students
Work outcomes for international students in both Canada and the US were largely similar, with some notable differences between the two.
For example, a survey by World Education News + Review (WENR) found that of 1,095 international alumni respondents, 62% had found full-time employment after graduation. The National Bureau of Economic Research also found that only about 23% of master’s graduates found work in their state of study.
By comparison, a 2022 study by Statistics Canada found that international graduates had an average full-time employment rate of 73% across all levels of study.
In short, while Canada has a much higher international graduate participation in the workforce, work outcomes are largely comparable.
However, for many people, work is not only a means of financial security, but also a way to permanently immigrate to their country of study.
While it can be difficult to get a green card for permanent residence (PR) in the US, international students in Canada have a much easier time staying permanently – there are clear paths to PR available after graduation.
In the US, the path to a green card after graduation as an international student is usually one of three routes:
While there are many options that international students can take advantage of to temporarily extend their stay in the US as foreign workers, there are very few avenues to obtain a green card later. One should note that the annual total number of economic immigrants eligible for green cards is only 140,000 (between all three “preference” streams), with the spouses and children of approved immigrants also counted against this number. The actual number of immigrants admitted to this section is less than the stated maximum.
Meanwhile, in Canada, immigration becomes very easy for international students. Students studying in an eligible program (minimum one year) at a Designated Learning Institution (DLI) can apply for a Post Graduate Work Permit (PGWP). It is an open work permit that enables graduates to work in most industries and for almost any employer. After gaining at least one year of Canadian work experience, international students can follow any of the following routes to PR:
These immigration opportunities, in conjunction with internationally recognized education institutions, favorable prices, multiple financial aid options and positive work results, have made Canada one of the most widely sought international study destinations. For many, education represents a path to a better life, and Canada is uniquely able to offer this opportunity to international students through its immigration routes.
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