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Resources for Expatriate Canadians returning to Canada after living in the U.S. or further abroad

University and College in Canada

Some thoughts on University and College preparation, application, and admission for Canadian expatriate parents and their teenagers.

Why this page?

university in Canada

I have had many inquiries along the same general theme:

How will our children be accepted for university or college admission in Canada when they are living and educated outside of Canada?

No one wants their children to be "outside" the Canadian education system without some clear and understandable path back into it, particularly at the higher education levels.

This page is for parents, in particular, who are concerned that living outside Canada during the crucial university preparation years of high school could put their children at a disadvantage.

As a university and college professor and leader for the last 25 years, I can offer you assurance that Canadian teenagers who are educated and living abroad can study at Canadian universities and colleges without disadvantages. In fact, their life experiences gained living outside Canada can give them significant advantages!!

A Scenario:

Joan and Richard left Canada for Indonesia when their two teenage daughters were in grade 6 and 8. Now, with their oldest daughter entering grade 12 at an international high school in Jakarta, Joan is concerned about university and college options in Canada for her. Though Joan has some fears that her daughter won't be allowed to apply due to being foreign-educated, Joan dismisses these and is pretty sure that their family's situation is not that alien to Canadian university admissions departments. She trusts that there must simply be a different process to work through for her daughter's application to Canadian universities than traditionally educated Canadian teenagers, and that everything will be OK.

Joan is absolutely correct!

There is nothing to be afraid of and indeed there are simply different processes to work through for Canadian teenagers who do not live in Canada or study within the Canadian education system in Canada.

Sometimes those processes require a closer scrutiny of transcripts to ensure that special university program requirements are met (high school math courses required for engineering programs, for example).

Sometimes a portfolio or phone interview is required to get a richer sense of the student's abilities.

Sometimes, if English is not clearly indicated as your child's first language, an English proficiency test is required.

Besides these possible smaller hurdles, your Canadian teenager who lives and is educated overseas does not face discrimination, disregard, or rejection.

Tanya shares her thoughts in 2018 on raising children abroad while still planning on them going to Canadian university when the time comes:

We are Canadians currently living and working in Al Ain, UAE ... and have been here for 10 years now. Our two children (Years 6 and 8) are studying in a British school system and although there is some time yet, they are eager to go back to Canada for university. We have started researching just to give ourselves an idea of what we need to prepare them for in the future. I agree that sometimes the value of living abroad gets overlooked by parents who worry about integration back into our own societies, but I can see that our children have become open-minded, kind, interesting, multi-lingual, travel- savvy global citizens due to their international experience!

As a family, we continue to embrace our overseas experience and are grateful for all the local and international friends that we have met along the way, not to mention the opportunities to travel to so many amazing and different countries on holidays!

...It is often easier to see what we lose rather than all the things we gain from our overseas experience, especially when there are children involved. I often remind our expat friends that what we give our children is valuable and we should not feel guilty about our decisions.
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Some Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How does my son or daughter apply to a university or college when we are living in another country?

The easiest way is to focus on 2 or 3 universities or colleges that have a program of specific interest, or are in a province they want to be in. Then, make contact with these institutions' admissions staff, letting them know your situation and asking for information on the application process for their school. As university and college application and admission takes some time, starting this research process a full 12-18 months ahead of the desired start date of studies is advised. You are dealing with long lead times to research, prepare an application, submit it, have the university consider it, and then admit you. Applying 3 months ahead will likely lead to disappointment. Even within Canada the application process takes 6 months or more prior to the start of studies.

2. Will our Canadian teenage son/daughter pay international student fees (very high), or Canadian fees (much lower)?

If your children are Canadian citizens, they pay local, Canadian fees, regardless if they were educated and lived abroad prior to entry into a Canadian university.

3. If we leave Canada when our son/daughter only has 2 years left of high school, will this put their high grades in the known Canadian system at risk and therefore their chances of being accepted at the best schools and in the best programs?

No. Top grades are top grades and getting into great Canadian university and college programs from abroad is very doable.

4. How does our son/daughter access scholarships?

Our Canadian citizen son, currently studying at American School of Lima Peru, seems to find himself 'falling between the cracks'; he isn't eligible for any scholarships available to students from Canadian high schools... nor is he eligible for scholarships for international students as he is a Canadian citizen and as such won't be paying international fees (thank goodness!)

Living overseas does have an impact on the ability to apply for scholarships that are awarded by schools, cities, and provinces. These types of scholarships are designed to reward students who do well and to keep them "in the system", so are not really focused on you, the expat family.

I have had questions about this and have heard that this does distress some parents, exacerbating the feelings that their son or daughter is disadvantaged as a result of being outside the system.

With respect for those feelings, I gently suggest that this is a time to focus on the cup being half full, not half empty. You can use your son or daughter's interests and special experiences abroad to access scholarships that "regular" Canadian students wouldn't even think to access. But it takes exploring interests with your son or daughter and casting a Google search more widely than trying to "work" the traditional Canadian university system entry and scholarship awarding process.

  • If your son or daughter has a special skill or ability they gained living abroad, you can look for scholarships specific to that skill or ability.

  • There are scholarships available to people who have an interest in a specific region of the world or country. Your son or daughter could provide a scholarship application that the granting committee would be delighted to read.

  • Many companies sponsor scholarships for specific industries. My son was able to access scholarships for electronics study from electronics firms, for example. These scholarships have nothing to do with your son or daughter doing their high school in Canada or not.

  • Sports scholarships: I have a good friend who is a professional American league scout and university entry consultant who I can recommend to support you if your son or daughter is considering a sports scholarship / sports entry route into higher education in Canada or the U.S. Please contact me for more information.

5. Are there adjustment challenges when my son/daughter starts university in Canada?

This is not actually an FAQ. It should be an FAQ by parents. It was an addition to this document after I have been witness to several challenges with "expat kids" finding it hard to adjust to life and studies at a Canadian university when they have lived abroad with their families for many years, and their family is still abroad.

Parents: Please take this issue seriously. Some 18-year-olds can pop over to Canada, enter a Canadian university, and be just fine. Others cannot. Which is your son or daughter? If your child has had a very structured, guided, and generally "managed" life up to their flight to Canada to enter college or university here, they may have a very significant challenge learning to manage their own lives and adjust to the self-directed nature of university.

Please be sure to understand what your son or daughter needs at this exact point in their development as a young adult and how well-prepared they are to take on living their own lives and managing studies at a Canadian university.

Our concerns as parents

I want to be very careful to note that I understand how deeply felt a concern it can be for parents who wish only the very best for their teenagers. As a father of two young adults myself, I too, felt concern that after 16 or 17 years of putting my heart and soul into raising my children I didn't want there to be any roadblocks to their entry into the final chapter of their education - the chapter of higher education.

Most of the questions from clients moving back to Canada have been considerations of the process of choosing, applying, and setting up life in Canada for the purpose of starting university or college. Sometimes these concerns overshadow crucial parts of the exploration of higher education choices available. Again, as a former Canadian professor with 25 years experience, I suggest being careful to not worry about the logistics. Getting into a Canadian university or college is very doable for teenage children of Canadian expatriates. Here are a few areas to be careful with:

  • Being so focused on the process of getting your teenager into a Canadian university or college that their interests, wishes, strengths, and natural talents are overshadowed. Maybe a "gap year" is better for them first? Or an alternative route, such as studying culinary arts in Switzerland or spending a year learning Japanese in Japan? These are just examples, but stepping back from what you want for your son or daughter will help you gain some perspective on what is in their best interest at this point in their life.

  • Feeling vulnerable about your son/daughter not being part of the regular Canadian system and manifesting this as worry and stress. You being worried can affect the joyful transition time of your teenager into their adult life as a university student in Canada. Trust that they will be OK!

  • Making decisions on a son's/daughter's high school education overseas and their extracurricular activities specifically for the purpose of positioning them well for university. I have personally seen this in Dubai, with one young man manifesting psychological problems due to the stress his mother placed on him with constant extracurricular activities, and little "down time". And as a professor at a Canadian university for 14 years, I have had to refer students to counseling (and in one case, immediate suicide intervention) due to overwork and some of my students' inability to manage their own life in Canada.

    Please: If you have taken a strongly interventionist approach to your son or daughter's daily life until now, take steps back from doing so right now, empowering and guiding them to learn more about themselves, what their interests are, how to balance and take care of their lives, and how to make decisions and choices on their own. One mother recently had to stay in Canada to support her extremely angry university entrant son who was not prepared to take care of himself emotionally and logistically. He dropped out of university as a result and had a struggle ahead of him to both learn the life skills he could have gained at a younger age and to reconcile his anger at his parents for not having prepared him for life on his own.

In summary: If you step back from the very understandable fears that drive all of us as parents you will see that a trusting, research-based approach to entry into university or college education will result in logical, doable processes that allows you to stay focused on the highest good for your teenager throughout the transition to their adult lives and to university studies in Canada...if that is the right thing for them.

One final thought...

While I was living overseas, some of my UK counterparts would go to extremes to ensure their children would enter a "good" UK high school boarding school or university to maintain a very strong cultural connection to the UK. And my American counterparts would create a fully detailed and planned American high school experience at an American School abroad, so that their teenager would look exactly like American teenagers living in America. The fear and worry the parents went through to ensure no disadvantage to their teenagers or deviation from cultural norms back home removed from their thinking what was both possible and potentially best for their children.

Living overseas can be about being different and this can be a good thing! It can be about contrast that allows your children to grow up with their eyes and minds open to new ways of thinking. These are not just niceties or extras on top of "good" grades that allow entry into a top Canadian university. Thinking differently can be a crucial advantage! Your children can be different and be very, very acceptable socially and professionally. Being different does not mean they will live a life of vagrancy and bohemian differences that will forever leave them at the cold, dark edges of society. It does not mean bad things will happen to them.

These are just fears.

Being different can mean that your son or daughter can go to a foreign university, gaining significant professional advantage by doing so.

Being different can mean your son or daughter can return to Canada and be very successful in today's multicultural university and college campuses in Canada.

Being different can mean your son or daughter will find joy, excitement, and fulfillment in the amazing marvels this world has to offer...which is one of the reasons you brought them overseas in the first place, no?

Your idea? Your thoughts? Your experiences?

Your ideas, considerations, and experiences?

Please share with me your ideas, considerations, and experiences relating to education abroad and entering higher education in Canada. I will post them here as help for others. Along with a credit to you will be a big thank you on behalf of the many people you will be helping!

Thank you!

Paul Kurucz

This page updated to July 2019

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A happy client:

Hi Paul,

Just to update you - we landed and sailed through customs! So thank you so much for all of your advice...It was a thoroughly pleasant experience.

This is to say thank you for everything. Your advisory has been so incredibly helpful and saved us considerable time and removed room for error.

With best wishes,


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