most prestigious Canadian universities
A university is prestigious when they are known to be the best university overall. Source: AFP

In 2023, universities in Canada welcomed approximately 1.44 million students. One million of that grand number was made up of international students.

But of the country’s 223 higher education institutions, each with its own unique offerings and experiences, which are the most prestigious Canadian universities that that command respect and admiration globally?

What makes a university prestigious?

A university qualifies for the “most prestigious” title when they are known to be the best overall.

It has the latest technologies, state-of-the-art facilities, overqualified lecturers, and a student-friendly environment that can help enhance their learning process.

But above all, reputation is key.

One example of boosting a university’s reputation is by boasting the school’s Nobel Prize laureates. Universities often claim these laureates as graduates, hinting at how the institution played a part in “contributions that have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” 

If Nobel Prize laureates are absent from the alumni roster list, there are many distinguished public figures or even celebrities to make up for it. From actor Simu Liu (of Kim’s Convenience and Marvel’s Shang-Chi) to novelist Margaret Atwood (who wrote The Handmaid’s Tale), the universities aren’t short of any bragging rights. 

most prestigious Canadian universities

Nobel Prize laureates are a factor when it comes to the most prestigious Canadian universities. Source: AFP.

The innovation and research generated by a university are other factors that add to its prestige.

Research contributing to society, regardless of the field or industry, is often a quick and certain way to be recognised by other universities. 

For example, insulin therapy, a form of medication to treat patients with diabetes, was co-discovered by medical scientist and professor Frederick Banting at the University of Toronto in 1922. Today, his research has gone on to save millions of lives across the globe, earning him a Nobel Prize in Medicine.

At McGill University, student Alan Emtage created the internet’s first search engine called Archie (this was even before Google existed), all because he needed to locate files in the university’s public archives. While Archie is a thing of the past, many current search engines still use the technology Emtage invented.

Ultimately, reputation, research, and innovation make up a prestigious university. Out of the 200-plus universities, these are the 20 most prestigious Canadian universities for you to know or even enrol in.

most prestigious Canadian universities

Université Laval is one of the most prestigious Canadian universities. Source: AFP.

10 most prestigious Canadian universities

1. University of Toronto

The University of Toronto ranks among the top 20 universities globally across all five broad subject fields (arts and humanities, social sciences and management, life sciences and medicine, engineering and technology, and natural sciences).

It’s also in the top 10 in seven specific subject areas featured in QS World University Rankings by Subject 2024.

Their graduate list is impressive too. It includes five Prime Ministers of Canada, three Governors Generals of Canada, nine foreign leaders, 17 justices of the Supreme Court of Canada, and 12 Nobel laureates.

2. University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia is ranked #2 in Canada and #41 globally by the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024. 

Aside from their two main campuses in Vancouver and in Kelowna, they’ve got two regional bases in Hong Kong and India to make local connections and elevate partnerships for research, learning and capacity development.

most prestigious Canadian universities

McGill University is one of the most prestigious Canadian universities, fostering a multicultural community within its halls. Source: AFP.

3. McGill University

McGill University‘s history of excellence extends past Ernest Rutherford’s Nobel Prize-winning research on the nature of radioactivity. Even today, professors are building the new field of epigenetics, developing alternative energy sources from crop plants and driving human achievement in every field imaginable.

Currently, more than 12,000 international students are enrolled, making up over 30% of its student population, making it one of the most multicultural universities in Canada.

On top of that, McGill students have the highest average entering grades in Canada, and students win more national and international awards on average than their peers at any other Canadian university.

4. McMaster University

McMaster University is one of only four Canadian universities ranked among the top 85 in the world by major global ranking systems.

It’s placed second in graduate student research intensity in the 2022 Research Infosource rankings, as well as #33 globally in the Times Higher Education University Impact Rankings for 2023, based on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Fun fact: One-fifth of Einstein’s brain is floating in a jar of alcohol in a McMaster science lab.

most prestigious Canadian universities

The University of Alberta is an affordable place to study. Source: University of Alberta Facebook.

5. University of Alberta

The University of Alberta ranks within the top five universities in Canada and the top 110 in the world. 

The university has welcomed upwards of 43,000 international students from more than 160 countries, as well as over 1,300 indigenous students from across the country. A report from the university shows that most of the indigenous students rated their student experience as moderately or very satisfied, reflecting the school’s dedication to creating a welcoming environment for all. 

6. Université de Montréal

The Université de Montréal‘s primary language of instruction might be French, but that doesn’t stop it from landing itself in the list of one of the most prestigious Canadian universities. 

It’s ranked #1 in Quebec’s higher education institutions alongside its affiliated schools of HEC Montréal and Polytechnique Montréal. It’s also ranked #111 globally and #6 in the French-speaking world, drawing in close to 11,000 international students to experience life at the largest French-language university in the Americas.

7. University of Waterloo

The University of Waterloo ranks #1 in Canada for experiential learning and employer-student connections. 

The university boasts a Nobel Laureate, Professor Donna Strickland, with a Nobel Prize in Physics for groundbreaking inventions in the field of laser physics. Notably, she is the first woman to win the physics prize since 1963.

8. University of Ottawa

The University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual (English-French) university in the world, ranking #1 for its French immersion programme among Canadian universities. It’s got the country’s first and largest bilingual faculty of medicine, and its faculty of education is ranked among the top 77 worldwide in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2024.

It’s got the uOttawa-IBM Cyber Range, a unique partnership with the international team of IBM’s X-Force Cyber Range. Here, it offers an immersive and interactive training setting where students, businesses, and government organisations can experience real cyber response scenarios.

9. University of Calgary

The University of Calgary ranked #8 in Canada in the QS World University Rankings 2024. 

The university is home to 16 Olympic and Paralympic medals, is one of the top research universities in Canada for sponsored research funding, and has founded 360 new inventions and innovations since 2017.

On its campus, students can find the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, the first building in Canada dedicated solely to improving post-secondary teaching and learning.

most prestigious Canadian universities

Western University boasted an 88.5% employment rate in 2023. Source: AFP

10. Western University

Western University ranks in the top 1% of universities in the world (Center for World University Rankings 2023) and in the top three universities in Canada for student services (Maclean’s University Rankings 2024).

Research at Western is top-notch. The university has 6 research areas ranked in the top 100 globally
and 82 Fellows of the Royal Society of Canada. It has recently attracted the highest number of Early Researcher Awards, with ten faculty members receiving provincial funding for their innovative work.

The next 10 most prestigious Canadian universities

The names you’ve just seen are probably ones you’ve heard before, but the following ten might not have come up as often.

But that doesn’t mean they’re any less prestigious. In fact, each of the following universities has something unique to offer you.

11. Université Laval

Over 90% of Université Laval‘s undergraduate programmes include mandatory or elective internships, which are often paid.

12. Queen’s University Canada

Queen’s University Canada outranks the first 10 most prestigious Canadian universities in its Times Higher Education Impact Rankings by placing third on the list

most prestigious Canadian universities

Simon Fraser University offers many stand-out programmes. Source: Simon Fraser University Facebook

13. Simon Fraser University

Simon Fraser University ranks #1 in Canada and #2 globally for entrepreneurial spirit, according to the World Universities with Real Impact ranking 2023. 

14. Dalhousie University

Dalhousie University has one of the lowest student-faculty ratios in Canada, where more than 90% of first-choice candidates accept academic positions.

15. University of Manitoba

The University of Manitoba has an Anti-Racism Task Force that seeks to advance racial justice at UM through community engagement and the development of a comprehensive Anti-Racism Strategy.

most prestigious Canadian universities

The University of Saskatchewan and its agricultural programmes make for the most prestigious Canadian universities. Source: University of Saskatchewan Facebook

16. University of Saskatchewan

The University of Saskatchewan ranks #1 in Canada and among the best in the world for water resources research, and is among the world’s best universities for sustainability and social impact.

17. University of Victoria

The University of Victoria is ranked #1 in Canada for making research accessible to the public, #1 in North America for international research collaboration, and the #1 Canadian comprehensive university for graduate employability.

18. York University

York University‘s Schulich School of Business is ranked first in Canada by the Financial Times, The Economist and QS Global MBA rankings. 

most prestigious Canadian universities

The University of Guelph is research-intensive and learner-centred, with campuses spanning urban hubs and rural communities. Source: University of Guelph Facebook

19. University of Guelph

At the beginning of 2024, Canada’s Immigration Minister announced that the country was setting an intake cap on international student permit applications for two years. However, out of all the Canadian universities, the University of Guelph will be maintaining its international undergraduate study permit application allocation at the 2023 level. 

20. Université du Québec

Université du Québec has unique areas of expertise, notably in public relations, actuarial science, sexology, social law, design and visual arts, feminist studies, and social economy, not to mention its advances in health and Earth and atmospheric sciences.