What is Post-Secondary Education in Canada?



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If you were just in secondary school, you probably knew the whole time what it was called. If you graduated, context clues would allow you to guess what post-secondary school is. 

If you or your brilliant child has freshly graduated from secondary school, congratulations! You’ve entered the next phase of your education, which is when all the work you’ve done for most of your life now starts to come together. The foundation is set, and now it is time for post-secondary school.

However, we’ll help you decide exactly which post-secondary path to take because there are several.  It’s entirely possible you haven’t been introduced to all of your education options after secondary.  Let’s first help you understand exactly what post-secondary school is and then we’ll introduce which paths you can take.

What is Post-Secondary School?

Post-secondary school is any higher-level education you pursue following secondary school.  This is generally university or college, which are two separate types that we’ll get into later.

All schools that intend to offer post-secondary-level programs must be recognized by their appropriate government entity in order to offer diplomas, degrees, certificates, or any other qualifications.  Because the standards are generally quite rigorous, these schools offer potential job candidates a significant boost in the competitive job market.

Canada offers an enormous number of post-secondary schools, including colleges and universities, that is not only nationally recognized but also internationally renowned.  Many degrees received by students graduating from these internationally recognized schools are usually considered equivalent to those recognized in other countries.

This also means that not only can Canadian post-secondary graduates seek employment internationally and receive serious consideration but also candidates come from other countries to study in Canadian schools. 

Businesses these days see it as absolutely critical that prospective employees have a strong background of working with teams composed of many different cultures and ethnicities, and Canadian post-secondary schools offer this at the program level, and each class brings together students from all over the world.

Even though the diversity is broad and inclusive, students should be prepared for the fact that education is provided in one of the two official languages of Canada: English and French. It’s not a requirement that either language is a student’s first language, though a firm grasp of either is necessary in order to get through the coursework chosen.

What Paths Are Available Post-Secondary School?

We’ve explained exactly what secondary school is, now we’ll explore some of the specific options you can pick as your path because there are more choices than the ones most people think of.  There are colleges and universities of course, but there are also institutes that have a different scope.

The typical choice is either a college or university.  These words sometimes get thrown around as if they were the same, but they are slightly different.  Starting with the former, a college is a type of school that offers a certificate program usually with a particular trade as the focus. 

Welding is one example of this, though there is a wide range of programs from business to health.  These programs can offer one-year and up to three-year programs that result in either a certificate or a diploma. 

They generally include hands-on training in preparation for jobs in a trade.  Some of the more well-known colleges also require students to take on apprenticeships where they receive professional training as apprentices.

Institutes are also similar to colleges.  However, institutes tend to focus on technology and science programs. Some colleges and institutes have begun offering bachelor’s degrees in some areas of study, though these programs are individually audited and given accreditation, so when looking for bachelor’s degrees, be sure to check that the program is recognized by the appropriate governing body.

Universities are the next highest level in post-secondary education and offer degrees in a wide variety of fields. Graduates from a university generally graduate with a bachelor’s degree (or undergraduate degree) in their chosen field.  However, universities also offer students the ability to obtain a master’s (or graduate) degree or a doctoral degree.

Undergraduate degrees generally take 3-4 years to complete.  This depends on courses taken during secondary school and the program selected.  Some universities offer students the ability to combine two programs and graduate with what is known as a “double major.” 

This can be done with only a few combinations and the two majors are usually closely related and share several foundational pre-requisite courses.  Many programs may be completed in 3 years.  However, students wishing to obtain a master’s degree are generally required to complete the 4th year.

For programs where graduates obtain degrees in regulated professions, such as medicine and law, graduates are also required to complete internships, which are similar to apprenticeships. 

They must also pass exit exams which result in graduates obtaining licenses in their respective fields. These exams have been known to be extremely rigorous and require far more study than a typical test taken during the completion of course credits.

Wrapping This Up

Post-secondary school in Canada is the nation’s higher-level education system and can refer to any recognized program pursued by students who wish to obtain certificates, diplomas, or degrees of varying levels. 

The purpose of completing higher-level education is to stand out from the competition when pursuing careers in a particular profession or trade.  Prospective students can choose between colleges, institutes, or universities depending on the desired career path, and one that offers a certificate, diploma, or degree must have been reviewed and recognized by each territory’s governing body to do so. 

Because of our high standards for education and the huge number of options available to prospective students, Canada provides some of the very best education in the world.

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Kareena Maya

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Kareena Maya is a freelance writer focused on the personal finance and travel spaces. He frequently writes about credit cards, banking, student loans, insurance, travel rewards and more. His work has been featured in publications such as Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Credit Karma, Finance Buzz, The Ascent and Student Loan Planner.

Kareena Maya is a freelance writer focused on the personal finance and travel spaces. He frequently writes about credit cards, banking, student loans, insurance, travel rewards and more. His work has been featured in publications such as Forbes Advisor, Bankrate, Credit Karma, Finance Buzz, The Ascent and Student Loan Planner.