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Articles / Applying to College / New Analysis Compares Canadian, American Universities

Nov. 27, 2019

New Analysis Compares Canadian, American Universities

New Analysis Compares Canadian, American Universities

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Have you considered putting a Canadian college on your list? Here's an interesting article that is intended for international students, but it could also serve aspiring collegians from America. One could consider Are Canadian Universities a Better Choice than U.S. Schools for International Students? a marketing piece, but it does present some excellent quantitative comparison data that high school seniors and their families may want to take into consideration during the college search and selection process.


In working with college applicants across the years, I occasionally encountered American seniors who wanted to explore Canadian colleges. McGill University was the one school most frequently mentioned, but a quick web search will reveal quite an impressive list of higher education opportunities up north. Of course, one had better like colder winters!

This review was shared by ValueChampion, a site devoted to helping consumers make the right financial decisions. Seeing as though one of the biggest financial decisions a family can make is a college education, then, this topic seems to be appropriate. The comparison is compelling.

The article opens with an overview statement, which sets the context:

To many, universities in the United States represent the gold standard for higher education. However, in recent years international students have flocked to Canadian universities. How do Canada's top schools compare to those in the United States?

I think this is a great idea for an analysis. The first thing I do when I see a new study/analysis is look at the methodology to see if it looks reasonable. Here's how ValueChampion approached the task:

In order to enable to make an accurate comparison, our analysis was based on data from institutions ranked in the Top 50 Global Universities 2019 list published by U.S. News & World Report. This included 28 undergraduate institutions from the U.S. and 3 Canadian universities (University of Toronto, University of British Columbia, McGill University). We left out the University of Montréal as undergraduate courses are taught in French.

Data Sources:

- U.S. University Tuition and Room & Board: U.S. News & World Report

- Canadian University and Room & Board: University Websites

- U.S. Graduate Employment Rates: The Knowledge Academy

- Graduate Employment Rates: University Websites

- International Students in Canada: Canadian Bureau for International Education

- Acceptance Rates: U.S. News & World Report, International Baccalaureate Organization

- Average U.S. College Tuition: College Board

- Median Salaries: U.S. Department of Labor, Statistics Canada

Straight to the core analysis points:

- Tuition at top Canadian Universities is 16-38% cheaper than at the best schools in the U.S.

- Room & Board is 16% cheaper at Canada's top schools compared to those in the U.S.

- Acceptance rates at Canada's top schools are approximately 3 times higher than in the U.S.

- Employment rates for graduates are comparable in Canada and the U.S.

One issue that I did not see addressed is a comparison of financial aid, although I did see this:

Another important consideration regarding the cost of attending any university is the impact of scholarships, grants and other financial aid. Unfortunately, most schools do not provide detailed figures regarding their scholarship offerings, which makes it difficult for us to further analyze the cost of attending universities in the United States with the cost of attending Canadian universities. Therefore, we recommend that our readers interpret these findings in general terms, while recognizing that their own financial situations may vary depending on the schools where they receive admission and financial aid packages that they are offered.

Plus, a quick search reveals this about aid for internationals attending Canadian schools:

Unfortunately, however, most financial aid options at universities in Canada are primarily intended for Canadian students. International students may have limited resources available to them and will be expected by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) to finance their studies in Canada on their own.

Speaking of tuition, the analysis brings out an amazing statistic (there are excellent graphics to support all these numbers cited). Keep in mind that this is tuition only and does not include room and board:

One reason to consider studying somewhere besides the United States is that tuition prices have risen significantly in recent years. For example, since 2000, the average tuition rate at private, non-profit institutions has increased by 55%, while the average rate at public universities has doubled.

However, tuition at the most prestigious universities in the U.S. is much higher than the national average. We estimate that the average annual tuition for international students at top universities in the U.S. is $48,136.

Meanwhile, the average annual tuition rate at Canada's top universities is much more affordable. In Canada, tuition for international students varies significantly based upon the student's major. For example, we found that the average tuition for international students at a top ranked Canadian university is about is about $30,000, while the average tuition for a business major is about $40,000.

How About That Room and Board?

On top of tuition, university students face significant costs in the form of room and board. Our research indicates that the top schools in the U.S. charge about $15,126 for room and board, while the top universities in Canada charge slightly less at $12,693. While these figures may not seem significantly different, the difference amounts to nearly $10,000 over the course of a 4-year degree.

Do Canadian Schools Offer a Good Return on Investment (ROI)?

While we were unable to find perfectly comparable career outcomes data for top ranked schools in each country, our research suggests that approximately 85-90% of graduates from Canadian universities are employed within 6 months of graduation and 90-95% are employed 2 years after graduation. This appears to be comparable with rates of U.S. graduates, who are employed at rates of 70-94% one year after graduating from top schools.

We found that median salaries for individuals with university degrees are slightly higher in the U.S. compared to Canada. On one hand, this is worth noting for those planning to stay in their university's nation following graduation. However, the cost of living is noticeably less expensive in Canada, on average.

How About Getting Accepted?

Aside from being more affordable, universities in Canada also have significantly higher acceptance rates than their U.S. counterparts. For example, the top schools in Canada accept about 61% of applicants, while the top schools in the United States accept just 23% of applicants, according to our research. This may be attractive to those seeking to increase their chances of admission to a top ranked university ...

In my view, this is a useful presentation, although any prospective collegian and his/her family should exercise some reasonable due diligence before making the commitment to depart their homeland for Canada. Using ValueChampion's stats would be a good first phase for college enrollment decision-making.

Written by

Dave Berry

Dave Berry

Dave is co-founder of College Confidential and College Karma Consulting, co-author of America's Elite Colleges: The Smart Buyer's Guide to the Ivy League and Other Top Schools, and has over 30 years of experience helping high schoolers gain admission to Ivy League and other ultra-selective schools. He is an expert in the areas application strategies, stats evaluation, college matching, student profile marketing, essays, personality and temperament assessments and web-based admissions counseling. Dave is a graduate of The Pennsylvania State University and has won national awards for his writing on higher education issues, marketing campaigns and communications programs. He brings this expertise to the discipline of college admissions and his role as a student advocate. His College Quest newspaper page won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award, the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publisher's Association Newspapers in Education Award, the Thomson Newspapers President's Award for Marketing Excellence and the Inland Press Association-University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Mass Communications Inland Innovation Award for the Best New Page. His pioneering journalism program for teenagers, PRO-TEENS, also received national media attention. In addition, Dave won the Newspaper Association of America's Program Excellence Award for Celebrate Diversity!, a program teaching junior high school students about issues of tolerance. His College Knowledge question-and-answer columns have been published in newspapers throughout the United States. Dave loves Corvettes, classical music, computers, and miniature dachshunds. He and his wife Sharon have a daughter, son and four grandchildren.

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