Programs and Areas of Study

Picking the right study program is key.

Post-secondary students in Canada may tailor their study experience by selecting from hundreds of distinct programs. Each program of study has unique requirements, such as coursework and examinations, that students are expected to complete. When enough of these requirements are successfully completed, the school will grant an academic credential such as a certificate, diploma, or degree. A completed credential is an important part of qualifying for a job or continuing to a higher level of education.

Example Areas of Interest

While specific study programs in Canada number in the hundreds, most belong to one of these general categories or areas of interest:

  • Arts & Humanities
  • Business & Management
  • Computer Sciences
  • Education
  • Fine Arts
  • Engineering & Technology
  • Mathematics
  • Medicine and Life Sciences
  • Natural Sciences
  • Social Sciences

Courses and Credits

Programs of study are comprised of discrete units called courses. For example, when studying commerce, students may have to complete coursework in the subject areas of economics, accounting, and entrepreneurship. Students in the same program may be required to complete different courses depending on their specific study areas; for example, a student in a real estate marketing program will have very different coursework from an accounting student, even though both these students may belong to the "School of Business & Management."

Most courses in Canada comprise a series of weekly lessons, exams, and independent coursework in a given subject area, and last for about 12 weeks. When the requirements for an individual course are successfully completed, the school will grant the student "credit" towards completion of the study program. A study program is complete when sufficient credits have been attained to fulfill the requirements of the program. For example, a Bachelor degree in Canada usually comprises a total 120 credits, and each completed course generally contributes three credits to that total.


The academic year in Canada is organized into terms, usually referred to as semesters. Most schools in Canada use either the semester or trimester system, meaning the year is divided into two semesters of equal length, or three semesters of equal length. For practical reasons, students should keep in mind that September is the beginning of the academic year in Canada.

The Next Step

Once a prospective student has decided on a study program, he or she may begin the search for the ideal school.

It is important to note that it is not mandatory to decide on an area of study before starting to look at schools. There are other important factors that contribute to the selection of an institution in addition to study programs. Prospective students may select a school based on its reputation, location, extra-curricular opportunities, or cost. Many study programs allow a student to select a main area of study or specialization later in the study program — this is particularly the case with Bachelor degree programs, in which a student may be required to select a Major and a Minor study specialization in second year.

Prospective students should keep in mind that if they are undecided about an area of specialization, this is not a barrier to studying in Canada. While pursuing a program which is ultimately a bad fit may be a costly mistake (in terms of both finances and time), many study programs offer flexibility with changing study programs or arranging interdisciplinary programs.

However, it is true that a student with a clear idea of the study program he or she wishes to pursue may be able to make the most of all the options available for work experience and career advancement. It is recommended that a prospective international student carefully explores the various study programs available in Canada before starting an application.