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What do I need to know about Canadian universities?

I understand that McGill is one of the top ranked Canadian universities and have planned my studies accordingly. I’m wondering what my Canada university life will be like, especially as it will involve an international student exchange program. Will I be adequately prepared—academically or otherwise? What kind of opportunities are there for foreigners to get jobs and/or scholarships? Will I be able to rent a room or drive a car? I’ve wanted to go to McGill ever since my favorite middle school teacher told me he went there, but will I regret going there if I do? How conspicuous will I be? I have taken two years of French in high school; will that be enough?

Amanda Johnson

in Study Abroad

1 answer

1 answer

Chelsea Hayes on June 22, 2018

Part of the “top university” experience, everywhere, is that everyone feels underprepared. Even after planning your high school studies with this in mind, you should expect to have to study, concentrate, memorize, focus, and organize as you’ve never done before. The slang phrase “Just give’er!” (explained at < >) may acquire a special meaning for you. (Believe it or not, some recent Canadian university lists rate the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto even tougher than McGill.)

Because Quebec has its own special school system, in which “college” refers to a specific two-year program in between grades K-11 and university, incoming freshmen from the United States don’t go directly into McGill. Unless you attend one of Quebec’s colleges as an international exchange student, you’ll have to do your freshman studies somewhere else.  

“International Student Exchange Program” is the name of a specific organization (< >), which works with some lower-ranked universities in Canada. They might be able to help you, or you might use your diligent high school work to get into one of the U.S. colleges and universities that maintain a compatible pace. The University of Connecticut has a regular exchange program with McGill.

According to those who’ve experienced both, Canada university life is generally similar to the U.S. university life you will probably have a chance to sample as a freshman. Some informants emphasize that big, urban, public universities are more like each other than they are like smaller, private ones that offer more “hand holding.” Renting your own place off campus is expected at some schools. Exchange programs may offer free homestay plans, or students may negotiate rent or labor exchanges with home owners near their schools.

Driving in Canada is not usually a problem for licensed U.S. drivers. Urban schools offer public transportation options that may be the cheapest for foreigners.

U.S. students are encouraged to apply for jobs on campus. Since about 15% of McGill students come from the United States, and English is used on campus, you probably won’t feel very conspicuous. In Quebec signs are printed in French.

Study abroad programs usually select students for financial responsibility and emotional maturity. Few students regret going abroad for social or emotional reasons. One of your responsibilities, though, is making sure academic credits transfer. Most U.S. universities accept transfer credits from Canadian universities, but they’re not legally required to do so. 

Cynthia Baker2 years ago

I think the idea of spending one year in a college or university closer to home, before going abroad, is a good one. It gives students time to adjust to the responsibility of being on their own, usually in an unfamiliar city. As an international exchange student, you can’t go home, or even call home, every weekend. You learn to write letters. You have to do your own laundry. You have to remind yourself to pay bills and keep appointments. If you have a car, you have to pay for it and keep it in good repair all by yourself, and none of this “I left enough gas for Dad to drive to the gas station” stuff! At some Canadian universities, like “no frills” McGill, if you need health care you may have to make your own arrangements through their National Health Service. In short, you must be an adult! 


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