Levels of Study in Canada

Canada’s constitution allows each province and territory to deliver its education programs. Despite regional differences, however, Canada’s colleges, universities, and polytechnics use similar terms to describe common pathways and credentials. The length and composition of these programs is an important decision for prospective international students, as it may have a direct effect on eligibility for employment and immigration opportunities in Canada.


Undergraduate education in Canada follows completion of senior secondary or high school. The full duration of a standard undergraduate education (culminating in a bachelor’s degree) is three to five years. International students should budget a minimum of four years to complete a bachelor’s (undergraduate) degree. With a completed bachelor’s degree, and the right combination of language skills and experience, international students may become eligible for a number of provincial and federal immigration programs. They may also decide to pursue a Master’s degree, which requires completion of a bachelor’s degree. Canada also offers a number of certificates, diplomas, and Associate Degrees at the undergraduate level. While these do not qualify students to undertake Master’s degree in Canada, they may be useful for immigration or employment purposes.

Certificate Programs

A typical certificate in Canada involves three to eight academic months of post-secondary study in a single subject. Common subject areas include Business, IT, Health Care Administration, and other pre-diploma or pre-degree options. The aim of a certificate is to give post-secondary students the skills and knowledge for an entry-level vocation. All colleges and universities offer certificate programs of different lengths. A Canadian secondary school diploma or essential subject prerequisites are required for admission into a certificate program.

College or University Diploma

College diplomas in Canada most often comprise a minimum of two full-time academic years of specialized post-secondary study. Like certificate programs, diploma programs are mainly developed to meet specific demands of trades and technical or vocational careers, and – depending on the job required – may span upwards of three of four years. Diploma programs are also likely to have a co-op internship component or other apprenticeship options, and diplomas can be upgraded or transferred into a bachelor’s degree. Admission into a college diploma program requires a completed senior secondary program in Canada (or its equivalent).

Associate Degree

An Associate Degree in Canada is a 60-credit, foundational undergraduate program in a classical area of study (such as Sciences or Arts). Unlike certificates and diplomas, Associate Degrees comprise a breadth of general academic subjects as well as a specialization in an area of interest (similar to a major).

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree in Canada normally signifies completion of four years of full-time post-secondary education. Subject areas most often include traditional academic subjects in Business, General Sciences, Engineering, the Arts, or Humanities. In this arrangement, students are expected to gain general and foundational knowledge over their first one or two years, and then specialize in a concentration called a major. Some faculties offer a fifth professional year comprising a supervised practicum

Admission into a bachelor’s degree program requires a completed senior secondary diploma in Canada (or its equivalent).


Graduate Studies in Canada

Postgraduate Diplomas and Postgraduate Certificates

In Canada, a number of diplomas and certificates may be taken following the completion of a bachelor’s degree. These programs may comprise approximately two to three semesters of full-time study. Graduate diplomas and certificates can transfer into master’s degrees. Frequently, they may operate as an additional compliment to a bachelor’s degree, and show intense specialization in one subject area..

Master’s Degree

Master’s degrees comprise one to three years of highly-specialized post-graduate study, and may lead to professional practice. These degrees are conferred by universities and tend to build on previous study areas explored at the bachelor’s level. Programs often expect the student to propose and conduct significant original research culminating in a major project, thesis, and/or comprehensive examination. Master’s degree programs in Canada require completion of a bachelor’s degree.

Doctorate Degree 

In general, a doctorate in Canada comprises at least two to three years’ equivalent full-time study in comprehensive and analytical coursework, followed by an independent dissertation or thesis. PhDs and other doctorates are required for many professions such as university professor, doctor, or high-level administration jobs in government, health care, and education. The average timeframe to complete a Doctorate is four to six years.