Home to some of North America's most historic - and globally renowned - research universities, Canada's multicultural outlook and cosmopolitan society also make it an increasingly popular home-away-from-home for thousands of international students.
A PhD in Canada will give you the opportunity to work with leading experts and take advantage of modern high-tech facilities. Once you've earned your doctorate, you'll have the opportunity to take advantage of one of the world's most generous post-study work visa schemes.
This page covers everything you'll need to know to take advantage of postgraduate study in Canada. It includes information on the Canadian university system, the structure of a typical Canadian doctoral programme and key facts for fees, funding and visa requirements.
Canada has always been popular with international students - and international students have always been popular with Canada. But this has never been more true than it is right now.
The number of people studying abroad in Canada has risen by nearly 30% recently as more and more students have been attracted by the prospect of living and studying in a friendly and liberal society that supports and celebrates its internationally acclaimed universities. Not to mention the chance to experience and explore the country's diverse range of stunning natural landscapes and habitats.
Here are a few of the things that make Canada a great choice for PhD study in 2021 and beyond:
You'll also have the opportunity to study at the same universities as a famous American leader - and who knows: you might even meet Justin Trudeau himself.
|Oldest University||Université Laval (1663)|
|PhD Length||3-6 years|
|Representative Fees||CAD $4,000-6,000|
|Academic Year||September to April|
For the latest information on the impact of coronavirus on studying a PhD in Canada, please check the official Study in Canada page for updates.
Like its near-neighbour, the USA, Canada is a big country. However, unlike the USA, a relatively small proportion of Canada is actually inhabited. This means that the Canadian university system isn't as large as you might expect and, when it comes to PhD-level study, it's actually relatively easy to make sense of.
There are around 100 research universities in Canada (other institutions such as liberal arts colleges and community colleges also exist, but these don't tend to offer PhDs). These universities often run their doctoral programmes within dedicated graduate schools that house all the facilities and expertise necessary to support students through advanced postgraduate (or 'graduate') degrees.
Individual Canadian universities can be public or private, depending on how they receive their funding.
Public universities (the great majority) are financially supported by their local province or territory and tend to offer more comprehensive study opportunities, including doctoral programmes. Private universities are funded by third-party sources (such as religious organisations) and tend to be smaller and more specialised.
Canada's vast geographical size and colonial history means the country has developed a federal structure, made up of 10 provinces and 3 territories. Provinces are independent sovereign entities (similar to US states) whereas territories have their authority delegated by the central federal government.
The most important difference between Canadian provinces and territories for international PhD students is that only provinces possess research universities (with the ability to offer doctoral programmes).
Most provinces take a similar approach to doctoral training and international recruitment, but local policies can sometimes affect the amount (and type) of funding available. The part of Canada you choose to study in may also determine whether your university offers programmes in English, French or both.
The 10 Canadian provinces are as follows:
Canada's three territories are the Yukon, Nanavut and Northwest Territories. They are home to colleges offering undergraduate degrees, but do not currently possess universities with doctoral programmes.
There are several cities in Canada with one or more universities and large numbers of students.
Not to be outdone by their North American neighbours, Canadian universities are world-leading in a range of fields and this is reflected in their international rankings.
|University||THE 2021||QS 2021||ARWU 2020|
|University of Toronto||18||=25||23|
|University of British Columbia||34||45||38|
|University of Montreal||=73||118||151-200|
|University of Alberta||=131||119||101-150|
|University of Ottawa||=145||=279||151-200|
|University of Calgary||=200||=246||151-200|
|University of Waterloo||201-250||=166||151-200|
|Simon Fraser University||251-300||=323||301-400|
|University of Manitoba||351-400||601-650||301-400|
|University of Victoria||351-400||=370||301-400|
|University of Saskatchewan||401-500||=465||301-400|
|University of Guelph||501-600||571-580||301-400|
|Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.|
University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.
As in other countries, the Canadian doctorate is normally awarded as a final 'terminal degree' - the highest level of academic qualification a student can achieve following an undergraduate Bachelors degree and a postgraduate Masters.
A range of doctoral degrees are available alongside the familiar academic PhD, including professional doctorates such as the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Doctor of Education (EdD) qualifications.
Most courses require at least three years of full-time study and research, but some students study for longer, with a typical maximum registration of six years.
In most cases you'll need to hold a Masters degree in order to gain admission to a standard Canadian PhD programme. However, some universities offer doctoral stream Masters routes that commence with one or two years of MA or MSc study. These are suitable for students coming straight from an undergraduate degree, but take longer to complete.
PhD study in Canada has more in common with the UK than the neighbouring USA. Whereas the US PhD normally begins with one or two years of taught classes and examinations before a student defines their thesis topic, a Canadian PhD is often more research-focused from the outset.
However, as in the UK, it is increasingly common for universities to offer more structured PhDs within dedicated doctoral programmes.
These programmes are normally run by a university's graduate school where academic cohorts of students benefit from collective teaching and training alongside their more independent research activities.
Courses often focus on key skills such as practical research techniques and methodological principles, or useful additional training in areas such as teaching, presentation or publication. Some doctoral programmes also arrange internships and professional placements.
Generally, students complete these courses in the first year of their PhD, before moving on to focus on researching and writing their doctoral thesis.
In some cases a university may require PhD students to sit a comprehensive exam at the end of their first or second year. This tests a student's general knowledge of their field before they are allowed to proceed to much more specific research. It is somewhat similar to the MPhil upgrade or 'confirmation review' used in UK universities.
Like the USA, Canadian universities usually refer to Masters and PhDs as 'graduate' degrees, rather than 'postgraduate' degrees. We've used postgraduate here to be consistent with the rest of the FindAPhD website.
The Canadian academic year generally runs from September to April, but exact semester dates vary between individual provinces and their universities.
You'll complete your PhD under the guidance of at least one academic supervisor. They'll be an expert in your general subject and field, though they won't have researched on your specific topic before (it wouldn't be a PhD, otherwise).
Other members of your graduate school may also contribute to your supervision and training, particularly if your programme involves additional classes and coursework.
The main criteria for your degree will be the completion of a substantial doctoral thesis. As in other countries, this must represent a rigorous and significant research body of research, making a substantial new contribution to knowledge.
If your qualification is a professional doctorate such as a DBA or EdD, you'll focus on practical work and case studies as well as / instead of academic research. You'll still be required to submit a thesis, but this may be shorter and supplemented by other materials.
The main criteria for the assessment of a Canadian PhD is the originality and quality of your doctoral thesis. You'll normally begin drafting this during the middle part of your PhD before writing up a final version based on feedback from your supervisor.
Once you submit your dissertation a committee of examiners (including at least one external expert) will be appointed to read and consider it. Your PhD will then proceed to an oral defence.
This procedure may be slightly more involved than the viva voce used in the UK and elsewhere. Instead of discussing your work in a 'closed room' situation, you may be expected to offer a presentation on your research before being questioned on the content and significance of your thesis.
The examiners will then meet separately to decide if your examination performance was satisfactory. If it was, you will be awarded your PhD!
Some Canadian PhD programmes also include coursework and examinations prior to your thesis. However, these will normally be checkpoints for your progression, rather than factors determining your final result.
As well as the conventional PhD process described above, some Canadian universities work with other international institutions to offer a collaborative route to a PhD, known as a 'cotutelle' (French for 'co-tutored').
These programmes involve a student spending time at two different universities, each of which is involved in supervising, examining and awarding the PhD project.
In this sense a cotutelle is somewhat like a joint PhD. However, unlike some other joint PhDs, a cotutelle arrangement is usually specific to the student's project rather than an ongoing partnership between a pair (or network) of universities. In that sense, it's helpful to think of a cotutelle as a specific kind of joint PhD.
The availability of this option varies between individual Canadian universities. Check with your institution for more information.
Studying abroad in Canada is more affordable than you might think, despite the fact that universities typically charge higher fees for international students.
Representative international fees for a Canadian PhD programme are around CAD $4,000-6,000 per year although some can reach up to CAD $25,000. This is more than a domestic student pays, but still less than in other popular countries like the UK and USA.
If your PhD is part of a more structured programme its fees may vary from year to year; stages of the degree that involve taught classes and assessments are normally more expensive than those that focus on independent research.
In addition to tuition you may also be asked to pay some smaller supplementary costs for student services and union fees.
The size of Canada's higher education system and the administration of universities by separate provincial governments means that the representative PhD fees quoted here should be used as a guideline only.
However, it's worth being aware of some new initiatives for international students at specific universities.
Canada welcomes international students and provides a wide range of funding opportunities for PhD study at its universities.
These include a variety of Graduate assistantships, as well as scholarship schemes from the Canadian Government, industry and educational foundations.
Most Canadian universities organise their PhDs within doctoral programmes run by their graduate schools and its here that you'll normally apply. Some universities will have separate graduate schools for different subject areas; others may just have one large school administering all of their advanced degree programmes.
The minimum requirement for a PhD in Canada will normally be a Masters degree in a related subject. Unlike in the UK and USA it is relatively rare to go straight from undergraduate study to a doctorate. Some universities may allow you to do so, but will normally extend the length of your PhD to accommodate additional Masters-level training.
Admission to a Canadian doctoral programme can be quite competitive. Students will often progress through classes and modules together and graduate schools may only have places for a certain number in each year's cohort.
This means that your previous academic attainment will probably be examined quite closely.
In particular, you will usually be asked to provide a Grade Point Average (GPA) score instead of just submitting your final degree result. GPA is the system used in the USA and Canada (as well as some other countries) but is less common in the UK and Europe. It provides a more nuanced representation of your overall performance across a course of study.
Don't worry if your previous universities didn't use a GPA system: it's possible to convert most other grades into a GPA. The following table provides a rough guide to GPA equivalents for UK degree honours:
|UK % grade||UK result||Approximate GPA|
|70+||1st / Distinction||4.0|
|60 - 69||2.1 / Merit||3.0 - 3.3|
|50 - 59||2.2 / Pass||2.7 - 3.0|
|40 - 49||3rd / Pass||2.0 - 2.3|
|30 - 39||Unclassified||1.0|
You'll normally need a GPA of 3.0 or higher for admission to a Canadian PhD programme.
You may also be asked to provide a score from a Graduate Records Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) exam as part of your application. This allows universities to assess applicants' suitability for advanced graduate work and potentially decide between candidates with similarly good academic records.
Specific requirements (and expected scores) will vary between universities and graduate schools, so check in advance.
Though they aren't commonly used in countries like the UK, tests like the GRE and GMAT are sometimes used to assess applicants for postgraduate study in the USA, Canada and elsewhere. Our guide explains how they work and what they involve.
You'll have the option of completing a Canadian PhD in either English or French, depending on which province you choose to study in. English is the most common language of instruction, but universities in Québec will normally teach in French, as will some in New Brunswick.
Whichever language you choose to study in, you'll need to demonstrate that you're sufficiently proficient in it to complete a PhD. If you're a native French or English speaker or have already studied at university-level in either language that will normally be sufficient. Otherwise, you'll need to complete a language test and submit the score as part of your application.
There are normally two routes to applying for a Canadian PhD:
Depending on the kind of opportunity you apply for, you'll normally need to provide the university or graduate school with the following:
Be sure to check the specific requirements at your graduate school (or ask the supervisor you're applying to work with).
Specific deadlines for Canadian PhD applications will often be set by graduate schools. Actual dates will vary, but you should generally apply in the spring for an autumn start, or vice versa. Make sure to allow enough time to put together all of your application materials (and sort your visa, if you need one).
Universities in Canada may arrange a PhD interview to evaluate your application and potential or get to know you better. If so, you may be given the opportunity to conduct your interview via Skype, or a similar video conferencing platform.
Canada is a friendly and welcoming country with an active interest in attracting international students. This is reflected in its student visa and immigration system.
You'll normally need two documents to enter Canada as a student and remain there during your PhD: an electronic travel authorisation and a study permit.
As its name suggests, a study permit entitles you to live (and study!) in Canada during a course. The Permit lasts for the duration of your PhD, plus an extra 90 days (giving you time to arrange travel or apply for a post-study work visa once your course is finished).
You should normally apply for a Study Permit in your home country before you travel to Canada. You can begin the process online, but may need to take your passport and other information to a Canadian visa office. You'll need a letter of acceptance from your university before you can apply (a good reason to start your PhD application early).
Students from China, India, Vietnam or the Philippines can apply through a special Student Direct Stream for faster processing.
Most international students will need permission to enter Canada. You can get this by applying for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA). This serves as your visa and allows you to come into Canada.
The application process for an eTA is relatively simple and takes place online. You will need to provide your passport details and payment information for a fee of CAD $7 (USD $5.35).
Note that your eTA allows you to enter Canada, but does not entitle you to live there for the duration of your PhD. To do that you will need to have applied for your Study Permit (described above).
There is more information on applying to live and study in Canada on the official Government of Canada website.
Excellent universities and cosmopolitan culture make Canada a great place to pursue a doctorate, but the country could also become your longer-term home.
Yes. As a PhD graduate you'll be a great candidate for a range of jobs in higher education, research and other areas. What's more, Canada will be very keen to keep you and its post-study visa system is designed to make that option as attractive as possible.
Canada's post-graduation work permit (PGWP) allows international graduates from its universities to live and work in Canada for up to three years after completing a doctorate.
You'll need to have studied for your PhD full-time and have successfully completed your programme. The fee is normally CAD $255 (USD $195) and the processing time is approximately 56 days for an online application.
There is more information on the Government of Canada website.
Once you have a PGWP you may be able to apply for permanent residence and eventually even Canadian citizenship.
Elsewhere on FindAPhD you can read about:
Last updated - 08/12/2020