5 best universities in Canada for international students

best universities in Canada for international students
Life's a fair when you're a student at one of the best universities in Canada for international students. Source: AFP

If you’re reading this, you’re probably planning, or at the very least, considering studying in one of the best universities in Canada for international students.

First things first, that’s great. It’s always good to aim for the best.

Moving on to the next chapter of your education is a huge step, and choosing where to go is a key part of the adventure. As an international student, the world is truly your oyster. 

Most international students want a welcoming and inclusive place to learn and grow, and the perfect student destination for that is Canada. 

Canada is one of the top student destinations in the world, and for good reasons: it’s called the melting pot for its diversity, its institutions are top-tier, it’s safe, and it’s home to vibrant cities and natural wonders. 

Toronto and Montreal, which are cities located in Canada, recently placed 11th and 13th in the QS Best Student Cities 2024 rankings. Vancouver was just a few spots away in 18th place. 

On top of that, Canada ranked in second place for overall ranking and third place for the best quality of life globally in 2022, according to the US News & World Report

All of these show why hundreds of thousands of international students from around the globe choose  Canada as their student destination. 

In fact, University of Alberta student Ishan Arora has no shred of doubt that he made the best decision in his life by choosing to study in Canada. 

“At the end of the day, we only regret the chances we didn’t take. At one point in my life, I had no plans of completing higher education, let alone pursuing it at one of the best universities in Canada. And look, here I am, sharing my story of making it to Canada,” wrote Arora on the University of Alberta student blog

So, if you now have your heart set on Canada, good for you! The next step is applying to a university. 

Canada has numerous excellent institutions offering diverse programmes, making it challenging to choose the right one. 

Which are the best universities in Canada for international students based on academic reputation, diversity, cost, location, and support services?

best universities in Canada

Out of the best universities in Canada for international students, which ones are the most affordable? Source: AFP

Cheapest Canadian universities for international students

The first thing in mind for many international students when deciding to study overseas is the cost

Compared to other major student destinations, such as the US, UK, and Australia, the tuition fees in Canada are generally less expensive. 

This makes Canada a highly popular student destination. 

In fact, McGill University alumnus Vincent agrees on the affordability of tuition fees in Canada. 

“Perhaps the best aspect about Canadian universities is their affordability, even for international students,” he said, as written on Happy Schools

However, for some international students, tuition fees can still take a huge toll on them. 

While applying for scholarships or financial aid is a great way of reducing your financial burden, it is also worth noting that Canada is home to many top-tier universities that offer quality, affordable education: 

  1. Simon Fraser University
  2. Brandon University
  3. Université de Saint-Boniface
  4. Dominican University College
  5. Concordia University
  6. University of Calgary
  7. University of Regina

But if tuition fees are only secondary, and you’re looking for the best of the best, Canada has an endless list of such universities too. 

Best universities in Canada for international students

1. University of Waterloo

For those interested in technology and engineering, look no further than the University of Waterloo, Canada’s largest engineering school with unparalleled leadership in these fields. 

Ranked among the top 50 engineering schools worldwide, Waterloo Engineering is committed to leading engineering education and research. 

In 2019/20, external research funding from Canadian and international partners exceeded 86.8 million Canadian dollars, which is a strong indication of the type of professors and researchers you get to work with while here.

What’s more, the University of Waterloo has been ranked as Canada’s most innovative university for the past 25 years.

It offers more than 100 undergraduate programmes in areas such as health, humanities and social sciences, business, engineering, the environment, mathematics, and science.

More importantly, in 2022, the University of Waterloo was ranked first by the QS World University Rankings 2022 for having the highest graduate employment rate. 

Meanwhile, studying in the city of Waterloo means you’ll find yourself in the company of dreamers, entrepreneurs, and creatives – not to mention cool coffee shops, trendy restaurants, cultural events, and local experiences you can’t have anywhere else.

best universities in Canada

As one of the best universities in Canada for international students, the University of Toronto does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to its programmes. Source: AFP

2. University of Toronto 

The University of Toronto is one of the top public universities in Canada. 

It has been ranked 21st in the QS World University Rankings 2024 and first in the QS Sustainability ranking. It has produced eight Nobel Prize winners. It has been ranked second in the world for medical research. 

It has more than 660,600 alumni from over 190 countries, carrying ideas, innovations, and contributions that impact communities across the globe. 

At this point, it’s easy to see why international students are flocking to the university.

“It’s like you sit in a classroom with a research paper and the person who wrote the paper is the professor in front of you. That kind of experience you don’t get at many universities,” said Vishal, an international student from Dubai currently studying at the University of Toronto. 

No matter where your passion lies, you’re sure to find it at the University of Toronto, which carries over 700 undergraduate and 200 graduate programmes across three campuses in the Greater Toronto Area.

What also sets the University of Toronto apart is the fact that it does not have a one-size-fits-all approach to its programmes. 

Its variety and depth of academic options means you can find the right programmes to suit your unique interests while learning from professors who are leaders in their fields. 

Mountains are seen over the Vancouver area, British Columbia, home to one of the best universities in Canada for international students. Source: AFP

3. University of British Columbia 

Eight Nobel laureates. Three Canadian prime ministers. 65 Olympic medals, including 19 gold. 74 Rhodes scholars. 22 3M National Teaching fellows. 289 Royal Society of Canada fellows. 

All of them are University of British Columbia students, graduates or staff.

Since 1915, the university has been opening doors of opportunity for people with the curiosity, drive, and vision to shape a better world.

Some of the most specialised and interesting degrees to study here are international economics, food market analysis, journalism, media studies, first nations and Indigenous studies, as well as religion, literature and the arts. 

And these courses are just a fraction of hundreds of the University of British Columbia’s cutting-edge programmes, spanning the arts, sciences, business, and more.

Located in Vancouver, a major cultural and economic hub in the region, and Kelowna, a city located in the vicinity of Okanagan Lake in southern British Columbia, the University of British Columbia is home to over 70,000 students, of which 15,302 are international students. 

No matter which campus you choose, you’re guaranteed a top-tier education anchored by a well-rounded student life, the warmth of faculty and staff, and natural beauty. 


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4. University of Alberta

If you prefer a more secluded setting while getting access to high-quality education within a supportive learning environment, the University of Alberta is a worthy consideration. 

Located in Edmonton, the University of Alberta is home to a much smaller albeit welcoming student community. From mentorship programmes to cultural integration initiatives, the University of Alberta prioritises the well-being and success of its diverse student body.

The city itself houses just a little over one million residents. 

But don’t let that fool you. It is the capital city of the Canadian province of Albert, Canada, and is one of Canada’s strongest local economies. 

Edmonton is famous for its welcoming and vibrant economic, cultural, and social hub with a lineup of year-round festivals and events, including the Edmonton Folk Music Festival and the Edmonton International Film Festival.

Just like the city itself, the University of Alberta is a hub for people to come together to build, create, and change things for the better. It is where good ideas from like-minded students from all over the world are fostered and executed. 

You can choose from over 200 programmes, and the catch is that the University of Alberta offers many ways to further tailor your degree, which is especially great if you’re seeking to major in several subjects. 

Whichever programme you choose, you’re bound to go through a rigorous but well-rounded and supportive academic journey that will test your knowledge and put it into practice. 

That’s why the university has been ranked second in Canada for the highest graduate employment. 

Montreal is home to one of the best universities in Canada for international students and great winter sports. Source: AFP


5. McGill University 

Ask any McGill University alumni about their experience at the university, and they’ll tell you that they have left a part of themselves there. 

Graduate Yasemin Erdogan, for example, had spent most of her academic journey with McGill University, describing it as “an institution that truly pushes you. It challenges you academically, professionally, and personally all while allowing you to find your community. With such a diverse student body, there are many opportunities to get involved and engage both within and outside the university community.”

Located in Montreal, a favourite student destination, McGill University is one of the best universities in Canada for international students, attracting thousands from all over the world every year. 

Aside from student testimonies, McGill University brings in rankings and statistics that more than prove its worth as a global education hub. 

It has been ranked 30th by the QS World University Rankings 2024, the highest percentage of PhD students of any Canadian research university, offers over 400 programmes and hosts a thriving alumni network of 250,000 people around the globe.