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Written by Mark Bennett

Canada is home to some of North America's most historic and globally renowned research universities. Its cosmopolitan society also make it a popular home for thousands of international PhD students.

A PhD in Canada will give you the opportunity to work with leading experts and take advantage of modern high-tech facilities. Once you've earned your doctorate, you can take advantage of one of the world's most generous post-study work visa schemes.

This page covers everything you'll need to know about PhD study in Canada. It has information on Canadian universities, doctorates, funding, visas and more!

Programme vs Programme

We usually refer to PhD programmes or projects rather than programs, but they mean the same thing! We've used programme here to be consistent with the rest of the FindAPhD website.

On this page

Phd opportunities in canada - what's on offer for 2023.

Canada has always been popular with international students. But this has never been more true than it is right now.

The number of people studying abroad in Canada has risen by almost 30% in recent years. It's not hard to see why! Students are attracted by Canada's liberal society which celebrates its acclaimed universities. Not to mention the chance to explore the country's diverse range of stunning natural landscapes and habitats. .

Here are a few of the things that make Canada a great choice for PhD study in 2023 and beyond:

Coronavirus updates for international students at Canadian universities

For the latest information on the impact of coronavirus on studying a PhD in Canada, please check the official Study in Canada page for updates.

PhD life in Canada

Want to know more about life for international PhD students in Canada? Our detailed guide covers everything from accommodation to culture and entertainment.

Canadian universities for PhD study

Like its near-neighbour, the USA, Canada is a big country. However, unlike the USA, a relatively small proportion of Canada is actually inhabited. This means that the Canadian university system isn't as large (or complicated) as you might expect.

Research universities and graduate schools

There are around 100 research universities in Canada that offer PhD programmes. Other institutions such as liberal arts colleges and community colleges also exist, but these don't tend to offer PhDs. Universities often run their doctoral programmes within dedicated graduate schools .

Canadian universities can be public or private , depending on how they receive their funding:

Universities within Canadian provinces and territories

Canada's vast size and colonial history mean the country has developed a federal structure. It is divided into 10 provinces and 3 territories . Provinces are independent sovereign entities (similar to US states). Territories have their authority delegated by the central federal government.

Only provinces possess research universities (with the ability to offer doctoral programmes).

The part of Canada you choose to study in may determine avaiable funding and the course language. Usually programmes will be offered in English, French or both.

There are 10 Canadian provinces whose universities offer PhD study:

Canada's three territories are the Yukon , Nanavut and Northwest Territories . They do have colleges offering undergraduate degrees, but do not currently have universities with doctoral programmes.

Canadian university cities

There are several cities in Canada with one or more universities and large numbers of students.

Canadian university rankings

Not to be outdone by their North American neighbours, Canadian universities are world-leading in a range of fields. Their world rankings reflect this!

Do rankings matter for PhD study?

University rankings can help you choose a PhD project or programme, provided you know what to look at. Our guide explains how to use rankings as a prospective postgraduate.

PhD structure in Canada

The Canadian doctorate is normally awarded as a final 'terminal degree'. This is the highest level of academic qualification a student can achieve.

A range of doctoral degrees are available alongside the academic PhD . For example, professional doctorates such as the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) and Doctor of Education (EdD).

Most courses require at least three years of full-time study and research. Some students may study for longer. You can usually register for up to six years.

In most cases you'll need to hold a Masters degree to apply for a standard Canadian PhD programme. However, some universities offer doctoral stream Masters routes that start with one or two years of MA or MSc study. These are suitable for students coming straight from an undergraduate degree, but take longer to complete.

The Canadian PhD process

PhD study in Canada has more in common with the UK than the neighbouring USA. The US PhD normally begins with taught classes and examinations. However, like in the UK, a Canadian PhD is more research-focused from the outset.

Howeverit is also common for universities to offer structured courses within PhD programmes . Academic cohorts of students undergo collective training alongside their more independent research activities.

Courses often focus on key skills such as research techniques and methodological principles. You might have additional training in areas such as teaching, presentation or publication. Some doctoral programmes also arrange internships and professional placements.

Generally, students complete these courses in the first year of their PhD, before moving on to focus on their doctoral thesis.

In some cases you may need to sit a comprehensive exam at the end of your first or second year. This tests your general knowledge of the field before you can proceed onto more specific research. It is similar to the MPhil upgrade or 'confirmation review' used in UK universities.

Graduate vs postgraduate

Like the USA, Canadian universities refer to Masters and PhDs as 'graduate' degrees, rather than 'postgraduate' degrees. We've used postgraduate here to be consistent with the rest of the FindAPhD website.

Academic year

The Canadian academic year generally runs from September to April. But, exact semester dates vary between individual provinces and their universities.

Supervision and research

You'll complete your PhD under the guidance of at least one academic supervisor . They'll be an expert in your general subject and field, though they won't have researched on your specific topic before (it wouldn't be a PhD , otherwise).

The main criteria for your degree will be the completion of a doctoral thesis. As in other countries, this must make a substantial new contribution to knowledge.

If your qualification is a professional doctorate , such as a DBA or EdD, you'll focus mainly on practical work and case studies. You'll still be required to submit a thesis, but this may be shorter and supplemented by other materials.

Types of PhD

Our guides help explain the different types of PhD (and other doctorates) available in Canada and elsewhere.

Assessment and examination

The main criteria for a Canadian PhD is the originality and quality of your doctoral thesis . You'll normally begin drafting this during the middle part of your PhD. Then, write up a final version based on feedback from your supervisor.

Once you submit your dissertation a committee of examiners will be appointed to read and consider it. Your PhD will then proceed to an oral defence .

This process may be slightly more involved than the viva voce used in the UK and elsewhere. You may be expected to offer a presentation on your research before being questioned on the content and significance of your thesis.

The examiners will then meet to decide if your examination performance was satisfactory. If it was, you will be awarded your PhD!

Some Canadian PhD programmes also include coursework and examinations. However, these will normally be to check your progress, and won't count towards your final result.

Cotutelle programmes

Some Canadian universities work with international institutions to offer a collaborative route to a PhD. This is known as a 'cotutelle' (French for 'co-tutored').

These programmes involve a student spending time at two different universities. Both are involved in supervising, examining and awarding the PhD project.

In this sense a cotutelle is a bit like a joint PhD . However, a cotutelle is usually specific to the student's project rather than an ongoing partnership between a pair of universities. It's helpful to think of a cotutelle as a specific kind of joint PhD.

The availability of this option varies between individual Canadian universities. Check with your institution for more information.

Fees and funding

Studying abroad in Canada is more affordable than you might think. However, universities typically charge higher fees for international students.

Canadian PhD fees

Fees for a Canadian PhD programme will usually be between CAD $2,500-17,000 per year although some can reach up to CAD $25,000. This is more than a domestic student pays, but still less than in other popular countries like the UK and USA .

If your PhD is part of a more structured programme its fees may vary from year to year . Taught classes and assessments are normally more expensive than the years that focus on independent research.

In addition, you may also be asked to pay some smaller supplementary costs for student services and union fees.

PhD fees in Canada vary depending on the province you're studying in. The fees quoted here should be used as a guideline only.

Recent fee changes for international students

There are some new initiatives for international students at specific universities.

Canada offers a wide range of funding opportunities and scholarships for international students.

These include Graduate assistantships and scholarship schemes from the Canadian Government or industry.

PhD funding in Canada

See our detailed guide to Canadian PhD funding for more information on the different options available to international students.

Applying for a PhD in Canada

You'll normally apply straight to the graduate school that is running your PhD. Some universities will have separate graduate schools for different subject areas. Others will have one large school administering all of their advanced degree programmes.

Admission requirements

The minimum requirement for a PhD in Canada will normally be a Masters degree in a related subject. Unlike in the UK and USA it is quite rare to go straight from undergraduate study to a doctorate. Some universities may allow you to do so if you do some additional Masters-level training.

Admission to a Canadian doctoral programme can be quite competitive. Students will often progress through modules together. This means graduate schools may only have places for a certain number in each year's cohort.

This means that your previous academic attainment will probably be examined quite closely.

In particular, you will usually be asked to provide a Grade Point Average (GPA) score instead of just submitting your final degree result. GPA is the system used in the USA and Canada (as well as some other countries) but is less common in the UK and Europe. It provides a more nuanced representation of your overall performance across a course of study.

Don't worry if your previous universities didn't use a GPA system: it's possible to convert most other grades into a GPA. The following table provides a rough guide to GPA equivalents for UK degree honours:

You'll normally need a GPA of 3.0 or higher for admission to a Canadian PhD programme.

You can find out more about how GPA converts to other grading systems around the world in our full guide .

Graduate admissions tests

You may also be asked to provide a score from a Graduate Records Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) . This allows universities to assess applicants' suitability for advanced graduate work. Universities will sometimes use these to choose between applicants with similar academic results.

Specific requirements will vary between universities and graduate schools, so check in advance.

What are graduate admissions tests?

Tests like the GRE and GMAT are sometimes used to assess applicants for postgraduate study in the USA, Canada and elsewhere. Our guide explains how they work and what they involve.

Language requirements

You will complet a Canadian PhD in either English or French, depending on which province you study in. English is the most common language of instruction, but universities in Québec will normally teach in French, as will some in New Brunswick.

Whichever language you choose to study in, you'll need to demonstrate that you're proficient in it to complete a PhD. If you're a native speaker or have already studied at university-level in either language that will normally be sufficient. Otherwise, you'll need to complete a language test and submit the score as part of your application.

Our guides introduce some of the common English language tests and French language tests that are suitable for PhD study, but you should always check which system your university prefers

Application process

There are normally two routes to applying for a Canadian PhD:

Depending on the kind of opportunity you apply for, you'll normally need supply the following:

Be sure to check the specific requirements at your graduate school (or ask the supervisor you're applying to work with).

Specific deadlines for Canadian PhD applications will often be set by graduate schools. Actual dates will vary, but you should generally apply in the spring for an autumn start, or vice versa. Make sure to allow enough time to put together all of your application materials (and sort your visa, if you need one).

Universities in Canada may arrange a PhD interview to evaluate your application and potential or get to know you better. If so, you may be given the opportunity to conduct your interview via Skype, or a similar video conferencing platform.

What happens during a PhD interview?

Your interview for a PhD in Canada will follow a fairly standard format (even if the actual process takes place online). Our guides explain what happens at a PhD interview and look at some of the questions you might be asked .

Student visas

Canada is a welcoming country with an active interest in attracting international students. This is reflected in its student visa and immigration system.

You'll normally need two documents stay in Canada as a student: an electronic travel authorisation and a study permit .

Applying for a Study Permit

As its name suggests, a study permit entitles you to live (and study!) in Canada during a course. The Permit lasts for the duration of your PhD, plus an extra 90 days. This gives you time to arrange travel or apply for a post-study work visa once your course is finished).

You should normally apply for a Study Permit in your home country before you travel to Canada. You can begin the process online , but may need to take your passport and other information to a Canadian visa office . You'll need a letter of acceptance from your university before you can apply (a good reason to start your PhD application early).

Students from China, India, Vietnam or the Philippines can apply through a special Student Direct Stream for faster processing.

Applying for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA)

Most international students will need permission to enter Canada. You can get this by applying for an Electronic Travel Authorisation (eTA). This serves as your visa and allows you to come into Canada.

The application process for an eTA is relatively simple and takes place online . You will need to provide your passport details and payment information for a fee of CAD $7 (USD $5.10).

Note that your eTA allows you to enter Canada, but does not entitle you to live there for the duration of your PhD. To do that you will need to have applied for your Study Permit (described above).

There is more information on applying to live and study in Canada on the official Government of Canada website.

Excellent universities make Canada a great place to pursue a doctorate. But post-study visas mean Canada could also become a longer-term home.

Can I work in Canada after my PhD?

Yes. As a PhD graduate you'll be a great candidate for a range of jobs in higher education, research and other areas. What's more, Canada will be very keen to keep you and its post-study visa system is designed to make that option as attractive as possible.

Canada's post-graduation work permit (PGWP) allows international graduates from its universities to live and work in Canada for up to three years after completing a doctorate.

You'll need to have studied for your PhD full-time and have successfully completed your programme. The fee is normally CAD $255 (USD $200) and the processing time is approximately 56 days for an online application.

There is more information on the Government of Canada website.

Once you have a PGWP you may be able to apply for permanent residence and eventually even Canadian citizenship.

Find out more

Elsewhere on FindAPhD you can read about:

Find a PhD in Canada

Ready to start browsing some current PhD opportunities in Canada ? Alternatively, you can look at our other guides to PhD study abroad .

dissertation in canada

Grade Point Average (GPA) is one of the most common grading methods worldwide. In this guide, we cover how GPA works, when it matters for PhD applicants, and how it compares to some other grading systems around the world.

dissertation in canada

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From prestigious US graduate schools to innovative and multicultural programmes in Canada, our guides introduce PhD study in North America.

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  1. Theses Canada

    Theses Canada is a collaborative program between Library and Archives Canada and Canadian universities. The program launched in 1965 at the request of the deans of Canadian graduate schools. It strives to: acquire and preserve theses and dissertations from participating universities

  2. Search

    Search – Theses Canada Enter keywords to search for theses and dissertations in the Library and Archives Canada collection. Use of documents You can download theses and dissertations for research and private study. The author of each thesis and dissertation owns the copyright.

  3. PhD Study in Canada

    Canada's post-graduation work permit (PGWP) allows international graduates from its universities to live and work in Canada for up to three years after completing a doctorate. You'll need to have studied for your PhD full-time and have successfully completed your programme.

  4. Canada

    Canadian Theses and Dissertations. Indexes more than 425,000 Canadian theses and dissertations from 1965. This database also provides free access to over 200,000 full text electronic Canadian theses and dissertations. Effective April 2014, only digital theses and dissertations are now accepted.

  5. Canadian Theses

    A comprehensive collection of dissertations and theses from around the world from 1861-present. Full text since 1997, with strong retrospective full text coverage for older graduate works. Abstracts since 1980 for doctoral dissertations and since 1988 for masters' theses. Citations since 1861.