The 10 Best Colleges in Canada

When one thinks of the best places to pursue an education, many schools leap to mind. 

You may think of the Ivy League schools in the United States, places like Boston’s Harvard University or New Jersey’s Princeton University. 

You may think of the great English schools, Cambridge and Oxford, or any number of institutions across the UK. 

You may not consider Canada, but you really should. Canada is home to some of the world’s best institutions of higher learning, schools that train global leaders, scientists whose discoveries shape our understanding of our bodies and our planet, thinkers who redefine what it means to be human. 

Like any other developed country, Canada has a wide range of institutions from which to choose, from small liberal arts schools to major research universities. 

This list follows the rankings found on the Best Global Universities list, published by the magazine U.S. News & World Report (current at the time of this writing). 

While we’ll certainly put some schools higher than others, the fact is that they are all excellent places to pursue your academic dreams.

Every institution on this list is part of the U15, Canada’s association of elite, research-intensive universities. They each boast high research spending, decorated faculty, and a list of successful alumni.

These schools may lack the name recognition of Harvard or Yale and Oxford and Cambridge, but they offer an education just as rigorous, just as impressive, as anything you’d receive at these more famous universities.

10. Western University (London, ON)

Western University
R.schneider101, University College, Western University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Founded in 1878 as the Western University of London, Western University sits along the Thames River of Ontario. 

The school has trained Nobel Laureates, Rhodes Scholars, and numerous leaders in academia and business. The school’s 1,120-acre campus boasts several historically-significant buildings, libraries, and museums. 

Western holds two art museums on its campus, the Artlab Gallery and the McIntosh Gallery. The former hosts fourteen shows every year, emphasizing experimental works in various forms of media. It exists to showcase the research findings of students and faculty. 

Opened in 1942, the McIntosh Gallery is the oldest university art gallery in Ontario. A public gallery, McIntosh includes paintings from Canadian war artists, as well as other pieces of national significance. 

McIntosh regularly displays its works in various buildings throughout Western’s campus to build interest in art within the student body. 

These galleries are just a small part of Western’s commitment to research. As a member of the U15, Western is renowned for its high level of study. 

The school has a $990.1 million endowment and, in 2017, enjoyed a research income of $249.669 million. Nearly half of that funding comes from the Canadian government, with the rest coming from private donors and other sources. 

With that funding, Western has led the way with advancements in biomedical science. The school’s Brain and Mind Institute is one of the nation’s top innovators in cognitive neuroscience. The Institute’s findings in brain functions of blind and deaf people have been published and cited in major academic journals. 

Since 2014, Western has been working on expanding its research in science, medicine, and technology with the construction of a new 4,200 sq ft facility. 

In particular, this facility will build on Western’s advancements in the study of complex human pathogens, such as HIV. Western has been a world leader in the development of a vaccine for HIV/AIDS. 

9. University of Waterloo (Waterloo, ON)

University of Waterloo
Victor Vucicevich, University of Waterloo South Campus Greens, CC BY-SA 3.0

With a scenic 998-acre campus, the University of Waterloo is famous for its mix of open spaces and historically significant structures, such as the Douglas Wright Engineering Building, which was built in 1958. 

More than just a nice bit of scenery, the open spaces serve as undeveloped areas in which those majoring in agricultural or environmental studies can perform research. 

In fact, research is the University of Waterloo’s primary focus. With more than 41 research centers and institutions associated with the school, Waterloo works closely with the Canadian government to aid the public good. These centers and institutes work with everything from water quality and sustainable technology to astrophysics and German culture. 

One of the most important examples is The Centre for Applied Cryptographic Research

Since its establishment in 1998, the Centre has established itself as a world leader in the field of cryptography. The Centre has an interdisciplinary focus, one that draws from mathematics, computer science, engineering, and other STEM fields to increase our understanding of internet security. 

Another influential center is the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology. Working within a 285,000 sq. ft. facility, the Institute explores the possibilities of smart technologies and functional materials. 

The Institute also works to design next-generation energy systems, helping Canadians reduce their dependence on limited resources. 

These initiatives come in addition to the outstanding faculty who have taught at Waterloo over the years. 

In addition to teaching at Waterloo and serving as director of the Institute of Nanotechnology, Professor Arthur Carty has been the National Science Advisor for the Canadian government and has held other prestigious positions. 

Professor Donna Strickland won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physics for her work in the field of pulsed lasers. 

8. University of Ottawa (Ottawa, ON)

University of Ottawa
Jeangagnon, Marion Hall – University of Ottawa, CC BY-SA 4.0

As a bilingual country, Canada boasts many fine schools that use French and English. But none are bigger than the University of Ottawa, which serves more than 35,000 undergraduate and over 6,000 postgraduate students. These numbers make U of Ottawa the largest bilingual college in the entire world. 

Established as the College Bytown in 1848, the U of Ottawa has now secured its reputation as an utterly global institution. Approximately 17% of its students come from around the world, with more than 150 nations represented by its body. 

As impressive as these numbers certainly are, the U of Ottawa is most influential as a research institution. With more than $324 million in annual research income, the school is in an excellent position to embark on important initiatives. 

At the top of this list is the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, created in 2001. In addition to its 475 students and research fellows, the Institute supports 560 scientists and investigators, giving them space to work on cancer therapeutics, chronic disease, clinical epidemiology, and more. 

Equally important is the Music and Health Research Institute, which examines the way learning, performing, creating, and listening to music affects health and human development. Current projects include studies of the relationship between the mind and music listening and the therapeutic possibilities of teaching music to trauma survivors.

Thanks to these programs, and the outstanding faculty members who operate them, the U of Ottawa has trained some of Canada’s finest minds. 

The school counts among its alumni political leaders, such as former Newfoundland Prime Minister Sir Edward Morris and former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin.

7. University of Calgary (Calgary, AB)

University of Calgary
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

What once began in 1908 as the Calgary branch of the University of Alberta has grown into an excellent school in its own right. The University of Calgary is the alma mater of former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, director of the United Nations Office of Administration of Justice Linda Taylor, and many other notable figures. 

The U of Calgary is especially proud of its advancements in research. The school operates with a healthy endowment of more than $380.4 million, making it one of the country’s wealthiest institutions of higher learning. 

Additionally, awards from government programs and contributions from private donors earn the school research revenues of over $1.2 billion, allowing it to do truly groundbreaking work.

Much of that work relates to the research and petroleum industries. The Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering boasts numerous facilities, including the Applied Catalysis Applications and the Amoco Air Injection/In-Situ Combustion Facilities. 

Thanks to these programs, the department has enjoyed breakthroughs such as more efficient ways to store fuel and new and safer forms of catalyst. 

As important as their petroleum work may be, the U of Calgary also has its achievements in the arts, public policy, and other important fields. 

In the education field, the school operates the Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning

The Taylor Institute features a new state-of-the-art building outfitted with not only the latest in sustainable technologies but also everything necessary for teachers of the future. 

The Taylor Institute is just one of the programs created through the Innovate Calgary imitative. Based in U of Calgary, the Innovate Calgary Imitative is an incubator that uses university labs and workspaces to make technology accessible to people of the city. 

6. University of Montreal (Montreal, QC)

University of Montreal
Jeangagnon, Complexe des sciences – Universite de Montreal, CC BY-SA 4.0

While the University of Ottawa might be the largest bilingual school in the country, the University of Montreal is Canada’s most respected Francophone school. 

Established in 1878 as a satellite campus of the Université Laval, the U of Montreal has grown to not only become its university but one of the best in the nation. The school consists of thirteen faculties and serves 34,335 undergraduate and 11,925 post-graduate students.

The most notable part of the U of Montreal is the school’s Faculty of Law, home to some of the greatest legal minds in the nation. 

The Faculty’s reputation is built in part by initiatives such as the Centre de recherche en droit public, an interdisciplinary program that gives practical experience for law students serving the people of Montreal. 

Additionally, the Centre hosts presentations from legal scholars from around the world, addressing critical issues such as the future of policing and cryptocurrencies. 

In addition to its wider academic and research programs, the U of Montreal prides itself on its service to local indigenous peoples. 

The school not only devotes economic support programs and law centers to working with First Nations peoples but also strives to bring in more indigenous students and faculty members. 

By providing funding for applicants and academic support systems, the U of Montreal works to create a more equitable and diverse student body.

All of these programs work in conjunction with the excellent faculty assembled by the University. Current teachers include computer scientist Yoshua Bengio, a leading innovator in the field of artificial intelligence who won the 2018 Turing Award.

5. University of Alberta (Edmonton, AB)

University of Alberta
Viola-Ness, Corbett Hall at the University of Alberta, CC BY-SA 4.0

The first university in the province, the University of Alberta was founded in 1906 thanks to the University act. With a student body consisting of 39,300 students, including 7,800 international students from 150 countries all over the world. 

Among the university’s accolades are the 41 3M Teaching Fellowships, given to the best undergraduate teachers in Canada. Past faculty members at U of Alberta include the famed author Margaret Atwood and Juno Award-winning composer Malcolm Forsyth.

U of Alberta’s current faculty includes some of the nation’s finest minds. 

Professor Michael Houghton is a Professor of Virology and the Director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute. In 2020, Houghton won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the Hepatitis C virus. 

Professor Mark Lewis is U of Alberta’s Canada Research Chair of mathematical biology and a member of the Royal Society of Canada. His contributions to the field of mathematics and special dynamics have earned him numerous awards and recognitions. 

Beyond its commitment to teaching, the school also has an ambitious research agenda. With a research income of $513.313 million, the U of Alberta is one of the world’s most respected research universities. With that support, the school launches more than 400 laboratories, centers, and institutes. 

Those centers include the multidisciplinary Canadian Obesity Network. Bringing together researchers and patients, the Network helps Canadians get the help they need and allows scientists to find new treatment methods. 

Taking advantage of the school’s technology options, the Network provides Canadians with information and resources to help plan for their health. 

4. McMaster University (Hamilton, ON)

McMaster University
Jokehoe, McMaster University campus, CC BY-SA 4.0

Built in 1887, thanks to a $900,000 donation from senator William McMaster, McMaster University has grown to become one of Canada’s most respected institutions. Today, the publicly funded institution serves over 27,000 undergraduate and 4,000 graduate students.

Graduates from McMaster have gone on to hold positions in the Canadian government, win major awards, and be leaders in a range of fields. Alumni include professional musicians, Nobel Laureates, Rhodes Scholars, and more. 

One of those Nobel Laureates is Myron Scholes, who graduated from McMaster with a degree in economics in 1961. Scholes went on to serve as chairman of Platinum Grove Asset Management, on the Dimensional Fund Advisors board of directors, and in several other capacities. 

In 1997, Scholes was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics for co-creating the Black-Scholes options pricing model. 

James Orbinski earned his M.D. from McMaster in 1990, before working with the Medical Research Council of Canada fellowship and with Médecins Sans Frontières. 

In 1999, Orbinski accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for Médecins Sans Frontières, awarded for the group’s work during refugee crises in 1996 – 1997. During that period, Orbinski was head of Mission, critical to the organization’s work. 

McMaster points to several factors for its success with graduates, including the McMaster Model

The McMaster Model uses problem-based learning, teaching students how to address challenges with creative thinking and practical approaches. 

Through the Model, students learn how to collaborate with others while addressing problems and understanding contextual possibilities. 

Other factors are the fantastic faculty members employed by McMaster. The school’s teachers include innovators and award-winners, people with an unparalleled commitment to knowledge. These teachers include revolutionary theorist Henry Giroux and Ethan Vishniac, editor of The Astrophysical Journal.

3. McGill University (Montreal, QC)

McGill University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Generally accepted as one of the world’s finest institutions, McGill University has been a leader in research and innovation since its founding in 1821. It’s also one of the richest, with the country’s largest endowment per student. 

In total, McGill enjoys a $1.948 billion endowment and a $1.43 billion operating budget. 

The only Canadian institution in the Global University Leaders Forum, McGill is a truly international school, with 32.2% of its student body coming from overseas. 

The school’s influence on the world isn’t limited to those coming to McGill. When they leave school, graduates go on to become global leaders, changing the lives of millions around the world. 

For example, after earning a bachelor of science in 1963, Ralph Steinman became a medical researcher at Rockefeller University. Ten years later, Steinman discovered dendritic cells, an important scientific breakthrough. In 2011, the Nobel committee recognized Steinman’s work by awarding him the prize in physiology or medicine. 

Neuroscientist John O’Keefe graduated with an MA from McGill in 1964 and a Ph.D. in 1967. With that education and experience, O’Keefe won a number of awards, including the 2014 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Currently, O’Keefe serves as a professor at the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour at University College London.

These successes are due in part to McGill’s commitment to research. With over $547 million in income from sponsored research projects, the University operates more than 75 research networks and centers. These projects allow McGill to give its students direct experience exploring their interests and finding new discoveries. 

2. University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC)

University of British Columbia
Xicotencatl, Koerner Library UBC, CC BY-SA 3.0

The most respected institution in the province, the University of British Columbia has been training excellent students for over a century. 

Located near downtown Vancouver, the University boasts a genuinely cosmopolitan campus. The school prides itself on its natural areas, including the nearby Pacific Spirit Regional Park and its multiple gardens. 

Within these scenic grounds, the University of British Columbia hosts several important research centers and programs. More than 8,000 research projects launch through the University, thanks to its $759 million research budget. 

One of the most important programs at U of British Columbia is the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, which encourages collaboration among the faculty at the school. The interdisciplinary projects created through the Wall Institute address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. 

To enhance accessibility, the Institute publishes its findings in easy-to-understand formats, such as internet videos and podcasts. 

Since 1968, the U of British Columbia has been the home of TRIUMF, the particle accelerator center of Canada. 

With its state-of-the-art cyclotron, TRIUMF is responsible for incredible discoveries, including equipment to detect cancers and elements of the Large Hadron Collider. As a meeting place for experts in all disciplines, from departments across Canada and the globe, TRIUMF is a singular scientific hotspot. 

With more than 59 acres to explore, the University of British Columbia Farm provides ample space for observation and experimentation in the fields of agriculture and life sciences. Operated by the Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, the Farm features a variety of livestock, multiple forms of machinery, and labs for testing and recording findings. 

 1. University of Toronto (Toronto, ON)

University of Toronto
Daderot, Falconer Hall, University of Toronto, CC0 1.0

Founded in 1827, the school has counted five Canadian Prime Ministers, seventeen Supreme Court Justices, and numerous winners of the world’s most respected awards among its faculty and alumni. 

Teachers and students from the U of Toronto have changed the way people live and think, thanks to its research focus and innovative methods. 

One of the University’s most important contributions is the development of the Toronto School of theory

A group of literary critics and communications theorists, including folklorist Northrop Frye and revolutionary thinker Marshall McLuhan, have created a new approach to understanding the role of storytelling in everyday life. 

Following the lead of the Toronto School, we now have a richer understanding of everything from the function of advertising to the way we construct our identities via personal anecdotes. 

As important as these findings certainly are, the U of Toronto’s contributions are not limited to the humanities. 

With a research budget exceeding $1.1 million, the University of Toronto is the nation’s leader in funding projects, more than any other school on this list. That support allows the University to support projects with real, practical impact on the world. 

One of the clearest examples of that impact is the discovery of insulin by Frederick Banting and Charles Herbert Best, who were working at the University of Toronto in 1921. 

The University also was the site of the world’s first attempts at stem cell research, a discovery that would go on to save the lives of millions worldwide. 

Whether serving the body or the mind, the University of Toronto is the epicenter of excellence and innovation, not just for Canada, but also for the entire world.

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