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Canadian versus US universities: The choice is clear


It’s no secret that the USA has long been considered the top destination for international students going to university.

With its collection of hallowed Ivy League institutions and famous cities such as New York and Los Angeles, it’s not hard to see why. But as more and more international students are finding out for themselves, sometimes the grass really is greener on the other side…the other side of the border, that is.


Scoping out the competition

“A lot of international parents are stuck on the idea of ‘status’,” says Mel Broitman, co-founder and Director of the Canadian University Application Centre (or CUAC) – Canada’s leading company recruiting international students from around the globe. “Especially in countries like India and Pakistan,” he says, “people put a lot of emphasis on name recognition and international rankings when it comes to choosing a university, and thus they always think America first.”

The problem with this, Broitman says, is that an over-dependence on rankings often leaves families too fixed on one goal, ie: only wanting their children to attend ‘top name’ schools, such as Harvard or Yale. Instead, he says he encourages international families to think outside the ‘Ivy League box’, and consider overall quality beyond just what the rankings say. Of course, only a handful of students are even eligible for admission at an Ivy League school.

When it comes to Canadian universities, Broitman says there are a number of things that are true across the board – unlike in the US, where universities and colleges range greatly across the spectrum. With world-class research facilities, renowned expert faculties, and supportive learning environments, he is adamant that students who choose Canadian universities are almost always guaranteed a top-quality academic experience – culminating in a degree highly regarded all over the world. As virtually all universities in Canada are public institutions, high standards are ensured no matter which school a student attends.

Great value

Besides being great quality, Canadian university educations are also great value. Particularly when compared with popular US universities, Canadian universities typically weigh in at a fraction of the cost. In fact, the difference is so great that it seems even more and more American students are packing their bags and heading north for studies themselves.

According to the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C., the number of American students attending universities in Canada has jumped from just 2,300 a year in 1997, to almost 10,000 students this past year. Even paying international rates, the financial benefits for these students are still substantial, as they are for any international student considering a Canadian university education.

Why spend almost $57,000 USD (all academic and living costs included) to study computer science for a year at the University of Southern California, when you can have the same standard undergraduate course at the highly-regarded University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, for less than $25,000 USD (again, all academic and living costs included)?

For those considering a degree in business, compare these yearly program and living costs: $39,837 USD at Ohio State University versus $20,045 at Saint Mary’s University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For those pursuing Master’s degrees, the costs are similarly lower in Canada.

If the lower tuition fees aren’t enough financial incentive, international students at Canadian universities are also able to work both on or off-campus during their studies, helping to keep the costs down even more while at the same time gaining valuable work experience.

Welcoming communities

Beyond the basics of quality and cost, however, Canadian schools also offer something more – something that isn’t measured by any world ‘rankings’. What they offer, for many international students, is a sense of belonging.

While a new study, conducted by Baruch College (City University of New York), points to the fact that many international students still feel alienated and ‘friendless’ at American universities (out of the 450 international students interviewed at schools across the country, nearly 40 per cent reported having made no close American friends), newcomers to Canadian campuses are often surprised by how warm and friendly everyone is.

Take Bangladeshi student Earfan Sarder for example.

Arriving at Ontario’s Algoma University during the fall of 2002, Earfan immediately got involved in campus life, and started making friends right from the start. Even now, years later, he explains his time at the school as being very special, and still considers Algoma to be his “home in Canada”.

“It’s a small but well-organized ‘community’,” he explains, “so I had the opportunity to build up my experiences...and I met a lot of people from all over the world.”

People, Earfan explains, with whom he enjoyed sharing his own culture and traditions.

“We Bangladeshi guys were able to bring our culture to the campus,” he remembers fondly, “and established the tradition of a yearly Eid dinner to invite all students and staff. Also, every week we were playing cricket in the gym – even in the wintertime.”

While not all international newcomers may be as outgoing as Earfan, CUAC director Mel Broitman points out that most Canadian universities make a special point of helping international students to settle in.
“All the CUAC member institutions offer a range of special services for international students, including tailored introductory sessions, ongoing ESL support programs, international student centres, ethnic and even religion-based student clubs, and special cultural activities, scheduled throughout the year. Students are really encouraged to share their own cultures and backgrounds, while still learning about Canada and making friends with other students from around the world.

“Canadian campuses are considered very open and friendly,” he adds, “and that is definitely a major point of pride.”

Other key differences between Canadian and US universities

• Unlike at most US institutions, Canadian research universities typically use research faculty to teach undergraduate programs, even from first year.
• On average, Canadian cities are much safer environments than their US counterparts.
• Canada has a health care system that covers everyone at the same quality of care – including international students, who benefit from the comfort of this knowledge. Whereas in the US, about 17 per cent of people are not insured; and the rest of the population’s Note: All costs based on 2010/11 academic year prices.

– Arwen Kidd
• Arwen Kidd currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photo journalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.

Posted: Aug 1, 2012

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