Choosing a school

For some people, choosing a school can be just as difficult as selecting a program of study. This page will explain the different types of schools and suggest some tips for choosing the school that’s right for you.

Types of schools

University

A university is a post-secondary school you attend to earn an academic degree. If you’re entering university from high school, you’ll enrol in an undergraduate program. These programs usually focus on a broad area of knowledge, and typically take three or four years to complete.

University education is thought of as a more independent form of study because it’s structured to allow for a certain amount of “academic freedom.” This means you’re usually expected to be independent enough to keep up with class work, read your textbooks, and complete assignments on your own time and on your own initiative.

College

A college is a post-secondary school you attend to earn an academic diploma or certificate. Colleges offer a variety of programs that usually focus on a technical skill, or specific area of knowledge. These programs can take anywhere from one to four years to complete.

Compared to university, college education is thought of as a more involved form of study. Although college tends to be more structured to help guide you through the process and keep you on track with your learning, you still need to stay motivated, work hard, and keep up with course work if you want to succeed.

CEGEP

CEGEP is the acronym for Collège d'enseignement général et professionnel. CEGEPs are colleges in Quebec that offer two programs:

  • The technical program prepares students to work in a skilled trade and usually takes three years to complete.
  • The pre-university program prepares students for a university degree and usually takes two years to complete. Students choose a broad subject stream with the intention of studying the same material in university.

If you live in Québec and you’re considering going to college or university, you must attend a CEGEP first. Most universities in the rest of Canada require students from Quebec to have completed one year of CEGEP before entering an undergraduate program.

Vocational school

A vocational school, sometimes called a trade school, is a post-secondary school designed to teach job-specific skills. Depending on the skill you’d like to learn, programs vary in length. Many colleges have vocational programs in addition to degree and certificate programs.

Vocational schools are often considered “hands-on” educational training. They provide you with the necessary knowledge to be trained and ready for work in a specific job or trade.

Top eight considerations when choosing a school

1. Find out what training is required for your ideal career.

Some careers require a university degree, or more than one university degree. Others require a specific college diploma. If you’re considering a career that has these requirements, be sure to choose the type of school that will allow you get the job you want.

2. Know the admission requirements.

Some schools, especially universities, have a minimum grade average for admission. Some also have a minimum average needed to stay enrolled in certain programs. Make sure you’re realistic about your own academic abilities, and know the standards for each type of school.

3. Consider your learning preferences.

If you can learn and study independently and you’re looking for a broad base of knowledge, consider studying at a university. If you prefer more guidance or want to gain some job-specific knowledge, college or vocational school may be a good choice. 

4. Think about class size.

Some schools have large classes with more students per professor, while other schools offer smaller classes and more one-on-one time for students and teachers. Consider how much one-on-one time you prefer, and choose your school accordingly.

5. Location, location, location!

Some people want to be a quick drive from home; others don’t mind having to fly across the country to go to their dream school. Either way, you should factor in the school’s location when weighing your decision.

6. Tally up the costs.

The cost of schooling can sometimes catch you by surprise. It’s a good idea to research what you’ll be spending on tuition, books, commuting to campus, living expenses, food, travel and activity fees when deciding which school is right for you.

7. Consider social and leisure activities.

To get the most out of the post-secondary experience, many students participate in social and leisure activities. Depending on the school, different kinds of activities may be offered to meet your needs or interests. Compared to colleges, universities tend to have a wider variety of intramural sports leagues, extracurricular activities, varsity sports teams and clubs.

8. Reputation.

If you’ve set your sights on a specific program, consider schools that are well known for that program. Some schools have specialities and offer programs that are both respected by the academic community and valued by employers.

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