An entire nation’s worth of higher education options are open to you. What to do? The next 106 pages will help you decide.

TONY KELLER November 24 2008


An entire nation’s worth of higher education options are open to you. What to do? The next 106 pages will help you decide.

TONY KELLER November 24 2008


An entire nation’s worth of higher education options are open to you. What to do? The next 106 pages will help you decide.


Each year, a new crop of young Canadians tries to figure out how to write the next chapter of their lives. And each year, tens of thousands of them find the answer in higher education. This issue, now in its 18th year and containing our largest universities package ever, is about helping you to make the most informed higher education choice by opening up an entire country’s worth of educational possibilities. On the pages following, you will find advice on how to pay for school and how to spend your time wisely once you are there. There’s news on the latest trends in higher education, from a new university that aims to completely redefine undergraduate education, to a province where most universities are promising four years’ worth of scholarship support to even average students, but with fine print that causes the overwhelming majority to see only a fraction of the money. You’ll hear from students who were recently undergrads, talking about how they did it—and how they might do it differently if given another chance. You’ll be presented with the results of the nation’s most extensive surveys of university students; surveys conducted amongst tens of thousands of students by the universities themselves. These student surveys reveal the level of satisfaction (and dissatisfaction) at each university, as well as providing objective, university-by-university assessments of educational quality. And this issue of course also contains Maclean’s annual university rankings. They begin on page 118.

But before you dive in, you’ll need a road map. The Canadian higher education system can be difficult to understand and navigate because it offers so many choices, in both

courses of study and types of institutions. In higher education, Canada offers two basic streams: university and college. Colleges mostly provide practical education in fields such as the trades, and the programs of study are generally two years or shorter. Universities mostly concentrate on offering four-year degrees in the arts and sciences; they’re also where you’ll go to school if you want to become a professional, such as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant or professor. There are bright lines between the two types of institutionsbut there’s also an increasing amount of common ground. To take one example, you can study business at college or university. Many colleges, which used to focus exclusively on short training courses and two-year diplomas, are now offering some four-year bachelor’s degrees. College and university are distinct, but they’re also partially overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. The two have a long history of partnership—in Western Canada in particular, many students begin the first year or two of their university degree at a local college and complete it at a university, as part of a transfer program. Some universities and colleges share programs and a few even share campuses, such as the University of GuelphHumber, where students simultaneously earn a diploma from Humber College and a degree from the University of Guelph.

There are also a small group of educational institutions that look and behave a lot like colleges, focusing on practical education and programs shorter than four years in length, and yet which are nevertheless not called colleges. The British Columbia Institute of Technology and the Northern Alberta Institute ofTechnology are two examples. There’s also

Quebec’s system of collège d’enseignement général et professionnel, or CEGEP. At CEGEP, one part of the student body is preparing itself to go to university, enrolled in the equivalent of Grade 12 and 13, while others are studying for diplomas in the applied and technical subjects offered by colleges in the rest of the country.

The terms “college” and “university” get even more confusing because of what they mean elsewhere in the English-speaking world. The two are often used interchangeably in the United States. If an American asks, “where are you going to college?” the Canadian translation is “where are you going to university for your undergraduate degree?” (But if you’ve finished an undergrad degree and are going to grad school, Canadians and Americans speak the same language: they both call it “university.”) The situation is similar in the United Kingdom. A student at Oxford or Cambridge will be receiving her degree from the university, but she is also a student at, and may have her residence, friendships and academic life built around, one of the university’s component colleges. Because of the ties of history, many Canadian universities were laid out on the same model: the idea of a university made up of colleges is largely a ceremonial fiction at some institutions but at others—


such as the University of Toronto—the college system is real and very much alive.

This issue will give you information and advice on both of Canada’s higher education choices: college and university. You’ll see many references throughout the package to college. For example, much of the financial advice in our student loans primer (see “Put it on my tab,” on page 40) applies to both college and university students. On page 62, in “Consider the college alternative,” we look at the reasons why some students are choosing college over university, including instances of very compelling financial payoffs and long-term job prospects. But the plain focus of this issue—this being the University Rankings Issue, after all—is university. The two national surveys of student satisfaction and learning quality, whose results you will find

beginning on page 100, are concerned only with universities. The same goes for the centrepiece of the issue: the rankings. Maclean’s rankings are university rankings, measuring indicators of the quality of undergraduate education.

The word “university” is closely related, through its Latin root, to “universe.” And the university is a universe; a vast, constantly expanding, living thing; a place that stores learning but also creates it, and containing infinitely more knowledge and opportunity than even the most diligent student can master. There are many different reasons to go to university and many ways to explore it. There is no prescribed right or wrong path. Some students go to university because it is the expected thing; the thing that everyone else is doing after high school. They go with only a vague idea of why they’re there or what they want, other than to grow up. Some will, not long after arriving, change their minds and change their majors; they may even experience failure. And yet by being there at university, bumping into new ideas and opportunities, these students mostly end up discovering the world and themselves, and graduate in possession of the raw materials to make a career and a life.

Other students choose a different approach, one that says you don’t go to university and start spending precious time and money before you have a clear set of goals and carefully prepared path (and the necessary savings to pay your way through). Those people may wait a year or two or more before going to university. And just like the kids going straight out of high school, many of those who wait will find it’s the best decision they’ve ever made.

Our rankings cover most of Canada’s universities. Not ranked are a small number of universities that have a narrow and highly specialized mission, such as the Ontario College of Art & Design or the Alberta College of Art & Design. Both are universities, despite what their names would suggest, but they concentrate exclusively on the visual arts. Because of its small size, as well as its narrow focus on agriculture and related sciences, Nova Scotia Agricultural College (yes, it’s a university) is not

ranked. Though it offers a broad range of programs in arts, sciences and engineering, the Royal Military College (yes, it’s a university too) is not ranked because, as the site training officers in the Canadian military, it has a highly specialized purpose and curriculum and its students have a unique post-graduation mission. Nor does Maclean’s rank Canada’s religious universities, such as Trinity Western University in British Columbia, for similar reasons of restrictiveness of appeal and specialization of mission. Being unranked does not make these lesser institutions: if you want to become a graphic designer, a plant scientist or an officer in the Canadian military, the above could be excellent choices.

There are also a handful of small universities that are relatively new, and where the data do not yet allow for ranking. An example would be the five-year old University of Ontario Institute of Technology.

If you’d like to learn more about the topics covered in this magazine, visit our website at It’s Canada’s leading source of daily higher education news, advice and information. At the end of many of the articles in this magazine, you’ll find pointers to additional online information. For example, the next two articles in the issue (“The cost of an education,” on page 3 6 and “Put it on my tab,” on page 40) deal with the very practical matter of how to pay for your degree. If you want to learn more on these and other personal finance topics, you can visit the Student Finance 101 section of our website. Just

go to and click on “Student Finance 101.” The site contains news, tools, calculators and expert advice. Looking for money for school? Browse our searchable database of thousands of scholarships, bursaries and awards; go to and click on “Scholarship Finder.” Looking for information on college, including the


results of two surveys of more than 150,000 college students? Visit and click on “Colleges.” Would you like to see more rankings and student survey data? Click on “Rankings.” You can also build your own ranking from our data, with the Personalized University Ranking Tool.

Most Canadians who go to university choose the one that is just across town, or in the nearest big city. That is not necessarily a poor choice, since each of Canada’s universities offers an extensive range of programs and is its own universe of possibilities. But one of the motivations behind this issue of Maclean’s is to make it possible for young Canadians to consider options lying just over the horizon. Canada is a big country, offering an entire world of university possibilities. And yet unlike the United States, we have

few national universities that draw a majority of their undergraduate students from beyond their province or outside the country. The only exceptions are McGill University, Bishop’s University, Acadia University, Mount Allison University and Dalhousie University. (For a look at out-of-province and international enrolment at each of Canada’s universities, turn to page 134.)

Even at highly ranked institutions such as U of T, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the University of Waterloo, 80 per cent or more of the student body is from inside the province. At the University of Guelph and the University of Northern British Columbia, more than-95 per cent of students are inprovince. At Wilfrid Laurier University, it’s nearly 98 per cent. This is not a crisis or even a problem. But you might want to take it as an opportunity: simply by looking beyond your hometown and region when choosing a university, and considering faraway options, you are doing something unusual. You are not following the crowd. And the road less travelled can sometimes be the path of wisdom.

To allow you to meet with representatives of those faraway campuses without having to get on a plane, we created the Maclean’s OnCampus Virtual Fair. The event, held in a Second Life-style virtual convention hall, was live on Oct. 22. But it’s now available on-demand, and free to anyone, anywhere. All you need is a computer. The Maclean’s OnCampus Virtual Fair features exhibitor booths from 32 colleges, universities and employers, as well as 16 speakers discussing their own higher education experiences, from Giller Prize-winning writer Vincent Lam to astronaut Julie Payette. You can listen to speeches, collect university and college materials and connect directly with participating school representatives, who can answer your questions about such things as admissions and financial aid. To take part please visit M

For more advice, more numbers, more articles and more tools, visit our website at—Canada’s best source of daily higher education news, opinion, advice and information.