Professional Education in Canada: State-of-the-art Programs Offset Premium Price Tags

In its September 17 issue, Maclean’s magazine included a set of statistics on Canada’s professional schools. Significant information was provided on tuition levels and access to programs ranging from engineering to environmental studies. An assessment of these figures reveals an environment in which students have a wide variety of options to choose from, but many of them require tough financial decisions. The monetary investment varies quite widely across the country and across professional areas. Below, a few key findings from three fields: MBA, law and medicine.

MBA: expensive programs, but lots of choices

Canada offers a wide variety of Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs. Maclean’s points out that “tuition and program length vary considerably – the differences are often determined by the type of program – as does the average GMAT score of incoming students. The traditional MBA – two years, full time – is no longer the only way to go, with many schools offering part-time studies.” Canada also offers a large range of Executive MBA (EMBA) programs, “targeted at people who already have a career but want to take it to the next level by earning an advanced degree […]. Tuition, often covered by employers, is generally high” – over $100,000 at some schools, but these programs are among the best in the world.

The vast majority of Canada’s MBA schools have a significant population of international students – at seven of 38 schools over 50% of the student population are international students. Two universities (Thompson Rivers and Vancouver Island – both in British Columbia) have well over 75% international students in their MBA programs. As with other specialties, tuition fees vary considerably from province to province and from school to school (Quebec programs charge significantly less – for provincial residents – than programs in the rest of Canada).

While the full cost of a MBA program at Université Laval is $4,563 ($10,163 for students who are not Quebec residents), the program tuition at Toronto’s Rotman School of Management is $88,446. Carleton’s Sprott School of Business charges $15,418 for its MBA program, while tuition at Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management is $22,702.

LAW: Quebec vs. Rest of Canada

In the province of Quebec, private law is based on the “civil law” tradition (and public law follows the “common law” tradition). This makes Quebec a hybrid legal system, as opposed to the rest of Canada where the common law is the standard. For this reason, most law schools in Quebec are teaching civil law (McGill, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal, Université de Sherbrooke, Université Laval and the University of Ottawa). McGill, Ottawa and Montreal offer, however, dual common/civil degrees or the choice between the two legal specializations (the University of Windsor and York University do the same in Ontario).

Flag of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

Flag of Quebec City, Quebec, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given the traditionally lower fees in Quebec, the yearly tuition for civil law schools is just $2,493 ($6,183 for students who are not Quebec residents). The only exception is the University of Ottawa, where the tuition for a civil law program is $8,165 per year. For common law schools the tuition fees range widely, from $2,493 (McGill, for Quebec residents) to $27,420 at the University of Toronto – a ten-fold differential! The fees at the University of Ottawa’s common law school are $14,568 per year. These figures do not include “other compulsory fees.”

MEDICINE: significant financial investment and high competition

Some of the lowest tuition fees for medical school in Canada can be found – again, unsurprisingly – in Quebec (in some cases even if you are not a provincial resident). The highest, on the other hand, are at Ontario medical schools. The average tuition at four Quebec universities – Laval, McGill, Montreal and Sherbrooke – is $3,906 yearly, not including compulsory fees ($10,302 for students who are not Quebec residents). The average yearly tuition to attend a medical school in Ontario, based on figures from six universities – McMaster, Ottawa, Northern Ontario, Queen’s, Toronto and Western – is $20,955, not including compulsory fees.

Besides the high price tag, gaining admission to one of Canada’s medical schools is in itself a difficult process, given the soaring competition for the relatively few spots. This is a reflection of the value placed by students and the Canadian society on medical education and formal qualifications, and the high level of development reached by Canada’s medical schools. Maclean’s notes that “success rates for in-province applicants are generally higher than for out-of-province.” The international students’ success rate is the highest at the University of Calgary, AB (26%), Dalhousie University, NS (18%), and the University of British Columbia (12%).

Canada’s high tuition fees and record investment in education

In its latest Education at a Glance report (2012), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) lists Canada among the countries with high levels of tuition fees, but also well-developed student-support systems. The report’s country notes confirm that Canada is “a leader in higher education, with its high attainment rates and its ability to produce a skilled workforce with generally good labour-market outcomes.” The country spends about $21,000 per post-secondary student per year – the third-highest amount among OECD countries after Switzerland and the United States.

OECD research also suggests that Canada’s model (high tuition fee and student support) “can be an effective way for countries to increase access to higher education. However, during periods of economic crisis, high levels of tuition fees can put a considerable financial burden on students and their families and can discourage some of them from entering [post-secondary] education, even when relatively high levels of student support are available. This topic is highly debated in Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States.” The 2012 Quebec student protests were one of the latest and most visible efforts to engage the students and the larger society in a conversation on tuition levels in this country. As indicated in a recent blog post, the choice Quebec made will inform, if not define, the conversation on university issues in the province (and beyond) for years to come.

MedHopeful: Entertainment and Advice for Budding Physicians

I recently came across a blog for students interested in medical school and the admission process. The blog is written by two University of Toronto medical students (Joshua Liu and Shelly Luu) and features a step-by-step guide to learning about Canadian medical schools and how to get in: “What is medical school? How long does it take to become a doctor? What university courses do I need? What is the MCAT? What extra curriculars should I do? How do I apply for medical school?”

The “Get Started” section of the blog is divided into five series:

(1) Premed basics: Learn the path to becoming a doctor and the basics of applying to medical school; (2) University applications: An introduction to selecting your university program and courses; (3) GPA, MCAT & ECs: Everything you need to know about GPA, the MCAT, and building a strong resume; (4) Application process: Learn all about essays, reference letters and interviews; and (5) Results: Accepted? Waitlisted? Rejected? Get some advice on what to do next.

Recent bog posts include: “The 7 Traits Medical Schools are Looking for in Applicants” and “10 Things I Would Tell My 1st Year Undergrad Self.” Overall, this is an excellent place to start for all potential applicants to Canadian medical schools. Its many resources on admissions, scholarships, undergraduate life or health care in general make MedHopeful.com a must-see for aspiring physicians.