During my post-college/pre-tutoring admin stints in two Ivy League humanities departments, I became heavily involved in the administrative side of graduate admissions and consequently developed a familiarity with many reputable undergraduate programs located outside the U.S.
Over the years, I’ve come to take this knowledge for granted, but I became newly aware of it recently while listening to Amy Seeley and Mike Bergin of Tests and the Rest’s interview with Brandon Miller, an immigration consultant who has helped many American students study in Canada at the post-secondary level. Although the discussion was extremely informative from a logistical and financial perspective—I actually had no idea that U.S. federal loans could be applied to Canadian institutions—there were a handful of schools and programs that I would have liked to hear (more) about, hence the inspiration for this post.
So that said, these are four Canadian universities/university programs that, in my experience, often fly under American applicants’ radar but that deserve a serious look from anyone considering attending college outside the United States.
University of Toronto
Acceptance Rate: 43% (lower for some programs)
Tuition: Approx. $50,000 USD
Application Deadline: Jan 13 for most programs
For what I suspect are partly financial reasons, the U of T tends to be less popular among top American applicants than McGill (tuition approx. $23,000/year). That said, if keeping costs as low as possible is not your primary motivation for considering a school outside the U.S., this is an Ivy-alternative option (on par with Duke and Cornell in worldwide rankings) that merits serious consideration.
Like Oxford and Cambridge, the University of Toronto is a very large institution made up of smaller, semi-autonomous colleges that students remain associated with for the duration of their undergraduate careers, although many students move into off-campus apartments after their first year. Note that unlike American schools with residential college systems (e.g., Harvard and Yale), U of T’s colleges actually host specific academic programs, and Arts & Sciences applicants must indicate their preferences when they apply.
The university is strong in both STEM and the Humanities/Social Sciences, with top-ranked programs in Biology, Sociology, Computer Science, Architecture, and Psychology, and many graduates go on to elite master’s and doctoral programs.
The U of T’s urban location makes it a crossover with universities such as Penn, Columbia, and BU; however, with around 30% of student population from outside Canada, it’s considerably more international than those schools.
University of Waterloo
Acceptance rate: 53% overall, but as low as 4-5% for selective programs such as Engineering and Computer Science
Tuition: Approx. $8600 USD
Application Deadline: February 1
Located not too far from Buffalo and the U.S. border, the University of Waterloo is well known for its STEM programs, particularly Computer Science, and in recent years has effectively become a main feeder to major Silicon Valley tech companies. It is also home to a well-funded startup incubator, Velocity.
Although Northeastern may have the most famous co-op program in the U.S., Waterloo actually hosts the largest co-op program in the world, with more than 20,000 students participating. Students alternate semesters of taking classes and doing internships related to their field of study, graduating with significant work experience.
While the university’s overall acceptance rate is fairly high, admissions rates to the most selective programs are comparable to those at MIT and the Ivies. Candidates are expected to have taken Math at the AP level (minimum score of 4 on AB or BC) and are encouraged to present scores from math competitions as well. Successful candidates generally have very high GPAs as well (a minimum of 90% is required). A personal statement and portfolio may also be taken into account.
University of British Columbia-Sciences Po
Acceptance Rate: N/A
Tuition: Approx. $12,235 for Sciences Po (Years 1 & 2); Approx. $31,000 USD for UBC (Years 3 & 4)
Application Deadline: January 11
Over the last decade, France’s Institut d’Études Politiques (Institute of Political Studies, familiarly known as “Sciences Po”) has developed international English language dual-degree programs with several peer institutions, including Columbia, UC-Berkeley, University College London, and the University of British Columbia.
The UBC program, the only one of Sciences Po’s joint programs located in Canada, gives students the opportunity to spend their first two years in France, at the Le Havre, Menton, or Reims campus (depending on their area of specialization), and the following two years on the UBC campus in Vancouver. Graduates are also guaranteed a spot in a Sciences Po master’s program.
Because the program is conducted in English, applicants are not required to speak French (although strong French-language skills are certainly a plus). However, the specialized nature of the program means that the applicant pool is highly self-selecting. An interview with a committee made up of faculty from both schools is required, and candidates are expected to be extremely well-versed in the political and economic affairs of their region of interest.
I’ve been unable to find reliable admissions statistics, but the equivalent program at Columbia accepts a little over 20% of its applicants; I would assume the rate for the UBC program is roughly comparable.
Mt. Allison University
Acceptance Rate: 87%
Tuition: Approx. $13,455 USD
Application Deadline: Rolling (mid-February for art and music programs)
This is a school that first came to my attention when I worked in the Philosophy department at Columbia in the mid-aughts: there were two recent Mt. Allison graduates in the Ph.D. program, which was more than the number of students from any single top U.S. school.
Although it is officially called a university, Mt. Allison University (located in Sackville, New Brunswick, pop. 5,000) has only about 2,300 students and is for all intents and purposes a liberal arts college. It is consistently ranked as the top undergraduate-focused school in Canada, earning high marks for both academics and student life.
Despite its small size, the school offers around 50 majors, including studio art and music programs leading to a BFA and BM respectively, plus a number of certificate programs. There are also many opportunities for students to get involved in research.
Although it lacks the name recognition of Toronto or UBC, my sense is that it provides a really stellar education (it has produced 55 Rhodes Scholars, a remarkable achievement considering that only 11 Canadian scholarships are awarded each year) and that if Colleges that Change Lives included Canadian schools, Mt. Allison would almost certainly be on the list.