All About: Canadian Schools, Degrees, and Specialties

By StudyinCanada Team Modified on June 29, 2022
Tags : Academics

Canada has different school types, degree types, and academic specialties. Check out what they are.

All About: Canadian Schools, Degrees, and Specialties

This article is part of our About Canada series. Check out the other articles in this series here.

Table of Contents

Canada has a strong, well-developed education system, from pre-school through post-doctoral studies. Schools across the country offer different degree types, to match your goals — and several different areas of specialization that can help you get the education you need to build the future you want. Let's take a look at some of the many academic options offered in Canada:

Types of schools in Canada

Canada has many different types of schools, each offering something different to students — though in some cases, there's significant overlap. Here's a quick run-down of Canadian schools:

Public secondary school

Known colloquially as high school, secondary school runs from grade 9 through 12, and prepares students for further education. Most Canadian students graduate from a public secondary school around the age of 17 or 18.

Applied courses: lower-level, hands-on, often intended for students going on to college level studies.

Academic courses: higher-level, more theoretical, often intended for students going on to university-level studies.

Private secondary school

Private secondary schools, or high schools, also run from grades 9 through 12, and may teach a modified version of the public curriculum, with particular focus on specialities. Some private high schools include religious components, or more intensive arts or technology courses. Private high schools can be quite expensive.


Cégep is an acronym for a French term: Collège d'enseignement general et professionnel, which roughly translates to General and professional school. In Quebec, it's the first level of education after high school. Many students in Quebec do a two-year stint in cégep before heading to university. Most cégeps teach in French, but there are a few English cégeps as well.

Career college

A career college is a small institution aimed at giving its graduates career-ready skills in a short time-frame. Career colleges generally offer certificates, and occasionally diplomas and even degrees. Career colleges are often for-profit enterprises.


A college in the Canadian context is a public school with a focus on hands-on learning across a range of disciplines, including arts, technology, and the trades. Colleges offer diplomas and certificates, with some offering bachelor's degrees as well.


A university is a public institution devoted more to theory and research than practical skills. Universities are typically the largest of Canada's post-secondary schools, offering programs in arts, tech, and science. Universities offer bachelor degrees, and sometimes other credentials as well.

Private universities also exist: many started as religious institutions, but Canada is home to several secular private universities. Canada even hosts a handful of US-based private universities in British Columbia and Ontario.

Graduate / professional school

Grad schools are typically affiliated with universities, and offer further education to students who already have a degree. Grad schools offer master's and doctorate degrees, as well as specific credentials for professions, including law, healthcare, and technology.

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Types of diplomas and degrees in Canada

Canada offers many degree and diploma options. From simplest to most complex, here are the degree types most commonly sought by international students:

Secondary school diploma

A student receives a high school diploma after successfully completing grade 12, the end of secondary school. Most Canadians have earned a high school diploma. Government programs exist to help support those who do not, should they wish to pursue it.


A certificate is received for completing a short course. Certificates are often related to job readiness, and may be quite general, or quite specific. Most certificates don't require previous training or education to pursue.

Associate degree

An associate degree is a kind of blend between a college diploma and a university bachelor's degree. Students take two years to explore their interests in arts and sciences, before committing to the final two years of a bachelor's degree. In Canada, associate degrees are only offered in British Columbia.


A diploma is earned over the course of two or three years, typically from a college. Diploma programs are hands-on, providing job-ready skills for graduates to pursue their careers. Advanced diplomas are generally more complex, and take three years to complete.

Bachelor's degree

A bachelor's — or undergraduate — degree is earned over the course of three or four years, typically from a university. Degree programs are more theoretical, providing a launching pad for further research and study to graduates. Most Canadian students pursue Honours degrees, which take four years to complete.

Post-graduate diploma

A post-grad diploma, otherwise known as a graduate certificate, is a short program for students who already have a diploma or degree, but who don't want to pursue a full master's. Post-grad diplomas are generally earned in a year, and focus on specific skills or knowledge for career advancement.

Master's degree

A master's is earned over one or two years from a university. Master's programs are typically open only to holders of a bachelor's degree, and they take knowledge and research further. Master's students will often perform their own research and/or write a thesis as part of their coursework.

Doctorate / PhD

A doctorate, or PhD, can take up to five years to complete, and can generally only be attempted after receiving a master's degree. Doctoral programs are rigorous, demanding, and ask a lot of students' research and communication skills. Doctorates are earned at universities, with the help of academic supervisors on staff.

Canadian diplomas and degrees are typically accepted all over the world. Canada's reputation for academic excellence is well known, so the credential you earn in Canada could open doors across the globe.

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Canada's academic specialties

Canadian schools are renowned for certain areas of research. Here are a few areas where Canada shines:


Canada is home to nearly 10% of the world's forests, and is at the forefront of new and sustainable technologies for harvesting and regrowing timber resources, as well as maintaining happy and healthy animal populations. Forestry is especially popular in British Columbia. UBC's Faculty of Forestry is highly ranked.


One of the top five producing countries for over a dozen major minerals, Canada is dedicated to improving mining technology — from surveying, extracting, and refining, to maintaining the health of the surrounding environment. Mining operations are most prevalent in Canada's north, but University of Alberta's Faculty of Engineering is well-regarded in this space.

Communications & public policy

A member of the G7, Canada is at the forefront of international policy discussions. From the University of Toronto's Monk Centre of Global Affairs and Public Policy, to uOttawa's Centre on Public Management and Policy, Canada is home to many renowned public policy programs.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Artificial intelligence is here to stay, and Canada's helping to make it so. All of Canada's biggest universities offer programs in AI, and many colleges are following suit. The Waterloo tech corridor, thanks in part to the University of Waterloo, is a great example of sustained, concentrated innovation in this space.

Green technologies

Canada is working to reduce its carbon footprint with new tech in renewable and sustainable energy. Ontario colleges have committed to big investments in these areas, and the Canadian government offers funding for innovative green energy projects. Conestoga College is just one of many schools leading the way.

Marine biology

With so much coastline, Canada's home to its fair share of fish and marine life. Marine biology is a focus, especially in Canada's eastern Maritime provinces. Memorial University of Newfoundland hosts the Marine Institute, which is at the bleeding edge of marine biology research.

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Canada offers a breadth of opportunities, no matter your interests. There's plenty more to discover, beyond what's covered here! Looking for the right program of study for you? Click the link below to get started.

Find a program at a Canadian school

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