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Masters in Canada

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier

Why study for a Masters degree in Canada?

Considering studying a Masters in Canada? Attracted by the country's reputation for friendliness, its wild and beautiful countryside and, of course, its internationally renowned universities? You’re not alone. Studying a Masters in Canada has become an increasingly popular option for students seeking a high quality postgraduate experience and the number of international students enrolled in Canadian universities has grown year on year over the past few years. In 1995 there were 25,000 international students in Canada; in 2011 there were over 100,000. They come from more than 200 countries.

Masters degrees at Canadian universities

Canada is an international front runner in government spending for tertiary education per head of population (one of the highest of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries). Canadian universities educate more than 1.5 million students annually. They perform more than one-third of Canada’s research and development, and represent a total turnover of $30 billion, generating economic wealth in communities across Canada. Canada’s higher education sector is characterised by its diversity; its institutions vary in size, history and portfolio of programmes and specialisms.

Provinces and territories are responsible for all levels of education including universities. There is no federal ministry of education or formal accreditation system. Universities tend to subscribe to provincial government charters and quality assurance frameworks as well as utilising the resources provided by the Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials to ensure that Canadian qualifications are recognised worldwide.

Throughout Canada's 13 provinces and territories, there are 98 universities. These are mainly public universities but private institutions exist and are accredited by the province’s authorities. A list of universities by province is available here.

Structure and content of Masters degrees in Canada

Masters degrees (also called 'grad' programmes or simply 'grad school') are generally called MA (i.e. Masters of Arts) or MSc (i.e. Masters of Science). The title MA tends to be for the arts, humanities and social science, while MSc is for life sciences and chemistry (there are exceptions). Like in the UK, there are also specialist Master degrees for education (MEd), music (MMus) and business administration (MBA).

Masters are generally 12-month in duration for on-campus model programmes (sometimes there will be optional internships which will add to the overall duration). In addition to the traditional lectures and tutorials, your programme is likely to include interactive teaching such as site visits, projects, group work and placements. Most masters will include a dissertation (also called thesis), which is sometimes replaced by a consultancy project (depending on your subject area), which will make up a large proportion of the programme’s credits.

The academic year tends to run from September each year, but some universities have several start dates for their Masters programmes.

Applying for a Masters in Canada

Academic requirements

You’ll be expected to have a minimum GPA (often of 3.0/4.0 or its international equivalent such a UK upper second class bachelor) for your undergraduate degree. Depending on your subject area, you may be asked to provide a graduate entry test score such as a Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE).


If English is not your first language you’ll have to provide evidence of proficiency through an English language test such as TOEFL or IELTS. Similar requirements will apply in French if you are opting for a bilingual programme or for a programme delivered wholly in French.

Application process

The application process is similar to that of other countries. You’ll have to submit the following as part of your application:

  • A completed application form, which is often submitted online (or by email).
  • A copy (or sometimes the original) of your qualifications and transcripts.
  • All applicants who have completed post-secondary education outside of Canada may be subject to a credential evaluation to determine the Canadian equivalency of applicant’s qualification and to verify academic documentation submitted. You’ll have to pay an International Credential Evaluation fee, unless you already have a third party International Credential Evaluation Report which you can send directly.
  • Curriculum vitae.
  • Proof of English and/or French proficiency, depending on the programme that you are applying for.
  • References/recommendation letters.
  • Letter of motivation/personal statement.

Your application will generally be assessed by a central office to ensure you meet all the minimum entry requirements. It is then sent to the faculty/school which will assess the academic quality and suitability of your application in relation to your programme of choice.

If successful you will receive a letter of admission which you will need to be able to apply for a visa (if relevant), apply for a scholarship (if relevant) and to complete your enrolment before, or at, registration.

Visas and immigration for Masters students in Canada

In order to study a Masters in Canada you will need to obtain a study permit. This will serve as your student visa and allow you to live and study in Canada for the duration of your course. You can apply for a Canadian study permit online, or through a visa application centre at a canadian embassy in your own country.

What is required to apply for a study permit:

  • A firm acceptance from a Canadian university, as shown by your letter of acceptance on a Masters course.
  • Proof of financial support (private sources or scholarships) such as bank statements and award letters to demonstrate that you can afford:
    • Your tuition fees.
    • Living expenses, including for family members who will be going to Canada with you.
    • Return tickets or resources to secure a return journey to your home country.
  • A clear criminal record.
  • Evidence that you are in good health.

For a detailed list of requirements, you should contact the Canadian Consulate office nearest to you, or visit the Citizenship Immigration Canada website. Additional requirements may exist in certain provinces. In Québec, a certificat d'acceptation du Québec (CAQ) pour études, issued by the Québec Government, is required in addition to a study permit, and is issued by the Government of Canada. For more information, click here.

Fees and funding for Masters degrees in Canada

Tuition fees

Fees for a Masters in Canada will vary considerably depending on which institution you choose and can range from CDN$7,000 ($6,295) to CDN$25,000 ($22,485).

Application fees

  • Admin fee: around CND$100 ($90).
  • International student application fee (in addition to above): around CND$250 ($225).

Other fees and costs

Institutions will sometimes have additional fees for student services, both optional and compulsory. The compulsory fees are usually around CDN$500-1000 ($450-900) and are therefore worth budgeting for. International students are also required to have adequate health insurance and will have to subscribe to a policy through their institution. The cost for this is around CND$600 each year (but additional cover can be purchased).

For living expenses and accommodation costs, consult our student guide to Living in Canada.



Our own postgraduate funding website provides a comprehensive database of small grants and bursaries available to support postgraduate study around the world, including travel bursaries, living cost support, fee waivers and exchange programmes. Click here to start searching for funding to study a Masters in Canada, or elsewhere.

Careers and employment prospects with a Canadian Masters degree

Employability and employment is at the heart of Canadian higher education and postgraduate degrees are designed to prepare you for the job market. This is great emphasis on 'experiential learning' and skills development. Most universities will host career fairs which are really valued by employers. Remember also that Canada’s economy has been relatively stable and work opportunities are available in the numerous global and local companies, including a booming oil and gas sector.

Working in Canada after you Graduate

Canada offers a number of opportunities for work after graduation and the country’s immigration policy is supportive of the retention of international talent.

There are two routes possible, one through the federal government and the other through the province where you study (and in-line with local labour requirements):

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