Finding the right college may be a daunting task: for some, it is one of the biggest investments in their life, which can potentially affect their career and immigration plans, and even the future of their family. Working for a Canadian institution, I often hear these five questions from potential international students who are at the very start of their search of the right program. These are the questions you should ask yourself before making the life-changing decision to change the country of residence for the next 2+ years.
1. What is your budget?
I recommend starting with the budget. This would likely be the number one factor for most of us. College and university programs are priced differently: taking a Bachelor’s program at UBC (second top university in Canada) could cost as high as 45 000 CAD per year, while a similar college program in the same province of British Columbia may cost 15 000 – 20 000 CAD per year. Whether a college is public or private may be a cost factor as well: many private institutions offer large discounts to international students from some regions. The length of the program will obviously affect the overall cost of Canadian education: some are not able to commit to paying for a 4-year degree and opt for a 2-year diploma. Finally, the province and the size of the city/town where the campus is located may determine the size of the tuition. For example, if a student is interested in a Bachelor’s degree from a university (not a college), they may be able to find a program within their budget by considering places outside of #1 international student destinations (Vancouver, British Columbia or Toronto, Ontario) where the cost of living and tuition is generally higher, than, for instance, some schools of Manitoba, Saskatchewan or Nova Scotia.
2. Choosing between a Diploma, Bachelor’s Degree, Post-Baccalaureate Diploma or Master’s
Once the budget is determined, the next question is the program level choice. Are you considering a Bachelor’s degree vs. a Diploma, a Master’s degree vs. Post-Baccalaureate Diploma? This will depend on your area of interest (industry) and the employer’s expectations for your dream job after graduation. Careers in science, engineering, medical field mostly require a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree or higher. To jump-start a career in some professional services field, however, such as IT, marketing, event management, hospitality, accounting, financial or administrative services, one may start with a 2-year diploma and build their way up the career ladder in the workplace by developing a portfolio of successful practical projects. Students interested in careers in academia and research will benefit from a Master’s degree, while students completing Post-Baccalaureate Diploma programs will be generally equipped with practical, job-ready skills in the business environment.
3. What province would you like to live in?
Besides the cost of living, I recommend paying attention to the major industries in each Canadian province as this may determine the overall quality of instruction at a college (will you be taught by the industry professionals with first-hand experience in the field?), as well as career possibilities after graduation. I also highly recommend to review the provincial immigration programs in each particular province that exist for international graduates. While this may appear as planning too many years ahead, some provinces provide much more favourable immigration opportunities for those choosing educational institutions in that province. With the minimum score required to be picked from the Express Entry pool getting higher and higher with every draw, a Provincial Nominee program may be the only option for some students who are older or have less work experience to declare.
4. What industry are you going to work in?
Next, choosing the program, or the industry itself is a vital question. Here, I recommend considering the number of available positions available in the field, the minimum professional requirements for this position, and the economic forecast for the next few years in the particular province and the field. A great starting source is a Canadian job search website, such as jobbank.gc.ca, indeed.ca, where you can check the number of jobs, median pay and education requirements. For instance, by comparing the number of available positions of a Marketing Assistant and a DJ, as well as the full-time/part-time character of the job, pay, requirements, you may choose what will work best for you, if you are hesitating what program to choose. Additionally, many provinces publish top occupations where shortage of professionals exist, for example, workbc.ca 100 Top Occupations List. Statistics Canada is another good source that can help determine the major industries that can increase chances for successful hiring upon graduation.
5. Does your program include paid or unpaid practical experience (co-op, practicum)?
Finally, after choosing the province, industry, and college, it may be important to go with a program that offers co-op or practicum experience. Co-op (or paid internship) or practicum (unpaid work experience) may help boost the resume, build a professional network, meet hiring staff, and receive a positive reference that will make a difference after graduation when you delve fully into applying for your first full-time job in Canada.
Choosing the right college program is no easy task. You may start answering these 5 questions above and if you have more, feel free to reach out in your comments and I’ll do my best to address them!