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Types of Schools in Canada: A Simple Guide for International Students

Updated: Aug 17, 2023

We understand how hard it can be for International Students to pick the right school for them. There are just too many options! So we created this quick guide to understanding the different institutions you will find in your search for the best school for you.

First things first, in Canada, schools can be classified into two main categories; Public Schools and Private schools (so creative, wow!). And each of these categories can be subdivided into a couple more subcategories.

Public Schools:

So, besides the obvious difference between public and private education in Canada, such as where the funding for the school is coming from or which entity regulates the institution (either government or a private institution). The main difference for international students when it comes to Public vs Private schools is that Public schools tend to be more expensive.

Depending on your school and program of study, domestic students can expect to pay around $6,000+ for a whole school year. International students can pay anywhere from $14,000 or more per year.

The other main difference for International Students when it comes to Public vs Private schools is that Public schools are the ones that tend to be or have programs that are PGWP eligible. (PGWhat? 👀)

Don’t remember what that means? PGWP Stands for Post Graduation Work Permit, and it’s a type of work permit that students who graduate from an eligible program can apply to. A

benefit commonly restricted to programs offered only at public schools and some private ones. Your can refresh your terminology here.

As for the subcategories for public schools, we can classify them in the following two:

Colleges: Which focus on specific employment skills, career training, and trades. They tend to have smaller class sizes, with a lower student-to-instructor ratio. Their program durations tend to be shorter than the ones from Universities, focusing on offering Certificates and Diplomas. (Although some colleges offer Bachelor’s as well).

Universities: Perfect for anyone who wants to get a bachelor’s, master’s or even a doctorate degree, Universities in Canada typically focus on analytical skills (the ability to understand and use information), and academic and professional programs, therefore, resulting in longer-term programs.

group photo of capilano students

Private Schools:

Now, when it comes to private schools, it is implicit that they have opposite characteristics to those we mentioned for public schools. They are cheaper, with short-term programs, and most of them don't provide the opportunity to apply for a PGWP. So, that being said, what other differences are there? You might wonder.

When it comes to private schools, they are more prepared for the different necessities that their target market may need. Their English requirements tend to be lower as their target is the international market. Their application process is way more accessible, and their waitlist for actually getting into the programs is way shorter.

Most private schools' focus is international students, so the school population usually looks like 99.9% international students. as in a public school the International Student population is usually no more than 10% of the school, talk about minorities, right?

Finally, the workload for private schools tends to be much less demanding, which is suitable for students looking to study and work. Which happens to be the majority of the international student population.

That being said, here at Thrivve, we have subcategorized private schools into 3 different types:

ESL: Schools focused on teaching English as a Second Language as their primary academic offer. These types of schools usually only offer educational programs related to ESL, like preparation for IELTS, for example, and International Students are not allowed to work while studying when enrolled in these programs.

Colleges for International Students: Frequently owned by English Schools, private colleges for international students offer academic programs that are best suited for students looking for Study & Work. Their program offers are usually the same. They try to cover the international market’s most common required programs: Business, communications, and Hospitality. In most specific cases, offer programs like digital Marketing, Web Development and UX/UI design. However, these always vary from school to school.

These are the kind of schools where you can find a Co-Op program (yes, we already talked to you about them). It’s pretty common for you to find schools that have both ESL programs and Co-OP programs.

Specialty Schools: Last but not least, we have what we like to call “Specialty Schools.” Referring to private institutions which focus and academic offerings are really specific. Therefore they can be as demanding and as expensive as public schools without the benefit of having the possibility of being eligible for a PGWP.

What type of schools would this be? Well, VFS, for example, Vancouver Film School… one of the best entertainment arts schools in the world! Their programs are worldwide famous, and their alumni success is overwhelming.

Another example of this type of school could be NIC, New Image College, which offers art-related programs. However, they are mostly known for their makeup artistry program.

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