Universities and colleges

Region: Ontario Answer # 1419

Universities and colleges are two types of post-secondary educational institutions.

According to the Directory of Educational Institutions in Canada, as of February 2023 there were 224 public and private universities offering over 10,000 undergraduate and graduate programs, and approximately 387 colleges in Canada, including CEGEPS and polytechnics. Each institution and its programs must meet certain standards set by provincial and territorial governments. To be officially recognized, an institution must be certified. Once certified, these schools can grant degrees, certificates, diplomas, and other qualifications which are recognized around the world.

How much does post-secondary education cost?

All post-secondary schools charge tuition fees, which depend on the school and program. According to the Government of Canada, fees are between $2,500 and $11,400 a year for Canadian citizens and permanent residents, while international students typically pay much more. Additional costs can include textbooks and supplies, and food and housing. There is financial aid available for students who qualify. Low-cost loans, grants and scholarships are available from federal and provincial/territorial governments. Visit topic 1420 OSAP and student loan repayment to learn more.


Universities offer a diverse range of academic and professional programs, in areas such as Engineering, Arts, Science, and Business. For example, Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario offers an electrical engineering program, and the University of Manitoba offers an environmental design program. There are 23 universities in Canada that offer Law programs.

The number of students in a university class will vary depending on the school, program, class, and year of study. Generally, however, universities tend to have bigger classes, a higher student-to-teacher ratio, and offer students more independence in their learning than colleges do. For example, there may be between 200 and 600 students in a first-year classes at McGill University in Quebec. This is not, however, always the case. For example, the University of Fraser Valley in British Columbia, has an average of 25 students in each undergraduate class.

The entry requirements for a university program will vary depending on the program. Typically, applicants will require a high school diploma and to have earned a minimum average as set by the university. Generally, universities will consider the marks that a student earned in Grade 12, and occasionally Grade 11, of high school.

The length of a university program will also vary based on the program. For example, a bachelor’s degree generally takes between three and four years to complete, a master’s degree typically takes two years to complete, and a doctorate degree can take between four and six years to complete, depending on the program. Upon completing their program, university graduates will receive a degree, such as a bachelors, masters, or doctorate degree.


College programs offer students with practical, career-focused, and hands-on training in a wide range of areas such as design, healthcare, and technology. Colleges offer a wide range of programs within these areas of study and students can select courses in areas that interest them. For example, Seneca College offers a veterinary technician program and Centennial College offers an auto body repair techniques program. Paralegal and law clerk certificate programs are available at several colleges.

College class sizes generally have fewer students, and a lower student-to-teacher ratio, than university class sizes. The Alberta College of Art, for example, has an average studio class size of 15.

The entry requirements for a college program will vary depending on the program. Generally, an applicant will be eligible to apply to college if they have a high school diploma or are 19 years of age or older.

Like university programs, the length of a college program will vary depending on the particular program. Unlike universities, however, college programs are typically shorter and less expensive than university programs. For example, a college certificate or diploma program generally takes 1 and 2 years, respectively, to complete. Upon completing their program, college graduates will typically receive a degree, diploma, or certificate, depending on the program. Some colleges also offer applied degree programs in areas such as business, technology, and the arts. These programs combine the academic, and critical-thinking skills characteristic of universities with the hands-on, practical training offered by colleges.

What is a CEGEP?

A Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel, or CEGEP is a type of college only found in Quebec. The language of instruction is most commonly French, however, there are some that offer courses in English. CEGEPs offer two streams of education:

  • three-year technical programs – educating students to enter the labor market; and
  • two-year pre-university programs – required for undergraduate admission to Quebec universities.

For more information on CEGEPs in Quebec, visit the Government of Quebec, Ministry of Education.

What is a polytechnic?

Polytechnics are institutions that provide technical, applied, hands-on learning, and offer applied degrees, diplomas, certificates, and apprenticeship training. Students spend time in a real-world work environment developing industry-specific knowledge. Examples of polytechnics in Canada include Red River College Polytechnic in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), the Algonquin College of Applied Arts and Technology in Ottawa, Ontario, and Seneca College of Continuing Education.

For more information on polytechnics in Canada, visit Polytechnics Canada, “a non-profit association representing 13 leading research-intensive, publicly supported polytechnics and institutes of technology.”

Ministries of post-secondary education

Visit your provincial/territorial ministry of post-education for more information, including standards and how institutions are certified, available schools and programs, financial aid, admission requirements, and how to apply:

More info

Refer to the following resources for more information on post-secondary education in Canada:


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