Top 10 Public Universities in Canada

October 19, 2023


  • Shireen Fisher

The Great White North is known for its prestigious educational system, so it is no surprise that around 807,750 international students are studying at various institutions here. The country has 223 public universities that offer over 15,000 different study programs. If you plan on chasing your academic goals in Canada, you are on the right track to success. To get you one step closer, we look at ten of the top public universities in Canada for international students.

What Are the Top Public Universities in Canada?

With so many institutions of higher education in the land of maple leaves, choosing the right one can be a daunting task. To help, here are some of the top public universities for international students in Canada:

University of Toronto

The University of Toronto (UToronto or U of T) is Canada's top public research university. It was established in 1827 by royal charter. Today, it has over 560,000 graduates and hosts nearly 30,000 international students. UToronto has made a mark globally with its ideas, innovations, and achievements. It is currently ranked 21st in the latest QS World University Rankings.

McGill University

McGill University is a prestigious English-language public research university. Situated in Montreal, Quebec, it was established in 1821 and was named after James McGill, a Scottish merchant. The university has a global presence, ranking 30th globally and second in Canada in the latest QS World University Rankings. It is home to over 12,000 international students, who make up nearly a third of campus students.

University of British Columbia

The University of British Columbia (UBC) is known for its teaching, research, and innovation excellence. It is British Columbia's oldest university, ranked third in Canada and 34th in the latest QS World University Rankings. UBC has around 17,225 international students.

University of Alberta

Set in Edmonton, Alberta, the University of Alberta, situated in Edmonton, Alberta, is well-known for being a top public research university. It was established in 1908 by Alexander Cameron Rutherford and Henry Marshall Tory. The university is famous for excelling in teaching and research across humanities, sciences, creative arts, business, engineering, and health sciences. Amongst its 43,000 Canadian students, you will find 8,000 international students. It is ranked 111th in the latest QS World University Rankings.

University of Waterloo

The University of Waterloo is another of Canada's top public research institutions. The university's student population is fast reaching the 40,000 mark. International students make up around 5,800 of the student population. The university ranks number 112 in the latest QS World University Rankings. It is popular due to its robust academic and research programs and cooperative education system.

Western University

Western University, which you will find in London, Canada, is one of the country's most prestigious research institutions. Its commitment to advancing knowledge through its research greatly impacts the economy, society, and health sectors. Western has a vibrant and diverse student body, which includes over 5,000 international students from more than 129 countries. It ranks at number 114 in the latest QS World University Rankings.

University of Montreal

The University of Montreal is one of the largest university complexes in North America. It has thirteen faculties, with over sixty departments to choose from. It also has two affiliated schools - Polytechnique Montreal (engineering) and HEC Montreal (business). If you select this university in Canada, you will find that it has a solid international presence of around 10,000 international students. Popular fields of study at this university include MBA, M. Eng Engineering, and MS in Management. This Canadian university comes in at number 141 in the latest QS World University Rankings.

University of Calgary

Established in 1944 as part of the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary became an independent university in 1966. Today, it is one of the Great White North's leading research institutions. The institution has around 26,000 undergraduate students and more than 6,000 graduate students. There are approximately 3,000 international students. The University of Calgary comes in at number 182 in the latest QS World University Rankings.

McMaster University

Located in Hamilton, Ontario, McMaster University is a prominent public research institution. It is ranked 189th in the latest QS World University Rankings. It has a total student population of 37,370. International students from 120 countries comprise 17.20% of the McMaster student body. The university provides a va of courses across various fields, including Business, Engineering, Health Sciences, Humanities to Science, and Social Sciences.

University of Ottawa

The University of Ottawa is the world's largest bilingual (English-French) university. It was the first to introduce a French immersion undergraduate program and is one of Canada's top 10 research universities. The university prides itself in its research excellence and works hard to operate, focusing on equity, diversity, and inclusion. It is ranked 203rd in the latest QS World University Rankings. It draws international students from more than students from over 145 countries.

Why Study in Canada

Studying at a public university in Canada offers numerous advantages for international students. From the exceptional quality of education and research opportunities to the multicultural and inclusive environment, a wide array of programs and top-ranked institutions, you will find the perfect public university to shape your future.

How Much Does it Cost to Study in Canada?

The university fees in Canada have a very diverse range. So, your tuition fees will depend on where you study and your chosen program. Canadian tuition fees are generally lower than colleges and universities in Australia, the UK, and the US. This factor makes it the ideal study-abroad destination for international students.

Below is an estimate of what you can expect to pay to study in Canada, according to 2022/2023 Statistics Canada data:

  • 36,100 CAD per year for international undergraduate students
  • 21,100 CAD per year for international graduate students

Living Costs for International Students in Canada

Apart from your tuition fees, you will also have to factor in your living costs. According to EduCanada, living costs for international students in Canada stand at around 15,000 CAD per year for university students.

What You Need to Do to Study in Canada


To study in Canada as an international student, you must obtain a Canadian Study Permit. This permit serves as a student visa and allows individuals to study full-time at a designated learning institution in Canada. To apply for a study permit, you must have a letter of acceptance from a Canadian university, proof of financial support, a valid passport, and evidence of English or French language proficiency. It is crucial to apply for your Canadian Study Permit well in advance, ahead of the start date of your program, as processing times may vary. Here are the steps you need to take to achieve your Canadian academic goals.

Step 1: Check Whether You Are Eligible

You first have to check whether you qualify for a Canadian study permit, so make sure you tick all the following boxes:

  • Be a Designated Learning Institution (DLI)
  • Have sufficient funds to pay for your tuition and living expenses
  • Be a law-abiding citizen and get a police certificate if required
  • Prove that you are in good health and get a medical exam
  • Provide proof that you will leave the country once your study permit expires

Step 2: Obtain an Acceptance Letter

Get an acceptance letter from a DLI.

Step 3: Gather Your Documents

Get together all your important documents like your passport, proof of funds, proof of acceptance, and other accompanying documents. Take a look at the Canadian document checklist.

Step 4: Pay all Application Fees

A study permit will cost you 150 CAD. Once you have paid this, you can submit your application for processing. Learn more about IRCC processing times.


What is the Difference Between a University and a College in Canada?

Universities in Canada place higher education on a different level than other institutions. So, getting a bachelor's, master's, and Ph.D. Canada will be more prestigious and carry more weight than most universities across the globe.

Colleges in Canada are smaller community institutions or specialized trade schools that grant certificates and diplomas. Some students in Canada will attend college to further prepare for university by obtaining credits that can be transferred.

When Must I Pay For Biometrics For My Canadian Study Permit?

You must pay your biometrics fee when you submit your Canadian Study Permit application. If you do not do this, you will experience delays with processing.