The Best Colleges & Universities in Nova Scotia, Canada

Located on the easternmost coast of Canada, the province of Nova Scotia is home to ten universities, six of which are located in the capital of Halifax. 

Nova Scotia has a green terrain and temperate climate similar to New England. 

Beach-loving students will gravitate to more than 13,000 km of shoreline, and the Bay of Fundy is home to the largest tides in the world.

Unsurprisingly, many students apply to colleges in Nova Scotia out of an interest in pursuing a career in sustainability, environmental policy, and agriculture. 

In general, the colleges in Nova Scotia are small in population, providing a close-knit learning environment where students get more individualized attention from their professors.

While Nova Scotia is one of the smallest provinces in Canada, it has a reputation for being Canada’s “Education Province.”

It houses more academic institutions per capita than anywhere else in Canada! 

Ahead, we divulge exciting information about eight of Nova Scotia’s best universities. 

Naturally, most of our featured universities are featured in Halifax. 

We’ve also included excellent choices on the Bay of Fundy, the Northumberland Strait, and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS)

Dalhousie University
Ryan Sharpe / Wikimedia Commons, Dalhousie University bicentennial – Halifax, NS, CC BY-SA 4.0

Established in 1818, Dalhousie is currently a pioneer in teaching, cutting-edge research, and commitment to social responsibility. 

The interdisciplinary approach empowers students to become well-versed in a variety of subjects.

When it comes to national rankings, Dalhousie University is a Canadian powerhouse. 

The QS World University Rankings listed Dalhousie as #12 Overall in Canada, while the Times Higher Education positioned them within Canada’s Top 15 Schools. 

Esteemed alumni include 93 Rhodes Scholars, author Lucy Maud Montgomery, Nobel Prize in Physics laureate Arthur B. McDonald, astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, and three former Canadian prime ministers.

Dalhousie is one of the premier research institutions in all of Canada, garnering nearly $200 million in annual research funding. 

The school focuses primarily on five research clusters, one of which is Food Security

Through various initiatives, Dalhousie seeks to preserve marine biodiversity, develop sustainable aquaculture systems, and improve food distribution worldwide through multiple initiatives.

Acadia University (Wolfville, NS)

Acadia University
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Acadia is highly regarded for its athletic program

The school has won more conference and national championships than any other university in Atlantic Canada; additionally, they boast the highest representation of Academic All-Canadians among their undergraduate university peers. 

In 2018-2019, the university witnessed four of its varsity teams compete at the national championship level.

Acadia University is home to many revolutionary figures in Canadian history. 

Clara Belle Marshall, for example, was the first Canadian woman to achieve a university degree. 

Edwin Borden was the first African Canadian graduate to obtain a degree from Acadia. 

Charles Brenton Huggins studied at Acadia before receiving the 1966 Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine for his discovery of new ways to treat prostate cancer.

The Co-Op Program at Acadia is among Canada’s finest. 

Students gain valuable work experience with Canadian employers in diverse fields, averaging $10,000 in earnings per work term. 

Many go on to secure full-time employment with the same employers after graduation. 97% of Acadia Co-Op graduates are currently employed or pursuing advanced-level degrees.

Cape Breton University (Sydney, NS)

Cape Breton is situated on one of Canada’s loveliest campuses. 

Its service-learning programs are frequently ranked among Canada’s best. 

In 2022, Maclean’s ranked Cape Breton #19 in Undergraduate Universities and #46 in its reputational survey. The prior year, Cape Breton was ranked #6 in Overall Student Satisfaction.

The school also has a sound reputation for its commitment to sustainability

Recently, Cape Breton constructed a massive wind farm off-campus with the objective of generating enough electricity to balance its carbon dioxide emissions. 

Reports predict that the farm will create more than $2 million in yearly revenue.

Cape Breton has also played a role in the Community Economic Development (CED) project within the larger Cape Breton Island. 

Students and faculty members have paved the way for significant telecommunications developments while simultaneously fighting for labor unions and workers’ rights. 

St. Francis Xavier University (Antigonish, NS)

St. Francis Xavier University
St. Francis Xavier University – public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

St. Francis Xavier is frequently ranked among Canada’s best universities for undergraduates. 

Specifically, Maclean’s 2022 listed them as #1 in Student Satisfaction, #1 in Course Instructors, and #2 in Reputation. 

Graduates will join Canada’s largest alumni network of 45,000+ alumni who stand ready to support St. Francis Xavier students after they receive “the X-Ring.”

Speaking of worldwide connections, St. Francis Xavier is home to the Coady Institute, a hub for community-led social and economic justice and growth. 

Coady highlights programs such as “Future of Work and Workers,” which is geared toward students who wish to pursue human rights-focused careers at the local, provincial, and national levels.

On campus, students have access to small, intimate classrooms with fewer than 40 students (on average) and many work-study placements. 

Nearly a third of students are currently employed at the university! St. Francis Xavier is also regarded for its study abroad programs – students can choose to participate in one of 40 partnerships across the world.

NSCAD University (Halifax, NS)

Nova Scotia College of Art & Design
Verne Equinox, NSCADU Seaport, CC BY 3.0

The Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) is one of Canada’s oldest independent colleges. 

The school was founded by teacher Anna Leonowens, best recognized for her role as a tutor for the King of Siam – her experiences were captured in the film production of The King and I by Rodgers & Hammerstein. 

Fewer than 1,000 students attend NSCAD today. 

Many talented artists have roamed its hallways, including singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan, editorial cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon, and Academy Award winning director Johns Kars.

Perhaps NCSAD’s most exciting asset is its CEL: Creative Entrepreneurship Lab. 

The CEL endeavors to support graduates as they transition to employment and combat the stereotype of the “starving artist.” 

It offers workshops like the TD Financial Literacy Program for Creative Entrepreneurs, devoted to helping young artists utilize social media platforms, secure funding for various projects, and even start their own businesses.

University of King’s College (Halifax, NS)

University of King's College
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

The University of King’s College is Canada’s oldest chartered university. 

More than 1,000 students attend this unique institution, which maintains a 15:1 student-to-faculty ratio and an average class size of 30 members. 

What’s so special about King’s? The school does not divide subjects into disciplines; instead, it prioritizes an interdisciplinary approach that mimics how adults problem-solve in the real world.

The university is known for its Foundation Year Program (FYP), a cross-disciplinary experience where students examine and discuss pivotal books and concepts from ancient civilizations to the modern world. 

Most mornings, students attend a class-wide lecture delivered by an expert faculty member, then discuss the work or idea in small afternoon groups (called tutorials). 

Tutorials aim to empower students to refine their critical thinking skills.

King’s is also known for creating Atlantic Canada’s only journalism degree program, which has helped budding writers, journalists, and publishers launch their careers with regional and national partners. 

Most recently, King’s announced the creation of the School of Journalism, Writing & Publishing. The new school will serve as the home for all writing-related programs and undoubtedly solidify King’s position as a vital part of the Canadian media industry.

St. Mary’s University (Halifax, NS)

Founded in 1802, St. Mary’s University is lauded today for its diverse, international student population (its 7,000+ students hail from more than 115 countries!). 

Class sizes average 40 members and are taught by a talented faculty cohort – 98% of full-time professors have earned their Ph.D., which is a higher representation than any other university in Nova Scotia.

Saint Mary’s operates several strong academic programs, including the illustrious Bachelor of Commerce degree

The Sobey School of Business is featured at the top of various Canadian educational rankings publications. 

Innovative programs offered through the School of Environment challenge students to solve issues related to climate change and sustainability.

Many successful Canadians started at St. Mary’s, including John William Ashe, who served as President of the United Nations General Assembly. 

Additionally, Special Olympics powerlifter Jackie Barrett attended St. Mary’s prior to winning 15 powerlifting medals across four Special Olympics events.

Mount Saint Vincent Universiy (Halifax, NS)

Mount Saint Vincent University is an institution of firsts: the first university in the Maritimes to offer co-op experiences, the first Canadian university to offer a Bachelor of Public Relations program in English, and the first Canadian university to establish a Women’s Studies department. 

Founded in 1873, MSVU was also one of the first Canadian colleges to enroll women.

Today, more than 4,000 students from nearly 70 countries attend Mount Saint Vincent on its beautiful green campus. 

In addition to in-person learning, the school offers almost 200 distance education courses. Current students remark that the average class size of 23 (among the most intimate in Canada) is one of their most substantial reasons for attending Mount Saint Vincent.

Students hoping to gain research experience should consider applying to MSVU – students earned more than $2 million working in research positions within the past three years. 

In 2019, the school launched the brand new Sheila A. Brown Centre for Applied Research in Human Health. 

Students working within this facility will coordinate research studies focused on treating dementia, preventing obesity, and improving youth health.