Studying In the USA: a Guide for Canadian Students

Studying in the US as a Canadian
May 7, 2024
10 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Mary Banks

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/7/24

Do you need information on how to study in the US from Canada? Keep reading to learn all about the application process, visa requirements, and the best universities for Canadian students. 

While studying in the US can offer several opportunities for Canadians, the American higher education system can seem stressful and impossible to navigate at first glance.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to apply to American universities from Canada, visa and immigration requirements, financial planning, and scholarship options to help make the process easier. Let’s get started!

The Main Differences Between Canadian and American Higher Education Systems

Although Canadian and US higher education systems have many similarities, the two systems have some differences. 

Educational Structure

Canadian universities often emphasize specialized academic programs from the start, while American colleges commonly follow a liberal arts education model, encouraging students to explore various disciplines before declaring a major. 

Grading System

In Canada, grading systems vary across provinces, with universities having the flexibility to adapt the system to their preferences. The methods include using GPAs, letter grades, and numeric scales ranging from 0 to 10. 

On the other hand, the US uses a more standardized approach, primarily using a 4-point scale where an A corresponds to a grade range of 93-100% and an A+ is awarded for scores of 97-100%. 

Application Process

The application process in Canada typically relies on academic performance, including personal statements and reference letters, while in the United States, admissions decisions consider a broader range of factors, including standardized test scores, extracurricular activities, and personal essays.

Standardized Tests

In the US, standardized tests like the SAT or ACT play a significant role in undergraduate admissions. However, in Canada, standardized tests are generally not as pivotal in the admissions process.

Tuition Fees

While they vary, tuition fees in Canada are generally lower than those in the United States, especially for Canadian residents. High tuition fees, even for in-state residents, often cause students to seek financial aid, scholarships, or grants to offset costs.

Academic Calander

The academic calendar in Canada generally follows a two-semester structure, while in the US, the academic calendar may operate on a semester or quarter system.

How to Apply to American Universities as a Canadian Applicant

When applying to American universities from Canada, there are several key requirements to consider:

  • Standardized Test Scores: SAT or ACT scores are typically required.
  • English Language Proficiency: International students must often demonstrate English proficiency by sitting exams like TOEFL or IELTS.
  • Application Requirements: Complete the application forms, paying close attention to the specific requirements of each university.
  • Application Fee: Be prepared to pay the application fee for each university you're applying to.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Most universities require reference letters from teachers or mentors.
  • Personal Statement/Essay: Craft a compelling personal statement highlighting your goals, experiences, and aspirations.
  • Visa Documentation: Once accepted, apply for an F-1 student visa. Submit the necessary documents, including proof of financial support, visa application forms, and a valid passport.

Submitting a well-prepared application package is crucial. Ensure all documents are accurate, well-organized, and meet the university's standards. Additionally, remember to highlight your achievements, extracurricular activities, and unique experiences that set you apart as a candidate.

Visa and Immigration Requirements

For Canadian students applying to American universities, securing an F-1 student visa is vital. Here is how to get your student visa:

  1. Acceptance Letter: Begin by securing admission to a SEVP-certified US institution.
  2. Form I-20: Upon acceptance, the institution provides the Form I-20, needed for the visa application.
  3. SEVIS Fee: Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee and complete the DS-160 form. This will give you a SEVIS number
  4. Visa Application: Book an interview at the nearest US consulate or embassy.
  5. Documentation: Prepare documentation such as a valid passport, Form I-20, DS-160 confirmation, visa application fee receipt, and evidence of ties to Canada.

Follow these steps diligently and ensure compliance with visa requirements to avoid any issues with admission and traveling.

Legal Requirements and Work Opportunities

The following information should be strictly adhered to at all times if you want to work and study in the US as a Canadian student:

  • Work Restrictions: F-1 visa holders can work on-campus during the first academic year and may be eligible for off-campus employment under certain circumstances.
  • Optional Practical Training (OPT): After completing studies, students may apply for OPT, allowing them to work in their field for up to 12 months.
  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT): CPT allows for internship or work-study programs related to the field of study.

Understanding these requirements and opportunities ensures a smoother stay in the US. This will ensure that students have a happy and issue-free stay in the United States. 

Best US Universities for Canadian Students

With over 50 states and 4,000+ schools, selecting a school can be overwhelming. A few schools that are popular among international students include: 

  • Columbia University
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of Southern California
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Harvard University
  • Johns Hopkins University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Cornell University
  • University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
  • Purdue University
  • Duke University
  • Northeastern University
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Michigan
  • Yale University

To help you finalize your own college list, take a look at a few factors you should consider: 

SEVP Certification

A fundamental criterion is confirming that the university holds certification under the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). This certification is pivotal as it ensures the institution's eligibility to enroll international students, providing a secure and compliant academic environment.

Academic Offerings and Extracurricular Activities

Explore the university's academic programs, ensuring they align with your field and career goals. Additionally, explore the extracurricular activities, clubs, and organizations available as they contribute to a well-rounded education beyond academics.

Campus Culture and Atmosphere

Understand the campus vibe. Check out the student life, community engagement, and cultural diversity on campus. Visiting or attending virtual campus tours and orientations can offer insights into the university's atmosphere.


Assess the university's location, as it impacts your lifestyle and access to various amenities. Determine if you prefer an urban or suburban setting and analyze the cost of living there.

Campus Safety and Services

Look into safety protocols, accommodation options, healthcare facilities, and transportation services. Assess the availability of essential services like libraries, recreational facilities, career counseling centers, and student support systems.

Internship and Job Opportunities

Investigate the university's connections with industries, the availability of internships, co-op programs, and career services that facilitate professional growth and post-graduation prospects.

Alumni Network

Be sure to research the university's alumni network and the success stories of graduates; this speaks volumes about the institution's quality of education and the level of support it provides toward career advancement.

Support for International Students

Explore the assistance offered to international students, such as orientation programs, language support, and cultural integration initiatives.

Accreditation and Rankings

Consider the university's accreditation status and rankings in specific programs of interest, helping gauge the institution's academic excellence and standing in the educational landscape.

Housing and Campus Amenities

Evaluate the accommodation options available, including on-campus residences, meal plans, and off-campus living arrangements. It can be worthwhile to also consider the availability of campus amenities like gyms, dining facilities, and recreational spaces.

Diversity and Inclusivity

Assess the university's commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusivity through initiatives, clubs, and policies supporting a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Flexibility in Curriculum

If you prioritize flexibility, be sure to check if the university allows students to customize their educational experience through double major options, minors, and opportunities for interdisciplinary studies.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Pursuing higher education in the US can be expensive, so be sure to check the availability of scholarships, grants, and financial aid specifically tailored to international students.

Cost of Education In the USA

Here are a few costs to consider as a Canadian student hoping to study in the US:

Tuition Fee Public Universities: $25,000 to $35,000
Private Universities: $35,000 to $50,000
Housing On Campus: $8,000 to $12,000 Annually
Off-Campus: $600 to $1,500 Monthly
Food Meal Plans: $2,500 to $6,000 Annually
Groceries: $2,000 to $3,000 Annually
Transportation $500 to $1,000 Annually
Health Insurance $1,500 to $3,000 Annually
Books and Supplies Approximately $1,200 Annually
SERVIS Fee $350

Financial Planning and Scholarship Options

Students typically seek financial aid and scholarships to help meet the cost of education and other expenses. Here are financial planning options and scholarships for Canadian students in the US.

Financial Aid Options for Canadian Students Studying In the USA

Canadian students have various financial aid options, including:

  • Canadian Government Aid: Canadian students can explore government aid, including loans and grants, available for studying abroad. Entities like provincial governments often provide support for international education. 
  • Exchange Programs: Some Canadian universities have exchange programs with US institutions that offer financial aid or scholarships. These programs facilitate cultural exchange and often provide financial assistance to students participating.
  • Education Savings Plans: Canadians can use funds from Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) to cover educational costs abroad, including tuition, accommodation, and textbooks. Withdrawals from RESPs are eligible for educational purposes worldwide.
  • Financial Aid Offices: Canadian students should contact the financial aid offices of their chosen US institutions. These offices often have information about bursaries, grants, or work-study opportunities available to international students.
  • International Student Loans: Some private financial institutions in the USA offer loans specifically tailored for international students pursuing higher education. These loans can cover tuition fees, living expenses, and other educational costs. 
  • Bank Loans: Some Canadian banks offer Canadian student loans for studying abroad. Banks like BMO Bank of Montreal and Scotiabank offer loans from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on the bank and program of study 

These options can come in handy for Canadian students in the US. However, it's crucial to carefully review eligibility criteria, application deadlines, and terms and conditions before applying for financial assistance.

Canadians Applying to US Colleges Scholarship Options

Canadian students can explore these scholarship options to support their studies:

  • Private Scholarships: Private organizations and foundations in the USA offer scholarships to support international students' education. Students can apply for scholarships that match their qualifications and interests.
  • US Scholarships and Grants: Many US colleges and universities offer scholarships and grants for international students, including Canadians. These can cover tuition fees, living expenses, or specific study areas. Students should research and apply for these opportunities through their respective institutions.
  • Government Scholarships: Explore scholarships or funding opportunities the Canadian government offers, such as the Canada-United States Fulbright Program.
  • External Scholarships: Look for scholarships provided by organizations, foundations, or corporations in Canada that support students pursuing education abroad. 
  • Private Donor Funds: Some private donors or institutions in both Canada and the US provide scholarships specifically for Canadian students studying in the US. Research these opportunities through online databases or educational institutions.
  • Online Databases: Use scholarship databases and search engines that list scholarships open to international students. 

Tips for Canadian Applicants Applying to US Universities

Here are some tips to help you apply successfully to US universities:

Start Preparing Early

Understand the differences between Canadian and US systems, including grading, standardized tests, and application requirements. Start preparing for exams like the SAT or ACT well in advance.

Do Your Research and Choose Wisely

Explore US universities' programs, campus culture, location, and offerings to find the best fit. Don’t forget to consider factors like SEVP certification, extracurricular activities, and campus diversity.

Understand Visa Requirements

Familiarize yourself with the F-1 student visa process. Ensure you have all the necessary documents and meet the visa requirements before applying.

Application Timeline

Be mindful of application deadlines for each university. Some institutions have earlier deadlines for international students.

Seek Guidance

Use resources from high schools, counselors, or online platforms for guidance on the application process, essays, and required documentation. Don't hesitate to contact admissions officers or university representatives if you have any queries or need clarifications during the application process.

Financial Planning

Understand the costs of studying in the US as an international student and explore potential financial aid options, scholarships, and student loans.

Highlight Uniqueness

In your application, make sure to show your unique attributes, achievements, and experiences. Emphasize how your international background and diverse perspectives could contribute to the university's community.

Review and Proofread

Before submitting applications, review all materials to avoid errors or omissions that could impact your candidacy.

FAQs: Studying in the USA

Here are our answers to frequently asked questions about how to study in the US from Canada.

1. Can I Study in the USA as a Canadian?

Yes, Canadian students can study in the USA. Canadian students are currently the fourth largest international student pool in the US.

2. Are SAT or ACT Scores Required for Canadian Students Applying To US Colleges?

Yes, SAT or ACT scores are required for Canadian students applying to US colleges. However, the requirement may vary based on the institution.

3. What Are the Language Requirements for Canadian Students Applying to US Colleges?

Language proficiency tests like TOEFL or IELTS are typically required for non-native English speakers. Some universities like Harvard and Stanford University may offer exemptions based on previous education in English-speaking institutions.

4. Are Canadian Students Eligible for Financial Aid or Scholarships in US colleges?

Yes, Canadian students might be eligible for scholarships and financial aid offered by US colleges. Some may also apply for Canadian government financial aid programs or scholarships.

5. Do US Colleges Accept Canadian High School Diplomas?

Yes, many US colleges recognize Canadian high school diplomas. However, it's advisable to verify specific requirements and equivalencies for admissions.

6. Can Canadian Students Work While Studying at US Colleges?

Canadian students with F-1 visas might be eligible for on-campus jobs or certain off-campus employment opportunities. However, specific work regulations should be reviewed per visa and college guidelines.

Final Thoughts

Studying in the USA as a Canadian student offers vast opportunities and challenges. Understanding the admission requirements, financial aid, visa processes, and cultural differences is pivotal. It's a journey with personal and academic growth prospects bolstered by access to renowned institutions and a vibrant international community. 

With thorough research, leveraging available resources, and embracing new experiences, Canadian students can navigate this exciting chapter of education in the US successfully.

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