Anyone can get into university in Canada!

That doesn't mean everyone can get into every program at every school...

Every student who believes they deserve a shot at a university degree can enter Canada's post-secondary education system, at any age, with or without a high school diploma.



Most people don't think about the variety of ways to enter university because they never had to. If you went to university, chances are you went to a public, separate or private high school, got a high school diploma, and applied to university with your graduating class. Some of you may have taken a year or two off between high school and university to work or travel. A few of you spent multiple years outside of the classroom before undertaking a university education. And a lot of you never went to university at all. Most of you, though, had no reason to discover the different paths you could have taken to university because it was assumed that you would finish high school and go on to university.


But what if you don’t want to follow a old-fashioned path?

  • What if you never finished high school but know you could do well at university now that you're more mature and know what you want?
  • What if you are working grade levels ahead of your age and high school is just holding you back?
  • What if you find a great school or program that doesn't offer a high school diploma?
  • What if you are a student athlete or performer and have trouble fitting traditional high school into your schedule?
  • What if you have an exclusive chance to travel, volunteer, intern, or work and decide that this experience will enrich your education more than going to high school?
  • What if you were homeschooled as a child and want to continue with a self-directed education through your high school years?
  • What if you live in a remote area and the closest school is too far away to be practical?


Below are several different ways you can apply to university in Canada, some traditional and some not so traditional. Everyone can be accommodated in the Canadian university system, regardless of age and academic background. Even if you're in high school right now, you may find a path to university below that appeals to you more than finishing your high school diploma. All students need to know that although a provincial high school diploma can lead to university admission, it is by no means the only way to get into university. It's not even the easiest way!

So if you're wondering how to get into university in Canada, take a look at all the valid kinds of applicants that can apply to Canadian university.



In Canada, the most typical way to get into university is by earning a provincially accredited high school diploma as a teenager. If you have a high school diploma, then university admission is based on the specific courses you took in your senior year of high school (pre-requisites), your grades and, for some competitive programs, a supplementary application that may include items such as a resume, personal statement, or reference letters. High school diplomas can be earned through courses taken at public schools, private schools, distance education, night schools, adult education centres and summer schools.


Most students will choose to go to a public or private high school for four years and earn enough credits (and complete any other diploma requirements such as community service hours, standardized testing) to graduate with a high school diploma from the province. In the province of Quebec, students will complete high school a year earlier than the rest of the country (Gr. 11 instead of Gr. 12) and study for two years at a CEGEP prior to attending a Quebec university.


Students who take time off from high school or fail to complete all the diploma requirements, may find that going back and finishing the diploma requirements as an older student is tiresome. Night schools or adult education centres may not offer the wide assortment of courses that a traditional day school offers, and any consistent tests required for a diploma will be administered during the school day, and only once per school year. For this reason, older students are generally not required to go back and complete a high school diploma before applying to university. Instead, they will usually apply as mature students.




All post-secondary institutions, both colleges and universities, describe a mature student as one who has reached a certain age (typically 19, but sometimes 21), been out of school for a certain amount of time (usually 1 - 2 years) and does not have the academic credentials/pre-requisites expected of recent high school graduates. Usually, this means the student has not received a government-accredited high school diploma. Sometimes, a mature student will have a diploma, but just not the specific high school courses expected for admission to their desired program. For example, a high school graduate without senior level courses in mathematics and physics would not normally be considered to have the appropriate admission requirements for an engineering program at a Canadian university.


Mature students may be admitted on the basis of life and work experience, irrespective of their past academic performance. Some institutions will require the applicant to prove a level of academic readiness for a university program. Others admit mature students on a trial basis, or only to certain programs within the university. At institutions with such policies, most mature student applicants will be allowed to progress to full degree status, or transfer to a more selective/desirable program of study upon successful completion of a pre-determined number of university courses.


Unless a mature student is very close to completing all requirements for a high school diploma, it generally does not make sense for this student to go back into the high school system. Each Canadian province has a Ministry of Education that prescribes not only the content of high school courses but also the methods of pedagogy and assessment used to teach and assign grades for the courses.


For example, a high school math course may require the use of graphing calculators, group work and creative projects while teaching senior level mathematics topics. A mature student may not have access to this technology, may not have the flexible timetable to work on a group project and may simply not want to write math journals or create artistic math projects if his or her goal is simply to learn enough math to prepare for university-level studies. Mature students may be more ready to "get down to business" than their colleagues in a traditional high school setting, and our university admissions system knows this.



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