So you wish to study abroad. I wonder why. Is it because you would like to settle down there after completing your study? Work on a post-study work visa for the required period of time and then apply for permanent residency (PR)? Or do you belong to that rare breed who plan to come back to their country once they have secured their qualification. Your answer to these questions will inform all aspects of your study-abroad plan.
In either case, you are to ensure that your choice of academic institution satisfies your unique requirements. The following are some questions you should consider:
Is it my kind of academic institution?
Canada boasts a wide variety of academic institutions. Some are publicly funded, while others receive donations and contributions from wealthy alumni and trusts. There are universities that specialise in research, in the liberal arts, or in any particular field of study. There are large universities that offer a wide array of courses and qualifications. Colleges and polytechnics fight for your attention, providing a type of hands-on education that is hugely valuable.
An entire essay can be written separately on Canada’s education system but is beyond the scope of this article. Suffice it to say that you should decide beforehand which kind of institution you wish to attend. Not only is each type authorised to award certain types of qualifications but also possesses unique advantages and limitations. Obviously, it pays to do some research.
Is it within my budget?
a. Tuition fee
As per the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (www.cmec.ca), the country “has 223 public and private universities, and 213 public colleges and institutes.” For international students, a college education in Canada will cost around INR 7.5-9 lakh annually, depending on the exchange rate.
On average, a university degree, on the other hand, will be somewhat more expensive: 13-15 lakhs/year. This may be way more in case of top-ranked institutions like University of Toronto. Finally, some courses will be priced more than others even within the same college/university.
b. Insurance and other associated expenses
International students in Canada must arrange for their own health insurance, as the majority of the country’s free healthcare facilities/services are available only to its citizens and permanent residents.
Fortunately, educational institutions in many provinces do offer health insurance packages to their international students for the duration of the course. Of course, this is charged extra. Under certain situations, the student can opt for purchasing health insurance from a private insurance company. Either way, the average yearly premium ranges from CAD 600 to 900 CAD.
The student will also have to pay the yearly amount for Books and Supplies, Computer and Internet, library, and other facilities.
Both types of expenses together can set you back by at least about 1000 CAD/year.
c. Living expenses
This will depend on where you are located. True, at times Canada’s larger cities are more affordable than many cities around the world. Still, it is undeniable that living costs are significantly lower in the country’s smaller cities and towns. However, while the cost of local accommodation, food, and transportation varies from city to city, it has been found that “on average, living costs tend to be approximately CAD 12000 . . ..” (www.educanada.ca).
Am I eligible for scholarships?
International education - even in Canada - does not come cheap. Self-funding can burn a big hole in one’s savings. Student loans do help lessen the burden somewhat. However, they are a liability and will have to be paid back over the years with interest.
It is in this scenario that scholarships act as a blessing. Canada offers a range of scholarships, which are open to Canadian citizens, permanent residents, and international students. The scholarships are both university/college specific as well as sponsored by the government. The classic example of the latter is the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarships that are offered every year in almost all fields of study at a Masters, Masters leading to PhD, and PhD level.
One type of scholarship is automatically triggered when an application fulfils the criteria. Others must be applied for separately, and there is often an elaborate evaluation process before the eventual winners are announced. International students can apply for McGill Scholarships and Awards, Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship Program at the University of Toronto, and to several other scholarships provided by various other universities
Not many colleges have internal scholarship schemes for their international students. For that, the candidate has to apply elsewhere separately.
Once again, do your research. Dig deep, apply early, and keep a track of developments. Become “scholarship savvy”.
Is the college/university situated in my preferred location in Canada?
This decision is usually influenced by several factors:
a. Easy availability of part-time jobs
For the vast majority of international students, this is almost as important a consideration as one’s choice of college/university. It is a hard life that they willingly undertake, considering it as a rite of passage almost. 2-3 years of skipping the odd meal, juggling between attending to the various domestic chores, and taking in-person classes at their respective academic institutions.
Part-time jobs of 20 hours a week are quite manageable. Students are paid around CAD 10 per hour, though this may be more in certain situations. Average yearly income a student earns via part-time jobs/assignments is around CAD 33000, but for more experienced students the figure can be a good CAD 10000 higher. (www.ca.talent.com)
At the current rate of CAD 1 = INR 61, that works out to quite a tidy sum: INR 2027306. This should definitely come in handy to fund the 2nd year of education, and considerably lessen the financial burden.
Is it any wonder why, for international students, part-time work figures so prominently in their study abroad plans?
b. Cost of living
This alone can throw a spanner in the works. It is never easy to live in cities where the cost of living is quite high. The cost of living in Canada is definitely not as high as in the USA or in the UK. Even so, it does not come cheap here. EduCanada Government Website estimates that “on average, living costs tend to be approximately CAD 12,000 for Canadian college students.” (www.educanada.ca)
However, it is true that it is far more budget-friendly to live in the smaller cities and towns in Canada. Nova Scotia, for instance, is far more affordable than Toronto city proper.
c. Opportunity to network extensively
For those who are on the lookout for it, there are plenty of ways by which students can get to interact with - and get close to - potential employers.
Planned professional events are not the only ones. Attending periodic off-campus meetups. Going to informational lectures and interviews. Attending well-advertised job fairs Volunteering for social work. Exchanging information on discussion portals like LinkedIn.
All these are wonderful ways by which you can connect with your peers and employers
d. Other reasons of a more personal nature
These will vary with individuals.
You may have relatives settled in a particular part of Canada. Quite naturally, therefore, you may wish to choose a college/university located in a particular province. Often, friends prefer to choose the same educational institution. In a strange land, far away from one’s parents, it is reassuring to have a familiar face. Even if you decide to travel alone, you may wish to study and reside in a place that is well-frequented by members of your community.
What is the graduate employment record of my college/university?
This is an important question, and demands some background work. Not surprisingly, the University of Toronto is the top choice among employers. The elite list is made up of the usual suspects and includes UBC, McGill, Dalhousie, Alberta and some others.
Colleges also fare well. For students of the academic session 2019-2020, employment 6 months post graduation ranged between 70.8% (Sheridan College) and 87.8% (Canadore College).
Graduate employment records may fluctuate from year to year. But overall, the figures of all Canadian colleges and universities continue to be healthy and positive.
This should never be seen in isolation. One must also look at the employer satisfaction figures, the types of jobs provided, and the compensation packages that a typical graduate of this college/university may expect.
What is the ranking of my college/university?
Some are influenced by the world rankings of their chosen universities. And, surprisingly, this is not a waste of time. True, rankings are not everything yet they do provide valuable nuggets of information on various parameters that affect the student.
QS World University Rankings, for instance, puts the spotlight on the academic reputation of a university, the student-to-faculty ratio, as well as how highly employers regard those who graduate from there. In addition to academics.
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings provides information on the research activities being carried out there, the international outlook it enjoys, as well as the industry incomes of its graduates.
The Academic Ranking of World Universities lets us know how many staff members of an academic institution have won Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals in various fields of study.
The candidate also learns if his college/university is known for its up-to-date infrastructure, well-managed student facilities, and a vibrant campus life.
Do the necessary homework before you settle on a particular academic institution of learning.
It is never over till it is over. However, being fully informed and well-prepared is half the battle won. Don’t focus on your IELTS test preparation to the exclusion of everything else. And vice-versa. Striking a balance is the key here.
An eager and focused student is a godsend for any IELTS mentor. In the same vein, a candidate who knows his mind should be a joy for a study abroad consultant.