Resources to Compare Universities in Canada

by May 15, 2021Education & Training0 comments

Are you finding it frustrating to find the information you want on university websites? Looking for reputable resources to compare universities in Canada and make sense of your options and offers? I have studied at three universities in Canada, worked at two, interacted with staff at most Ontario universities and many across Canada. Allow me to help you navigate the maze of resources out there to support your exploration and decision making.

This is a work-in-progress list. If you have suggestions or corrections, please do not hesitate to share using the comment feature.

Canadian Resources

Association of Universities & Colleges Canada is a body that brings together all 97 accredited universities and provides comparative information, policy papers and research studies about the value of university education in Canada.

At University Study in Canada, you can search for programs of interest at all universities in Canada using key words and criteria to narrow down your selection.

Ontario Resources

Ontario is the only province in Canada with one-stop shop for all Universities in the province. This unique approach allows visitors to quickly access information in one place on a variety of topics.

Common University Data Ontario (CUDO) is a source of detailed information about each Ontario university and sometimes includes details of previous year’s admission statistics.

The Ontario Universities Application Centre (OUAC) administers all undergraduate applications in the province and some professional program applications such as Teaching, Social Work and Medical School.

E-Info is affiliated with OUAC and is a one-stop shop for eligibility and application realities at all ONTARIO universities. There you can:

As every university in Canada organizes itself in a different way, it can be confusing to find what you need on their website. We suggest you familiarize yourself with how universities are structured, so you can more easily navigate. Also, if you learn some of the lingo, you can enter the right search term from the University’s landing page.

Admissions versus Registrar versus Academic Department

Think of Admissions as the Student Recruitment arm of the university. It therefore supports Future Students, sometimes called Prospective Students. It overviews all programs and gives you minimum critical information for you to decide if you should apply as well as instructions on how to. It then administers the application process. At Admissions, you can compare program eligibility (required grades, courses), application requirements, deadlines and more.

The Registrar on the other hand supports Current Students. It is the operational foundation for the university. It maintains an accurate and up-to-date record of the academic rules and regulations, typically set out in the Academic Calendar discussed below. It administers all program enrolments and changes and tracks students’ progress through their academic program and degree fulfillment. From term to term, it manages timetabling and course registration. 

The Academic Department (or Faculty or School) teaches and conducts research in specific program areas and dictates the minimum standards for admission to their programs. It is where you can learn more about the exciting research they do and the unique team of teaching and research faculty who work there.

For students researching where to study, whether they are eligible and how to compare offers, we recommend they become familiar with the information provided by all three of these important units of university organization. 

Academic Calendar

The Academic Calendar at each university is the official guide for students to do all their academic planning, course selection and overall degree navigation. It is generally maintained by the Registrar. In it you will find:

  • degree requirements – i.e., what students need to get to the end of their degree in terms of number of credits, overall grade attainment, and any breadth requirements
  • program requirements and options such as specialist, major, minor, admission requirements if applying after first year, depth and breadth of study, year-to-year course requirements
  • all course descriptions by discipline, year, number of credits, prerequisites, corequisites and exclusions
  • rules and regulations for grading, academic standing (good standing, on probation, suspended), retaking courses
  • system of grading, such as percentage, letter grades and grade point average
  • annual course planning process, timing and steps

Academic Department

As mentioned, each university has Academic Departments, Faculties and Schools. Engineering for example in some universities is the Department of Engineering, in others it’s the Faculty or School of Engineering. Some disciplines are grouped together under one major Department – for example Life Sciences that include Biology, Neuroscience and Psychology – while others might have specialty departments such as Biological Sciences. Some disciplines like Psychology live in the Sciences at some universities and in Arts at others. Find out what will likely be your student’s home department, faculty or school. Then visit their site and learn as much as you can about:

  • the other disciplines taught within the same organizational unit (as this can sometimes be related to the flexibility of course offerings available to your student)
  • the backgrounds of the teaching and research faculty, including sometimes that of teaching assistants
  • the nature and extent of research they conduct
  • teaching and research awards
  • programs that engage students in research projects either as volunteers, part-time or summer paid researchers

Academic Supports

Academic Advising

Depending on the university, academic advising is offered by the Department to students in related disciplines or by a central service that supports all programs. These services help students make program and course selection decisions and navigate academic challenges such as grade petitions and academic disciplinary charges.

Accessibility Office

All universities make accommodations for students with emotional, mental and physical learning needs. Services and accommodations can include:

  • 1-1 support with an Accessibility Consultant to assess learning need and develop a learning plan
  • Ongoing counselling services
  • Note-taking services, sign language interpreter or alternate format material (ex. Braille)
  • Accommodation for additional time or controlled quiet space to complete exams or no more than one exam per day
  • Access to a computer or spell check on exams

Co-op & Experiential Learning Services

Most universities offer some form of co-op or experiential learning tied to the academic program –  i.e., completion of paid and unpaid experiences count for credit in a student’s degree completion. Learn about these options by searching the main website or the academic calendar using the search terms below:

  • co-op
  • experiential learning
  • field placement
  • independent study
  • internship
  • practicum
  • service learning 

Teaching & Learning Support + the Library System

Teaching & Learning support is an academic unit that works alongside faculty members in teaching and research to ensure students have support for critical in-the-class academic skills. These can include writing, research, analytic reasoning and math skills. They can also support students for whom English (or French in French-speaking universities) is not their first language. Visit their webpage to learn about the range of support services for students.

Universities generally have at least one major library and several smaller ones to support the academic mission. Visit the library website at each university to compare the experience. Also, the Macleans university rankings often ranks university library holdings.

Universities have students complete course evaluations and maintain a record of these evaluations so that students can assess whether they want to take the course. Often these are maintained by the university’s library. Access may require an official university log-in identity. Sometimes as well the student government administers its own evaluation. Students also visit a popular public survey site that rates professors in universities around the world.


International Rankings

Times Higher Education ranks universities and programs around the world.

QS Top Universities also ranks universities and programs around the world. This site also includes Canadian schools in their ranking of 29 subjects. Use this list to see which schools are rated well for a larger number of program areas. Learn not only how the target program ranks but also the strengths of the university’s reputations in subjects of interest that might be elective courses.

Canadian Rankings

The MacLean’s Annual Universities Survey ranks approximately 50 of Canada’s 97 accredited universities in three categories: Medical/Doctoral (14 schools in 2021 offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs as well as a range of medical programs); 2) Comprehensive (15 schools in 2021 offering undergraduate, graduate and doctoral programs) and 3) Primarily Undergraduate (18 schools in 2021).

The Globe & Mail completed a 2019 report on Canadian universities comparing multiple facets of a university experience.

For Business: Canada’s top business programs in 2020 Maclean’s ranking:

For Computer Science: Canada’s top computer science programs in 2021 MacLean’s ranking:

For Neuroscience:

For Psychology:

For Sports Management: North American Society for Sports Management list of sports management programs in Canada:

Alumni & Student Engagement Surveys

Find alumni and student surveys through provincial education ministries and at each university’s Institutional Budgeting & Planning Office. Search the university’s website to see when they last participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) which is a North American survey done with students in first and fourth years to evaluate their learning experience.

There is no better way to draw conclusions about the campus and the city environment than a personal visit and tour. While you’re there, walk from campus to downtown and back. COVID has made these visits fewer and far less rewarding, leaving many to draw their conclusions from taking virtual tours and visiting webpages. We suggest some of the webpages below.

Campus Life

For life outside the classroom, search the university’s website for the unit that manages all student support services. Depending on the university, this might be called Student Life, Student Affairs, Student Affairs and Services or Campus Life. The areas of support typically detailed are:

  • Academic Advising
  • Accessibility Services
  • Athletics 
  • Career & Employment Services
  • Health & Wellness
  • International Students (for both incoming International students and students wishing to study internationally)
  • Residence Life
  • Student Clubs
  • Student Government (which sometimes also has its own independent website)

City Life

Your best resource is the city’s official website. Use these search terms to get a feel for what it might be like to live there.

  • Annual events and festivals
  • Best student hangouts
  • Best ”   ” in area (fill in the blank with your favorite activity – walking, cycling, roller blading, skiing)
  • Concerts and live performances
  • Most scenic driving tours in the area
  • Where to find nature nearby
  • Top  ”      ” in this city (fill in the blank with your favorite thing to do, eat, play, visit)
  • What to do in ”   ” (fill in the blank with month or season of the year winter)

Student Tuition, Government Loans and Scholarships

University Funding Sources

Up until a few months ago, it was almost unheard of for a university to go bankrupt in Canada. That is until Laurentian University recently declared their financial problems. University funding is based on a number of inputs, ranging from government funding and tuition to endowments from wealthy donors, alumni fund-raising campaigns and research grants. The two articles below offer some insight to the complexities.

An important source of revenue for universities and indicator of research strength is the amount of funding each university receives by major funding bodies. Here are four of the more significant university research funding bodies:

Student Funding Sources

One of the best ways for students to earn while they learn is through co-operative learning which can range from 4-month work experiences interspersed throughout their studies to a 12- or 18-month internship after their third year and before their culminating year.



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