Graduate school

Graduate school is one type of further education that is completed after undergraduate studies. Other types are professional programs (e.g. nursing, social work) and Post Graduate programs (offered at Colleges and specific to industry). Graduate school times may vary, a Master’s degree can take an additional one to two years after an undergraduate degree. Doctoral/PhD programs can take four to six additional years of study following a Master’s degree.

Types of programs and degrees

Research, Academic Stream Masters, or PhD

Research-oriented programs involve conducting independent research under supervision of an established academic scholar. There are two types of academic programs:

  • Terminal programs: Master’s and Doctoral degrees are achieved separately. Students may apply to Doctoral programs after their Master’s degree.
  • Non-terminal programs: Master’s program feeds directly into a Doctoral program without the option of stopping after a Master’s. Entrance is directly from an undergraduate degree.

Applied Masters

Provide advanced study to prepare for a career and/or further research in a specific career area which is not a regulated profession (e.g. Public Policy, Global Health, Social Justice).

Professional degrees

Provide specialized skills and qualifications to enter a specific profession which is regulated by a governing body (e.g. Medicine, Law, Teaching). Programs may be course or thesis based and may include some or all of the following:

  • Course based: A combination of course work, practicum placement, qualifying exam, and independent research. Typical of professional and applied master’s programs.
  • Thesis based: A combination of required courses and a thesis project under the supervision of a thesis advisor. Typical of academic/research oriented programs.


If you are considering graduate school, you must begin to prepare early.

Explore your options

Take a variety of courses and gain relevant experience to help determine your career and research interests; talk to T.A.s about their experiences; take part in networking activities; participate in job shadowing opportunities; attend program open houses, and talk to professors about graduate programs.

Strengthen your GPA

Although many programs look primarily at your final two years, a GPA that is constantly high will impress admission committees.

Identify references

Graduate applications require between two to three references. Get to know your professors by taking more than one class with those whose research focus interests you, participating in class discussions, attending office hours, and joining clubs that allow professors to get to know you outside of the classroom.

Build experience

Gain experience through co-op, research experience through senior level thesis courses, and volunteer with professors.


You have explored career goals, researched options, and the requirements for your field of study and determined that graduate school is the next step to enter your career. You must now complete the graduate school application process. Review all program requirements as they do vary based on institution and program. This is a guide to walk you through the components of a graduate school application:

Step one: Evaluate graduate school programs

  • Research programs and schools that align with your interests both in Canada and abroad.
  • Research faculty that have similar interests – reach out to the faculty to discuss their research, if they are looking for new students, and what they look for in a student.
  • Research program requirements. Understand if it is a research/thesis program. Information sessions are usually held in the fall.
  • Visit the campus to meet with faculty and students as well as get a feel for the campus atmosphere.
  • Determine financial assistance options including Teaching Assistants, grants, loans, and fellowships.
  • Narrow down your options and choose your top three to five schools.

Step two: Admission tests

Admissions tests, if required need to be written in advance to ensure scores are received by the admissions deadlines.

Step three: Preparing an application


All schools will post the minimum average they are looking for.

Reference letters

Most schools ask for three reference letters: Two academic and one personal, but check with the individual institution. The academic references are used to confirm your ability to excel in academically challenging programs.

Personal statements

Personal statements are where you would discuss your research interests and state why you are interested in the institution. You may also include your knowledge and experience and future career path and goals.

Resume and Cover letter

This is where you can express your area of interest as well as any research, work, or volunteer initiatives related to the discipline.

Admission scores

If required (GRE, LSAT, GMAT, or MCAT), these tests need to be written in advance to ensure scores are received by the admissions deadline.

Step four: What if I don’t get accepted?


Contact admissions or the faculty to determine how to make your application stronger. You may need to retake the admission test to increase your score or take time to gain relevant experience for re-application.

Explore alternate careers

Explore your career options with a career advisor.

Consider an alternative program

Research alternative program options.

Seek employment

Finding employment may help you gain experience and clarity in your career goals.


Graduate school can be costly but there are financial supports available to those that apply. Below is some information on funding sources. Several categories of funding are available depending on your individual situation:

  • Loans: Monetary aid that must be repaid
  • Grants: Monetary aid that, typically, does not have to be repaid
  • Bursaries: Grants given to students who can demonstrate financial need
  • Scholarships: Grants given to students based on academic merit
  • Fellowships: Funding based on academic merit, similar to a salary
  • Teaching or research assistant-ships: Salary in return for assisting faculty with teaching or research work

Available funding

Funding may be available through:

  • Government loan programs
  • Academic departments
  • University awards
  • Foundations
  • Research councils
  • Banks

Government funding

Provinces and territories provide student funding for which some graduate programs are eligible. Check with the provincial funding agency where you will be studying for more details.

University and awards office and academic departments

Investigate both the awards office and the academic departments of the university and program you plan to attend for graduate studies. Universities typically offer awards, fellowships, teaching and research assistant-ships, bursaries, and scholarships—through the university as a whole, the faculty of graduate studies, and/or the program department. Each source of funding may require separate applications.


Foundation grants to individuals online: An online database of over 8,500 foundations and public charity programs that fund students, artists, researchers, and other individual grant-seekers. Up-to-date information on foundations funding scholarships, fellowships, research, and professional support.

Research councils

There are three research councils founded to provide monetary aid to graduate students and scholars engaged in research (note: some undergraduate awards exist). They focus on three different fields: natural sciences and engineering (NSERC), social sciences and humanities (SHHRC) and health (CIHR). Most programs of study fall within one of these categories and students are typically able to apply to one research council only.

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

  • Your area of study must be accepted by NSERC. If NSERC deems your field of interest to be a better fit with one of the other research councils your NSERC application will not be accepted.
  • NSERC does not support clinically-oriented research or programs of study (e.g. clinical psychology or clinical neuropsychology). Contact CIHR for funding information.

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC)

  • Applications must be pursuing a graduate degree in the social sciences/humanities.
  • A variety of funding programs are available in addition to priority research areas.

Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)

  • Applicants must be affiliated with an eligible Canadian institution or organization.
  • Applicants cannot be employed by Canadian federal government departments or agencies of for-profit organization unless affiliated with a university.
  • Program provides opportunity to work with industry and government partners.