Canadian vs American Universities


I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on if I should look at Canadian universities or not. I was born and live in America, but am a US-Canadian dual citizen which from what I’ve read means that my tuition in Canada will be significantly lower than the 50-80k in the States (I might get merit scholarships, but will not qualify for need based aid). While I can afford the cost of college here without going in to debt, I’d rather not spend money I don’t have to and that has led me to increasingly consider Canadian schools. My big question is, is is it worth going to a Canadian school If I eventually want to return to the US for grad school and a career (This is my main dilemma, would a Canadian school hurt my chance for US grad school admissions?)? I also really like the idea of a small liberal arts school like Grinnell or Pomona which to my knowledge are pretty much exclusive to America so I’m not sure the cost savings are worth it, but would be interested to see what others think.

Overall I would be interested to hear what you think about choosing either between the two countries.


If you prefer a small LAC type school, then better to remain in the US.

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Canada does have liberal arts universities like Mount Allison (think W&M in the US).

Mount Allison students have won 55 Rhodes scholarships, which is more than Williams or Amherst (or any LAC in the US, I believe).


No. The US and Canada have the same academic systems and both students and faculty regularly go between unis in the same country.

I would say the top Canadian unis like UT/McGill/UBC are in the same league as good American publics like UMich/UW-Madison/UW-Seattle/UCLA/UCSD.

Waterloo like GaTech is great in CS and engineering and features co-op though in terms of impact in SV, it’s probably between GaTech and MIT.

Whether it’s “worth it” is a subjective decision and also depends on how much 6 figures means to your family. Though you can do a lot with that type of money, and invested, that money can grow in to a lot over decades (affording early retirement, for instance).

As an American citizen in the US, you also must qualify for in-state residency somewhere, and in-state publics definitely do not cost $50-80K/year.

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That’s what I need to decide. I’m very fortunate that my family can afford the cost, but it is still a lot of money and I want to make sure I make the most of it. Also, yes I will get in state tuition in Ohio (and an additional discount at OSU), but if I am staying in the US I would rather go to a LAC out of state which would cost those prices. My thought is that if I’m going to go to a large state school in the U.S. I might as well go to a large school in Canada.

My daughters were in the exact same situation. One went to university in the US. The other went to university in Canada. Yes, Canadian universities are WAY less expensive. We paid less in Canada that we would have paid for our in-state public university, and that was even considering the very good merit scholarship that we were offered by the in-state public university.

I know multiple people who have done their bachelor’s in Canada and then either a master’s or PhD or both in the US. However, the number is small enough that it is hard to know what impact if any this has on grad school admissions.

As far as I know the term “liberal arts college” is unique to the US. However, the concept is not. Canada has “small primarily undergraduate universities”. We looked at several of them in eastern Canada. Four very good ones that we looked at are Mount Allison (New Brunswick), Acadia and St Francis Xavier (Nova Scotia), and Bishop’s (in Quebec, but an English language university in a bilingual town). We liked all of them quite a bit and the most difficult thing was choosing between them.

I am told that UNBC (in Northern BC) and Lethbridge (in Alberta) are very good, but they are too far away for us since we live in the northeast of the US. There are also a couple of very good small primarily undergraduate universities in Ontario but they appear to be relatively far north.

One thing that I noticed regarding my daughter who went to university in Canada: You get more classes in your major or closely related to your major. There seem to be fewer “not related to the major” requirements. I was quite impressed by the number of classes that she took that were quite advanced. Another thing that I noticed is that if you attend university in Canada then your contacts and friends will be in Canada. This makes returning to the US not certain.

The most annoying thing for an American attending university in Canada appears to be dealing with the US tax system. It runs close to being as complex as a human can possibly figure out without a professional accountant (which is lousy when you have almost no income).


Yes, a major/honours degree at Canadian unis tends to vary between an American major (typically 25-40% of 4 years for non-professional majors) and Scottish honours degree (75% of 4 years in 1 or 2 subjects).

A Scottish honours degree (or a 3 year English undergraduate degree) and also a Canadian honours degree in one subject would be equivalent to a major+Masters degree in the US.

*A professional major being something like engineering or design)

Thank you for your reply. In your experience. My son in in the same situation as the above poster and we are having a hard time deciding between the USA and Canada. Apart from the classes, do you see any difference between university in the US and Canada? If yours girls have graduated already, do you know if there is any difference in the way the degrees are viewed when they enter the job market?

Thank you for your input.

Thanks a lot.

The admissions is way more straightforward in Canada. If you are one of the top students in your high school (my younger daughter was the top student in her high school) then you almost just pick a university and go there. Again the classes are more in your major and less spread out in other topics. Otherwise I did not notice a difference in terms of the classes. I thought that getting an A was more difficult in Canada, but this does not seem to have applied to my daughter who studied there.

At all of the Canadian universities that we have looked at, freshmen are not required to live on campus. However, on-campus housing is available at least for freshmen who want it. The availability and cost of off campus housing will vary significantly depending upon which university you are attending, which is of course also true in the US.

The drinking age in Canada is either 18 or 19 depending upon where you are. I have been told that this mostly takes the drinking out of the dorm rooms and into the bars, which makes it less of a problem. At least my daughter never reported any problems with other students drinking in the dorms.

My youngest graduated from a university in Canada this past May, and took a temporary job at a COVID vaccination clinic while looking for a permanent job in Canada. She did not find anything (two interviews, no offers) and eventually came home for a visit, and then went to Europe for nearly three months. Then she came home for Christmas and started looking for a job both in Canada and here in the northeast of the US. Apparently the biotech industry is hot here in the US. She had interviews nearly every day and got three job offers in four weeks, and started one (in the US) about a month ago. She is quite happy with the job that she took.

In her case she did not seem to have any trouble finding work in the US. They did interview her quite extensively and I did wonder whether they were trying to figure out how much she had learned since she had attended a small university that most hiring managers in the US would not have heard of.

To me the biggest downsides of university in Canada is that there is a risk of your student not returning to the US after four years, and the need to deal with the US tax system for Americans who have income and/or bank accounts outside of the US.

One advantage is cost. We had expected four years in Canada to cost about the same as one year in the US, but it actually ended up costing less than that. Another upside is the chance to see a bit more of the world in a relatively safe and “not so very different” environment. Another upside is that university admissions is so straightforward compared to admissions in the US.

If your student does return to the US after graduating university in Canada, this is a bit of a disruption to their life since all (or most of?) their friends and contacts will be in Canada.

You should absolutely consider going to Canadian schools as well as US ones. It’s a no brainer if you are a dual citizen. A CAN citizen pays about 16000 CAN/yr at Waterloo (world class for CS/ENG), while a non Canandian pays 63,000.
A CAN pays about 8-10G’s/yr at McGill(again, world class), while a foreign student pays 4 or more times that. A Quebec resident pays 3-5G’s(you can qualify if you have never resided in CAN).
The savings for you and/or your parents are massive, with little to no drop off in educational quality. In many cases, top CAN schools are an improvement over the vast majority of US schools.
I would disagree with the poster above who stated that after graduating all your friends and contacts will be in Canada. McGill, in particular, has a large amount of international students. S1 has many, many american friends and contacts from there, as well as friends from around the world- not just Canada. I would argue that your world will get bigger, not smaller, going to school in Canada, depending on which school you got to. Canadians, in genral, are less inward loking than Americans. They understand that they are not a major world power, and have to engage, and make accommodation with the rest of the world. I think you’ll find that McGill, or U of T, would be far more international in outlook than a B10 school.
Almost all undergrad degrees earned in Canada will be recognized down in the US. If you look at the CV’s of faculty members, you will find that many have attended schools in the US, and vice versa. A school like Dartmouth has more in common with McGill than, say, Purdue, while UBC and UW resemble each other far more than a school like Tulane or Duke.
UBC- vg to excellent school in a beautiful location. 6K CAN
McGill- see above. 3-9K CAN. World class rep.
U of T- a bit more expensive, but still a relative bargain. vg/exc academics with world class rep.
Waterloo- Canada’s answer to MIT, or at least CMU. Superb for most ENG, especially CS/CompE/SE
Queen’s- less well known in the US, but again vg/exc academics. US schools will be very aware of them and their rep.
University of Western Ontario- Good school, arguably the best business school in Canada, with an international rep.
McMaster- just outside of Toronto in the city of Hamilton. Excels in Medicine, Biomed. A friend of ours(dual) had their son accepted to Yale, and rejected at McMaster!
This is just a partial list. Two of my very smart nieces went to Mount A, if you are interested in more of a LAC vibe. Both loved it.
One word of warning. If you go to a top CAN school, be prepared to work hard. While grade inflation has crept north of the border, it is far less prevalent. B’s are considered a good grade. A’s are hard to get. Class averages of 57% for a mid term are not unusual. It can be a shock for some.


Thank you for your input.

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Hi, Thank you for this thread. Can anyone tell me how Dalhousie fares for Marine Bio in this group? What US school would it be equivalent to and would graduate schools know how good Dal is in Marine Bio?

Dalhousie (aka Dal) is very good for marine biology. It is also quite good for multiple other things that have “marine” in the subject name.

It is hard to know what university in the US would be equivalent. I have never seen a comparison of US and Canadian universities specific to marine biology (nor “marine anything else”).

There is some leading marine biology research being done at Dal. I would expect the marine biology experts at top universities in the US to know how strong Dal is in this one particular area. Graduate admissions will also depend more on what you have done, rather than how famous the university is where you did it.

I am not sure what year your child is applying for or when they are going to be applying. If your child is already a high school senior then most likely where they have applied is where they will get to choose between. If they are younger and have more time, and if they want a smaller university, then Acadia University is also very good for marine biology.

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Dalhousie and UBC both are vg in Marine Bio. Dalhousie’s advantage is that it is right by the sea, so their Field course are easily managed. UBC has similar advantages, though my favorite facility of theirs, the Bamfield research station of the west coast of Vancouver island, is a ferry and long drive away.
I don’t know what US uni I could compare Dalhousie to. It is quite old, and has a good rep. I have never been to Dalhousie’s Marine Bio research stations(niece is there taking a Masters, but in something completely different), but I wonder if it wouldn’t be a bit like Wood’s Hole in feel, albeit one that is less eminent ?

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