Like so many people around the world, I have been contemplating doing a master’s degree for a few years but could never follow through on that line of thought. After much procrastination and deliberation, I finally decided to pursue a master’s degree in Canada. The process of finding a course, college, figuring out the monies, writing SOPs for programs, scholarships, and visa applications were exhausting and nerve-wracking.
I did all the work for the Canadian study visa on my own, which made it harder to figure out things but was worth the effort and trouble. I decided to write about the whole process because I realized that I couldn’t find all the information I needed for this process in one single place. I got a lot of help from a lot of sites on the interwebs and some people offline. My only hope for putting this article out there is to help people who are doing things on their own.
I applied for the Visa two days ago and right now traveling to the VAC for biometrics. I don’t know if I will get the study permit or if I did everything I was supposed to do. But I will layout the whole process as I have come to know it in the past 3-4 months. I have used college/university interchangeably in this post; both are used for an institute of higher learning unless stated otherwise. Let us get down to the business!
Below are the steps for applying for a Canadian study permit; I will discuss each in detail further down this article:
- Figuring out what you want to (or should) study and when to apply
- How much does the location of college matters?
- Which University/College to study?
- University/College Application Process
- Contacting an admissions consular
- Tests you need to take to apply
- Starting the online application
- Filling the personal details
- Filling the extra-curricular details
- Portfolio/Resume/Project Details
- Letter of Reference
- Statement of Purpose (SOP)
- SOP for scholarship
- Pay application fees
- What to do after you are confirmed admission
- Order original transcripts
- Order test scores
- Pay tuition deposit
- Receive LOA (Letter of acceptance in the right format)
- Create a IRCC profile, GC key, etc.
- Documents needed for the study permit:
- Letter of Acceptance from the college (DLI)
- Proof of Means of Financial Support
- Letter of Explanation (Client Information Doc- SOP for the visa officer)
- Digital Photo
- IMM 1294 (Application for study permit made outside of Canada)
- IMM 5645 (Family Information)
- IMM 5257 (Application for the temporary resident visa made outside of Canada)
- Payment of application fee and biometric fee
- Booking a biometrics appointment at a VAC
- A note on doing it on your own or through an agent
Figuring out what you want to (or should) study and when to apply.
If you know what you want to study, then you are in a perfect spot. I struggled to figure out what I want to study and what I should study. I am a mid-career professional with close to a decade of full-time experience in advertising and marketing. For the longest time, I wanted to pursue journalism or writing, both of which are way off track from my professional journey so far. However, I choose to do marketing masters, a course that fits more with my goals at this stage in life. Had I been five years younger, I would have opted to study journalism or writing. I am on the other side of the thirties and need to leverage all the hard work I have done in the last ten years for a better lifestyle after graduating. A goal I guess applies to most people who have decided to go out of their home country and pursue a master’s degree. My two cents on what to study:
- Study what you want if you are young enough or if you are passionate about it
- Zero-in on a course that fits with your professional journey so far, and that aligns with your earning goals.
- Do note that whatever you decide to study, you will need to convince the Visa office that the course you selected is the obvious next step for your professional journey.
- If you are changing your profession and going for a course in a completely new stream, then your SOP for the college, as well as for the Visa officer, needs to be banging. Otherwise your application stands a slim chance of getting through, all other things being equal.
Most leading universities in Canada have only one application window, which typically opens in October and admits students for the May to Sept window for the next year. However, there are a lot of excellent universities and colleges where there are multiple intakes throughout the year. Keep your ears on the ground and at least one year on your hand for the whole process.
How much does the location of college matter?
This particular choice is subjective and varies from people to people. A lot of people head to Ontario as the job prospects and colleges in Ontario are better than any other province in Canada. However, Ontario gets cold, and people who don’t like cold weather will struggle here. While selecting a location, there are few things to keep in mind:
- Job prospects for your line of work after graduating
- Living costs and average salaries in that region
- General lifestyle factors like weather, people, etc.
Which University/College to study?
Canada has a lot of excellent institutions for post-graduate studies. From community colleges to world-class universities, it can be very confusing to know which one is best for you. Things to keep in mind while selecting a University/college:
- The most obvious one is to check the reputation of the college / University / department for your chosen stream.
- Consider things like how accessible the faculty is, how long the course is, and timelines for finishing the course. Some colleges allow people to complete a course faster.
- The length of the program is critical, especially if you want to stay in Canada after graduating. An eight-month-long course makes you eligible for a one-year work permit, whereas a 16-month long course makes you eligible for a three-year work permit. The work permit timelines can change anytime and might have more specific details depending on the course; please check the IRCC website for accurate information.
- Make sure that the institute is a DLI (designated learning institute). You will get a Visa only if you study in a DLI. Go here for a full list of DLIs.
- Another factor to consider is your class schedule. Most international students need to work part-time, so having a tight class schedule can be a deal-breaker. Choose wisely and find a course that has enough classes for you to learn but also enough free time to work part-time and earn.
- The cost of the course is also an essential factor. Compare the fees between a few of your chosen colleges to know which one gives more bang for your buck.
University/College Application Process
Once you have zeroed in on the course and college, it is time to start the application process. Let’s take a look at each step in this process in more detail.
Contacting an admissions counselor
Most colleges and universities have an admissions counselor who is there to help prospective students through the admission process. It is always a good option to drop an email if you have any kind of query. Most colleges have helpful staff on these outposts, but there are times when they are not very communicative and not as beneficial as you might want them to be. Don’t take it personally; the counselor is probably dealing with thousands of emails every day and so be kind and to the point when requesting the information. Don’t ask for advice related to Visa; you are welcome to ask for the information regarding the college. It is not their place or expertise to advice you about your chances of getting the visa.
Tests you need to take to apply
Most colleges require a test for English/French. French language proficiency is required in most colleges and offices in Quebec. I don’t have much knowledge about French language tests and requirements; please do your research to figure this bit out. For English, you could give TOEFL or IELTS. If you live in Southeast Asian countries, then you might be eligible to apply for a visa under the SDS (Student Direct Stream). To qualify for SDS, you need IELTS score, so if you can, then take the IELTS for English proficiency. Go here for more details about the SDS program.
IELTS/TOEFL is not extremely complex to crack and get a minimum score that will allow entry in most universities. Give a mock test to find out where you stand and then budget for the time you’d need to give the test. It usually takes a month for the results to come out, so factor in that waiting period as well.
Depending on the course and college, you may also be required to provide GRE/GMAT scores. Both of these tests are tougher than language proficiency tests and will need many months to prepare. Go online and give a mock test to see your preparedness for these tests and then set aside time accordingly for preparing and waiting period for the results come out.
Research the college you want to attend before preparing for any of these tests. If you know the college, then you can find out the minimum scores required for these tests before you start preparing, this will help you prepare and set your goals for these exams. Another benefit of knowing the college beforehand is that you could potentially save a few hundred dollars in the process. Most of these tests allow free score reports to be sent for up to five universities. On the day when you are giving the test, in the end, they will ask you for details of the universities where you want to send your scores. Just select the university of your choice there and then and save some money while you can. This whole process is going to cost a lot of money.
Starting the online application
The steps for filling the personal details, extracurricular details are straightforward and will be similar for most courses and colleges. I’d not detail the obvious.
Many courses will require you to provide details like your portfolio and projects. Portfolios are mostly needed for creative fields. Details about projects can apply to any stream but are mainly used for coding/MBA/project-management courses.
Letter of Reference
All top colleges require three references. Out of the three references, most ask for at least two academic references and one professional reference. Depending on when you graduated, getting a letter of recommendation from a college professor can be tricky. Once you nominate someone as your reference, an email will go to him/her to provide a reference. You’d need to get in touch with college professors, old bosses and ask them to give you a reference. This process could take time and will require you to be on top of your networking game. LinkedIn could be of great help to touch base with your references. Start this outreach early and a month before you start the application itself.
Most colleges will require your graduate transcripts to examine your profile. There is a possibility that they might be okay with a scanned copy of your mark sheets for the application process, check with them beforehand. However, if you are selected, then you will need to share your official transcripts to get an unconditional admission into the college. This applies to most colleges, but you can check with the admissions counselor to confirm.
An official transcript is a transcript issued by your college, which is stamped and sealed in an envelope from the University. It cannot be open, and the seal should not be tampered with; otherwise, they might reject it.
Statement of Purpose
This is one of the most critical documents that will decide if you get admission to a particular college or not. Do not rush when writing the SOP. This is your opportunity to tell the admission team about your journey, about how this course will help you in your professional goals and how you bring a unique perspective to the class. It definitely shouldn’t be an adjective filled memoir of your capabilities and achievements. I am not an expert on this topic and have taken a lot of time to write my SOP. If you are struggling with it, then go to a professional who can write an epic SOP. Do a Google on how to write an SOP, and you’ll land on something like this.
SOP for scholarship
Most scholarship applications will require you to write a letter/SOP to explain why you are a deserving candidate for the scholarship. This SOP will vary from college to college, and they might ask for different things. Usually, this SOP will need to showcase your leadership qualities and scholarly achievements. Use the advice shared in the above links to crack this one.
Expect to spend anywhere between CAD 100 to CAD 200 for the application fee. Some colleges might waive the application fee in exceptional cases. Again, asking the admissions counselor will help J
What to do after you are confirmed admission?
Once you receive an admission confirmation from the college, don’t enjoy it too much. (Yes, I am buzzkill!). It is excellent to know that you got into your college of choice. However, it only means that you have to start now working towards the visa application. Now you need to get an unconditional letter of acceptance from the college. Depending on the college, you will need to submit the original transcript, order test scores (TOEFL/IELTS/GRE/GMAT, etc.), and pay the tuition deposit.
Ordering a transcript can take anywhere between 15-30 days. If you could personally go to your college to get transcripts than that process could finish in 7-10 days. However if you are like me and living in a different city than your college, then can go on Google and find services that help with the transcript process. Usually, these service providers charge anywhere between INR 5-10k for a few sets of transcripts. Factor in the time for posting the transcript to the University.
Ordering test scores will cost anywhere between $20-50. These test scores will take around two weeks to reach the University, so keep that time in your mind. If you are planning to take a loan and pay the tuition deposit from the loan, then you’d need to factor in the time to apply and get the loan (Usually would need at least 15 days). If you are paying the deposit from your pocket, then send the tuition as early as you can to avoid delays in getting the unconditional LOA.
Create a IRCC profile, GC key etc.
While you are doing all of this and waiting on the LOA, go here and start creating an IRCC profile. This is a simple profile that you will need to create if you are applying online. If you are filling an offline (paper) application, then you’d probably not need to create the online profile. I prefer doing things online if there is an option available and avoid all the hassles that are part of an offline task. This blog post is written from an online application perspective, and I am not conversant with the offline application process, so do your research on how that pans out.
Applying online is the best way not only because it is more comfortable but also because the processing times are less, and you can check your status online any time you want. Sending additional documents is even easier in an online application.
Documents needed for the study permit
You will need an unconditional LOA from the college, proof of means of financial support, SOP/LOE for visa application, passport, digital photo, and few forms.
Proof of means of financial support is a document that will help the visa officer in understanding that you have enough monies to finish your education and return to your home country. You will need to have enough funds to cover your full tuition, the cost of your stay for the whole duration of your course, and other expenses like health insurance, transport, etc. If you are funding education yourself, then you will need to share your bank account statements for 3-6 months to show the officer that you have that kind of money. The following are acceptable as proof of your financial status:
- Fixed Deposits
- Recurring deposits
- Provident Funds (PF)
- Mutual funds (they might be needed to be liquidated to be work as proof)
A simple thumb rule is that readily available assets are acceptable as proof of financial means. Assets like jewelry, property, cryptocurrencies are not acceptable. Money in someone else’s account is acceptable only in the case if you have a written letter from them saying that they will be funding your education and stay in Canada. I got the inspiration for the letter from here.
Proof of means of financial support is a critical document in the whole process. You will need to submit at least the following:
- Letter of scholarship/grant (if any)
- Your or your sponsors bank account statements for the past 6 months
- Your and your sponsor/parents income tax reports
- FD/RD/Mutual Fund details
- Loan approval letter (if you are financing your education through a loan)
- Payment receipt towards your tuition deposit- Many colleges ask for first term tuition to be deposited before they issue an unconditional LOA. If your college is doing the same then having the payment receipt will need to be there. Even if this amount is not big, you should still submit a receipt.
- GIC certificate- GIC certificate is mandatory if you are applying through the SDS scheme. However, it is highly recommended that you have a GIC certificate with your application even if you are not applying via the SDS scheme.
What the heck is a GIC?
A GIC is a CAD 10,000 investment that is highly recommended for study permit application. GIC stands for Graduate Investment Certificate and is essentially CAD 10,000 parked in a Canadian bank account under your name. You will need to open an account in a Canadian bank and then transfer around CAD 10,250 into that account. Once the money is transmitted, the bank will issue you a GIC certificate that you will need to submit in the proof of means of financial support. This document is a proof for the visa officer that you have enough money to survive your first year in Canada. The CAD 10,000 will be given back to you once you arrive in Canada, some CAD 2000 in cash and rest in monthly installments over 10-12 months. If you don’t get the study permit, then you can get this money back minus the wiring and service charge. Don’t open a GIC account in ICICI bank! Instead send your money to Soctia bank. If you open an account in ICIC then you will be stuck with their small network and high transaction fees. There are lot of reasons to not open an ICICI bank, if you need more details about why then leave a comment and I will get back to you.
That’s it for part one of this post, folks. I have to put a hard stop here, I wish the days were 48 hours long, but they sadly aren’t, so to keep the ball rolling, I have decided to split this long post into two parts (hopefully) and push the first part out. This post has been in the process of creation for too long, and I want to get it out there before it goes down my GTD list again.