American College Students Look North to Canada — and Savings

American students shopping for colleges increasingly look to Canada for good deals. For a modest but growing population, the Great White North is the Promised Land, a relief from astronomical tuition, an asylum from student loan debt, and a place slightly removed from the ugly tenor of American politics. And if you don't mind super-cold winters or nickels with beavers on them, this could be a great move for you too.

Of course, that’s not all you need to know. Before making the move, a few other factors to consider include cost, length of commitment, and what you intend to do after graduation. Attending uni in Canada could be a great opportunity to save a few bucks on college, experience a distinct educational culture, and see a different part of the world. (Granted, it’s a relatively close and similar part of the world, but different nonetheless.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Canada? Isn’t that where Justin Bieber came from? Well, yes, but it’s also where Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Arcade Fire came from. The point is, you have to weigh the pros and cons as you make your decision.

So here’s what you need to know about making the move, with a little background on why so many American students are making this northerly trek.

Border Crossings Surge

In 2016, Canadian colleges saw their biggest one-year boost in American enrollment since tracking of the number began. According to the Boston Globe, the number of Americans holding permits to study in Canada was 6,349 in 2016, up from 5,683 in 2015. The jump was even more significant at Canada’s most notable schools. University of Toronto, the “Harvard of Canada,” saw a 75% increase in American applications in 2016, and a consequent 78% increase in Yankee enrollment. Bishop University in Quebec saw a 200% increase in applications that same year.

In America, the phrase “Trump Bump” generally refers to the bullish nature of the stock market under the pro-business president. However, among Canadian college recruiters, it refers to the growing number of politically disenchanted young Americans who are looking north for college.

Without question, the biggest factor driving students north is America’s tuition sickness. But these costs have been skyrocketing for two decades. Many recruiters argue that only now, with America’s political leadership departing so radically from the values that many young Americans hold (Trump garnered only 37% of the youth vote in the 2016 presidential election), are American students treating Canadian college as an informal political asylum.

Dan Seneker, Director of Enrolment Management for Bishop University, reached out to share some insights and confirm this trend. Seneker told us that the increase in enrolment of American students is beginning to show signs of intensification. Seneker pointed out that while there was a 200% increase in applications from U.S. students in the Fall of 2017, the increase in enrollments was only about 5%.

“Fall 2018,” said Seneker, "is proving to be somewhat different.   We saw another bump in USA applications this year, approximate 30% increase over last year's numbers, however the change has been that we have seen a 29% increase in the number of USA students who are depositing and confirming their enrolment compared to Fall 2017.”

Indeed, Seneker confirms that the political climate in the United States has been a tangible motivation.

Seneker explained that “Anecdotal information from our prospective students and families are that they have experienced a full year of the current US administration and have seen enough to now make a decision that they do not want their son or daughter in the USA for the rest of the administration's tenure.”

Other factors still figure into the decision for Bishop's students, including the favorable exchange rate, better campus safety, and the lower tuition rates, said Seneker. But there is little doubt that families and young students who are disturbed by the political and cultural tenor in the U.S. view Canadian colleges as a constructive escape plan.

Immigration Destination

Seneker also points to another interesting trend that should be of concern to American universities. In addition to the increase in U.S. applications, Canadian schools like Bishop are seeing an increase in applications from around the world. Seneker surmises that many of these prospective international students view Canada as a happy alternative to college in an increasingly unwelcoming U.S.

In fact, the tenor toward international students in Canada is in stark contrast to that of the United States. The Trump administration’s increased focus on deportations and a reduction of immigration — both undocumented and legal — have had a chilling effect on international enrollment for U.S. colleges. According to the Institution of International Education, U.S. schools saw a 3% drop in foreign enrollment, the first decline since the Institution began keeping track.

Five hundred individual U.S. schools reported an average drop in new international enrollment of about 7%. American universities have repeatedly joined together to voice ardent disapproval of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, from the dismantling of DACA to repeated attempts at instituting a ban on immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.

Flagging international applications suggest that resistance to Trump’s immigration policies is about more than moral principle. America’s growing hostility toward immigration is having an impact on the bottom line for college recruiters.

Meanwhile, back in Nova Scotia, a recruiter for Cape Breton University says of the Trump effect, “Without actively recruiting, we’ve seen a bump in our applications.”

And Canada is pleased as punch about it. The Consulate General of Canada has been working for years to combat the nation’s shrinking population and the resultant economic challenges by attracting Americans to its schools. It’s only now that the effort is bearing fruit. Marc Jacques from the Consulate says, “The government is really actively seeking international students. If a student can be accepted to a university, that’s the kind of person you want in your country.”

Canadian Costs

Now, with all of that said, it really is about the Benjamins. Even if Trump is compelling young progressives to migrate north, there is no more compelling motive than money.

In general, it’s true that college in Canada is more affordable, especially if you happen to be Canadian (or have at least one Canadian parent). The vast majority of Canadian universities are public, with more than 80% of university funding coming from tax dollars and subsidies. As a result, an average year of tuition and fees for a Canadian university will generally run a citizen about $5,000, as compared to an average year in an American public college at an out-of-state rate of roughly $25,000.

Meanwhile, the ratio of public versus tuition-based funding for American colleges keeps getting worse. In 1991, American public colleges and universities drew only 26% of their funding from tuition. By 2016, that number was 47%. Federal and state funding for American “public” colleges is on the decline and if you’re paying tuition (or repaying student loans), you’re the one who will feel the brunt of that decline.

Now, if you’re an American looking at schools in Canada, that looks like a pretty great reason to head north of the border. Well, we don’t want to sour your routine, but the breakdown isn’t quite as simple as that. Tuition for international students is a little higher, somewhere in the order of $12,000 and $25,000, depending on the type of school you’re shooting for.

Your cost may also vary based on the degree program you select so this is something that you’ll want to bear in mind as well.

On top of that, if you’re hoping to score some financial assistance, this may not be the way to go. Many Canadian universities don’t offer merit-based scholarships, nor do they accept U.S. Pell Grants. If you need a little help paying for college in Canada, you’ll want to investigate scholarship opportunities with international flexibility.

So yes, college in Canada may be cheaper in the most basic terms, but you’ll need to do a true cost comparison that incorporates the tuition range of your selected schools, your eligibility for financial aid, and your scholarship prospects. Only then can you really make an honest assessment about your likely savings from a Canadian education.

With all of that said, you could easily spend clear of $60,000 for a single year at a private university in the United States. In Canada, the most expensive programs and universities tickle the underside of $50K.

Canadians Do It Faster

Some Canadians do it faster anyway. A few Canadian schools actually offer three-year bachelor’s degrees. Only about 10% of Canadian students choose this path, with the majority of schools offering only the traditional four-year bachelor’s degree. That said, if you're an American researching Canadian colleges, you do have the option to trim down the length of your commitment, and therefore, the expenses that come with an additional year in school.

One catch: the Canadian three-year degree may not be accepted by every American graduate school program. If you do plan to continue your education at the graduate level, and particularly if you plan to do so in the U.S., the three-year degree may limit your options.

Culture Shock

Canada may seem like America’s friendly cousin, but there are a few key differences between us. For starters, if you been going to Dunkin’ Donuts for your morning eye-opener, it’s time you learned to love Tim Hortons. But there’s a bit more to it than that.

Seattle Pi points out that American and Canadian universities may have different admissions standards. Whereas American applications are often part of a subjective process connecting grades, test scores, essays, and extra-curricular activities, the Canadian admission process is more straightforward.

Your qualifications will be largely based on your SAT scores and your grades during your upperclass years in high school. You usually won’t be asked to complete an essay, secure recommendation letters, or provide an admissions interview. The wide array of biographical factors you must bring to the admissions contest in the U.S. will likely not be considered during the Canadian application process.

On the other hand, Canada doesn’t offer a common application like the one that many American colleges and universities now accept.

How to Apply

To attend uni in Canada, you will require a study permit. To gain this permit, you’ll need a letter of acceptance from a “designated learning institution“ — a school approved by a provincial or territorial government to host international students. For what it’s worth, all primary and secondary schools are designated learning institutions, though there is some variance among postsecondary schools.

As you look at schools, consider also whether the degree program of interest is eligible for the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program. You’ll need a degree with this eligibility if you plan to remain in Canada for work after graduation. Use the list here to search for designated learning institutions and research each school’s work permit status. Depending on your future plans, this status could be a dealbreaker.

With all of that said, if you’re an American student with ambitions to attend college up north, Canada is pleased by your interest and more than happy to help you find your way. Canada.ca hosts some friendly instructions for prospective international students. It outlines basic limitations and requirements, links to a few informative resources, offers instructions on how to gain eligibility, and serves as a portal so that you can begin your application process.

The site also offers access to a few outlets that can answer your questions and help you on your way.

If you’re thinking about making the move, or if you’re interested in other international learning experiences close to home, check out The Best University in Each Country of North America.