A collaborative partnership

Graduate study programs are a collaborative partnership built on the cornerstones of intellectual curiosity, original thinking, research excellence and sound academic scholarship. Graduate programs allow students to enhance their understanding of their chosen discipline and earn a valuable credential.

Universities see graduate students as academic colleagues, whose fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm help to enliven the scholarly enterprise. Graduate students help to further the interests of university departments by enhancing departmental research capabilities, contributing to the advancement of knowledge and building the department's reputation for excellence - within the university, within the academic community and among potential employers.

Students in Canada take on graduate studies for a variety of reasons. Many are motivated by their love of learning and their passion for a particular discipline. Career plans are another factor, since graduate degrees usually lead to accelerated professional advancement and higher earning power. Entering academic professions or research careers usually requires a graduate education.

For many students, the decision to enter graduate school is a progressive one. Often, decisions about graduate studies are made during the undergraduate years, and graduate work builds on the research and learning that has taken place at the undergraduate level.

A variety of credentials and approaches

There are currently 75,000 full-time and 40,000 part-time graduate students enrolled across Canada. International students account for about 11 per cent of the country's total graduate school enrolment.

Generally speaking, there are three types of graduate degrees offered by Canadian universities a course-based master's, which requires the successful completion of a specific program of graduate-level courses; a research-oriented master's, which requires both graduate-level course work and a thesis; and the doctorate or PhD, which requires the candidate to undertake original research and to develop and defend a thesis that makes a substantial contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the student's chosen field of study.

The first type of master's degree often has a professional orientation. It is normally completed after one calendar year of full-time studies and may include a professional internship. Evaluation is based on the student's course work and field assignments, and in some programs a research project is also required.

Generally speaking, these programs do not lead to studies at the doctoral level.

The research-oriented master's degree is normally completed after two years of full-time study, although sometimes a slightly longer period is required to complete the thesis due to the nature of certain types of research.

In these programs, the first year focuses on the successful completion of course work and the development of a research proposal. A course in research methods is usually a requirement. Reading assignments, independent study, graduate seminars, consultations with departmental faculty and periodic evaluation are also typical of most programs.

The second year is usually devoted to researching and writing the thesis. Most departments encourage their graduate students to present papers and take part in discussions at academic seminars and conferences related to their fields of study.

The doctoral degree usually requires either two or three years of full-time residency, although it is common that four to six years of directed research and writing are required to complete the doctoral thesis.

The first 12 to 18 months of a doctoral program involve advanced level courses and sometimes a preliminary examination. Doctoral students are required to prepare and defend a research proposal and undertake comprehensive examinations prior to commencing the main research for the thesis. The comprehensives usually occur before the end of the second year, and must be passed successfully in order for the student to proceed to candidacy for the PhD.

Theses at both the master's and doctoral level include an oral defence before a board of examiners (although this is not uniformly required at the master's level), usually made up of departmental faculty along with scholars drawn from other departments and institutions.

At the doctoral level, the defences are often public events which are advertised within the university and local community.

Many universities offer a variety of graduate-level certificate and diploma programs in addition to degree programs at the master's and doctoral levels. Certificate and diploma programs generally have a professional focus. Most require either one or two years of full-time course work.

Some graduate programs offer the option of either full-time or part-time studies. In addition, a number of Canadian universities offer master's programs via distance education. Most of these programs require at least some course work to be completed on campus.

In addition to graduate programs, most universities offer a variety of other post-baccalaureate programs leading to professional degrees in areas such as law, medicine, veterinary medicine and pharmacy. Often, an internship or certification is required in order to obtain a license to practice in such fields. Medical specialization requires additional study, internship and certification.

A program that's right for you

The search for an appropriate graduate program begins with an assessment of your own academic and career objectives. Once you have a clear understanding of what your interests are and what you hope to accomplish through your studies, you can begin to search for the university programs that are best suited to help you achieve your objectives.

Focus on the research and academic orientation of the university department in which you intend to study and on the scholarly achievements of its faculty members. When searching for a suitable graduate program, it is often more important to consider the reputation and strengths of the particular department and its faculty than those of the university as a whole.

If your interests are in macro-economics, for example, be sure the department you're considering has expertise in this area of the discipline. Does it offer courses in your chosen area of concentration? Have its faculty members published on the subject? Does the department have both a depth and breadth of research expertise related to your areas of interest? Given the increasing importance of collaborative research in Canada, does the department have linkages with other institutions and organizations? How successful is the department in obtaining external research funding?

If you are planning to enter a research-oriented master's program, you will typically choose your thesis topic in consultation with your supervisor. Some universities assign a team of supervisors to work with you during your first year of studies - affording you an opportunity to get to know more about the interests and work habits of your faculty colleagues before you select a thesis supervisor in the second year. In other cases, you may be assigned a thesis supervisor as soon as you enter the program, or your choice of supervisor may be left to your discretion entirely.

Since university practices with respect to the selection of thesis topics and thesis supervisors vary from institution to institution and from department to department, you are advised to investigate before deciding on a particular school or program.

It is important, however, that you demonstrate some consideration of your area of research interest when applying to a research master's program. Many universities require a statement of research interests as part of their application, or you can make a brief statement in a covering letter.

For doctoral students it is especially important to do some research on the universities to which you intend to apply.

At the doctoral level, your thesis supervisor plays a critical role in helping you choose an appropriate research topic, designing and directing your research studies within a realistic time frame and providing you with professional training in your chosen field. Since your thesis topic will often determine your ultimate career path, your choice of program and thesis supervisor requires thoughtful planning and expert advice.

Financial support is also a critical issue for doctoral students, as in most universities is it impossible to undertake a doctoral program without funding to support at least three years of full-time study in residence at the campus.

Does the prospective program offer an appropriate selection of research topics? Has your prospective supervisor been successful helping doctoral students obtain their degrees within a reasonable time frame? What is his or her publication record? Has your prospective supervisor been successful in obtaining federal or private-sector research grants? What is his or her supervisory style? Will you receive the guidance you need?

As you undertake doctoral studies, consult your graduate school professors to get a reading on the qualities of potential supervisors. Review recent publications in your field to identify the Canadian scholars who are leaders in the discipline. Talk with other graduate students who are already in the program.

In addition, you should contact the federal research granting council that is responsible for supporting research activities in your field of interest the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (formerly the Medical Research Council), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council or the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to determine the number of graduate students and research programs within your prospective program that are receiving federal funding support.

Visit the university's Web site to obtain information about the school's research programs, academic resources, research facilities and support services. Contact the director of graduate studies to learn more about the department's policies and practices.

Begin your investigation at least a year before you intend to begin your studies and ensure that the prospective school and supervisor meet all of your priority concerns.

If you are considering a professional master's program, then you will be concerned both for the quality and reputation of the program and the institution. Degree recognition can be a factor in seeking professional employment.

Fortunately, Canada's universities have an overall reputation for high quality programs, although some institutions promote their professional programs more than others.

Again, it is important to do your own research on the programs you are interested in, and to make sure that the orientation of the program is right for you. For example, many MBA programs are developing specific market niches, such as financial services or information technology, and you need to match the program with your own interests and career goals.

Most professional degree programs produce their own recruitment literature and will be eager to send you such materials. Be aware that some professional programs have limited enrolment, and others, especially in medical and health professions, may have restrictions on non-Canadian admissions.

Admission requirements

Most graduate programs at Canadian universities are administered by a faculty or school of graduate studies, which is responsible for overseeing admissions to programs at both the master's and doctoral levels.

Admission criteria for graduate study vary from university to university and from program to program.

Generally speaking, an honours baccalaureate (or equivalent) and high academic standing are required for admission to a master's program. Candidates who fail to meet this requirement are sometimes offered conditional acceptance pending successful completion of an additional year of study.

Master's degree programs that have a professional focus often require work experience in the intended field of study.

A high level of achievement at the master's level is typically required for admission to a doctoral program. A growing number of universities are introducing fast-track policies that allow students to proceed from an honours baccalaureate program directly into doctoral studies, especially in the fields of science and engineering.

In addition to an official transcript of marks, some graduate programs, especially professional ones, require you to submit official test scores on one or more standardized tests. The most common are the Graduate Record Examination or GRE and the Graduate & Management Admission Test or GMAT.

Most graduate schools or faculties require your application to be supported by two or three letters of recommendation from faculty members or professional colleagues who can attest to your scholastic abilities and aptitudes.

As well, most schools require a letter from you in which you describe your academic and career objectives and your reasons for applying to the program. The graduate school admissions committee will be looking for evidence that your goals are realistic, that the program is appropriate to your interests and that you have the qualities that are required to successfully complete your studies.

International students

Canadian universities set their own admission requirements for international students. These requirements are usually comparable to those demanded of Canadian applicants. However, universities often require international students to provide evidence of their proficiency in either English or French, depending on the language of instruction at the university to which they are applying. TOEFL scores of 560 or higher are usually required by most English-language universities. While TOEFL is the standard test used, most graduate schools also consider and accept other internationally recognized English language tests such as IELTS, MELAB and CanTEST. However, you must make sure that the university will accept a particular test before submitting the scores in place of a TOEFL result.

The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials advises individuals and organizations on what they need to do to have their credentials assessed and recognized in Canada.

While universities and licencing bodies have the sole authority to recognize foreign programs and degrees, in some provinces, credential evaluation services have been established to provide expert opinion regarding the value of foreign credentials.

Once you have received your official letter of acceptance from the university, you will need to contact the Canadian mission serving your area to obtain a student authorization for study in Canada. Canadian immigration authorities will require proof that you have at least $10,000 to cover living expenses over a 12-month period. This figure is in addition to the funds you will need to cover the cost of tuition.

In every province other than British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan you will also need to take out medical insurance for the duration of your studies in Canada.

If you have been admitted to a university in Quebec, you must obtain a Quebec Certificate of Acceptance prior to your arrival in Canada. Candidates apply for the certificate through the Quebec Immigration Service or the Canadian diplomatic mission serving their country.

Many universities have sizable international student populations. Special services for international students, including orientation programs, counseling, and international student clubs, are common.

Fees, finances and student aid

Graduate tuition fees vary from university to university and from program to program. In most cases, fees charged to international students are higher than those for Canadian citizens and permanent residents. However, in some instances, international students may qualify for tuition fee waivers or they may be eligible to pay the same fees as those charged to Canadian students. This is usually case for students who are studying in Canada under the sponsorship of the Canadian International Development Agency or under bilateral agreements between provincial and foreign governments.

Most Canadian graduate students can expect to receive some type of financial assistance from the university where they're studying, although many (especially in professional master's programs) are relying more and more upon student loans.

Financial aid is provided through graduate scholarships, bursaries, grants, research assistantships and fellowships and teaching assistantships.

Competition for university graduate scholarships is often keen and is generally based on the strength of your admissions average. Also, once admitted on a scholarship you are expected to maintain high grades and academic achievement in order to keep the award from year to year.

Bursary programs are generally based on financial need, and are usually only available to students once they are registered at the university.

Most universities do not require a separate application for scholarships or other financial support, but some institutions will ask you to complete a financial aid form that requests information in addition to that which appears on your graduate school admission form.

Research fellowships and teaching assistantships can provide you with a reasonable income as well as valuable work experience. Workloads can vary substantially, depending on the institution and the nature of your program.

Teaching and research assistantships are important for international students on student visas as it is usually the only form of employment they are allowed to undertake in Canada. It is important that international applicants check with their prospective institutions in order to find out the availability of such positions for international students.

All three federal research granting councils offer programs to support graduate studies, but these are restricted to Canadian citizens and landed immigrants.

Various other government and private sector scholarship programs are also available. Private sector scholarship programs are often linked to a particular discipline or are designed to increase the participation levels of women, minorities or other designated groups.

Some scholarship competitions are available only to students who are already accepted into a program; others, open to prospective students, can enhance your chances of gaining admission to the program of your choice.

Many graduate students in research-orientated programs, especially in science and engineering, are supported financially by supervisors from their research grants, and this support is not limited to Canadian students only.

Provincial loan programs are another source of financial aid. Based on financial need, these programs are designed to cover the difference between your household income and assets and the actual costs you will incur as a student. Since it is generally easier for a graduate student to qualify as an independent, parental income is usually not a factor in determining the size of your loan. Loans are interest-free as long as you maintain your studies.

The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies cautions against taking on part-time or full-time employment other than that provided through university assistantship programs. This being said, CAGS notes that financial worries are often a cause for failure at the graduate level, so planning is key. You should begin planning your finances at least 10 months before submitting your application to graduate school, especially since the deadline for many scholarship and awards programs predate university application deadlines.

Many universities listed in this directory that offer graduate programs have provided a brief description of financial assistance programs available to graduate students.

Where to get more information

University graduate calendars provide a comprehensive look at individual program requirements, admissions criteria, tuition fees, scholarship information and university and departmental policies and procedures, including those dealing with issues such as the protection of intellectual property rights and research ethics.

Most universities now have their calendars on their Web sites as well as hardcopy versions.

Faculty members who have taught you during the course of your undergraduate studies can provide you with a valuable assessment of various programs at the next level of your academic career. They can also give you valuable insights into the accomplishments of your prospective thesis supervisor and of his or her standing in the Canadian research community. Academic and professional journals are another important source of information in this regard.

The Canadian Association for Graduate Studies offers a practical guide to graduate studies in Canada. The guide provides a wealth of common sense advice on how to choose a thesis supervisor and the various steps you'll need to take in planning your studies and assessing your progress.

The guide is available from the CAGS Web site at

The CAGS Web site also has links to most Canadian university Web sites and to graduate school/faculty offices.





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