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Colleges vs Universities – which is a better fit for you?

Our expert Rahul Kumar helps clarify the confusion! Read up 

Canadian education broadly offers two parallel systems of education to students – Universities and Colleges. As both these terms are also widely used in India/South Asia, students generally misinterpret that Canadian colleges and universities are similar to Indian colleges and universities. They are not!

Education Systems: India and Canada

First, it is important to understand the Indian post-secondary education system. In India, generally speaking, there are large universities, which are responsible for creating, defining and delivering courses in various streams. These universities design multiple Bachelors, Masters and PhD programs in almost all education streams, such as science, technology, arts, management, engineering, commerce etc. In addition to universities, there are several colleges which are affiliated to these universities and are responsible to run the university programs. The colleges cannot make any changes to the approved curriculum and are guided by the regulations of the universities. Colleges usually specialise in offering a smaller subset of programs which are offered by the universities. For example, an engineering college affiliated to a university will only offer engineering programs to students, as approved by that university, but not programs from other faculties.

In Canada, however, the system is very different. Universities and colleges work independently and are mutually exclusively responsible for design and delivery of their programs. Education is a provincial responsibility in Canada, so the provincial governments govern all universities and colleges present in each province. This also ensures that the quality of education throughout the province is consistently very high irrespective of the type of institution. So, if student choose either a university or a college, one thing is certain – the quality of education is going to be very high.

What’s the difference then, you may ask. For easier understanding, I have listed the highlights of both these systems below. I am intentionally not drawing a comparison here as I strongly believe that the students should themselves make a comparison and choose the institution type best suited for “THEM”. A student fit for a university might not be a good fit for a college and vice versa. So, this decision completely depends on the student’s profile, academic background, financial position and other preferences.



Known for offering undergraduate and post graduate degree programs. Some universities also offer PhD options where international students are eligible to apply.

Known for offering post-secondary Diploma programs.

Offer a large range of Bachelor degree programs and selected Master’s programs

A one-year program is called a Certificate, a two-year program is called a Diploma and a three year program is called an Advanced Diploma. A one-year program at a post-graduate level is called a Graduate Certificate while a two-year program at a post graduate level is called a Graduate Diploma.

Research-based approach with an intention to prepare a graduate with knowledge related to all branches of a particular field.

Practical approach intended to prepare graduates for the job market. The programs are focussed on developing a particular skill set to make students employable in the same field.

For example, if you choose a Bachelors in commerce, you’ll be taught everything related to commerce – accounting, economics, management, marketing, etc. Another example could be an engineering program – if you choose, let’s say, an electronics engineering program, you’ll need to learn everything related to electronics – microprocessors, embedded systems, instrumentation, power engineering, etc.

For example, a student looking to make a career in electronics engineering will study just one field of electronics engineering and not everything related to the wider stream. So, programs like embedded systems or electronics systems will prepare students for jobs in these respective fields.

A university graduate has a holistic understanding of a wider subject area. After gaining valuable work experience and creating solid track record in the industry, university graduates are usually preferred candidates for leadership roles.

Colleges offer the shortest and most relevant route to employment, if the students know what they want to do. I would advise the students to research well before they finalise a program, so that they are fully aware of the future prospects and career opportunities.

The tuition fee per year generally ranges between CAD 25-40K for Bachelor degree programs and CAD 25-75K for Masters Programs in Canada.

The tuition fee at colleges generally range between CAD 12K and 25K.

After successful completion of 4 year Bachelors program or a 2 years Master’s program in a public university of Canada, students are eligible to apply for up to 3 years of work permit, which allows them to stay back in Canada to gain the valuable Canadian work experience.

The work permit rules are exactly the same for colleges as they are for universities. If students successfully complete a one-year program, they qualify to apply for a one year work permit and if they successfully complete a 2 or 3 years program, they qualify to apply for up to 3 years work permit.

Many merit-based scholarship options are available for eligible students at universities.

Not many scholarship options are available to international students but with the tuition fee is already quite competitive, unavailability of scholarships is usually not a big deterrent for international students.

Check out for co-ops in your college

Colleges widely offer the co-operative education option which gives students the opportunity to gain work experience while they are studying, which prepares them for the job market. Students should check if the programs they are opting includes co-op or not. Also, another point to note is that co-op is never guaranteed by institutions. Students will be required to work on their resume, perform well in interviews and always be at the top of their professional behaviour, in addition to excellent academic record, in order to increase their chances at getting a co-op job opportunity in their respective fields.

So, as I explained above, no matter which system of education you opt for, Canada promises a consistent high quality. Opt for the institution that supports YOUR future plans and ambitions. Do a thorough research and feel free to seek support from IDP counsellors. We’ll be happy to help you realise your Canadian education dream!

IDP Study Abroad Insights

For students like you interested in studying in Canada, we have a wonderful series – Study Abroad Insights. This web series covers most commonly asked questions about studying in the country answered by industry experts.

Watch more!

Read more articles by our Canada expert Rahul Kumar

Top 7 reasons to choose Canada

New study permit guidelines - Canada

Blended learning for international students in Canada

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Great support!!

I actually didn't know much about colleges and universities in Canada but then I came in contact with Meenakshi. She's a great counsellor and knows almost everything when it comes to education system in Canada.

Student from Delhi

Rahul Kumar

Rahul Kumar, Associate Director – Canada, at IDP Education (India, Bangladesh, Mauritius and Sri Lanka), is responsible for driving, training and growth of Canada team in his region across 42 offices in 4 countries. He works closely with Canadian institutions to ensure that our students and counsellors are up-to-date with any new development and process changes related to Canada. Under his able leadership, IDP has witnessed tremendous growth in Canada over the last 3 years in terms of student enrolments and quality counselling.

Rahul comes with a rich experience in the international education industry. Prior to joining IDP, he was associated with Fanshawe College, Canada and King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. He holds an MBA along with an undergraduate degree in Electronics Engineering.



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