Public schools in Canada

Art Class

An alternative to boarding schools

When parents consider international education for their school-aged student, boarding schools come to mind. Increasingly, many international students have found their way into the public education system.

Canada is among the top choice destinations for international high school students. In recently years, there’s been a marked increase. According to a report by Global Affairs Canada, Economic Impact of International Education in Canada – An Update (2010), in the year 2000 there were 27,997 international students studying in Canadian schools. As of December 31 2017, monthly Immigration Refugee and Citizenship Canada data show that there were 71,485 international students in Canadian schools, a 155% increase since 2000. Ontario and British Columbia are the most popular provinces.

While the data does not reveal how many of these students are enrolled at independent, private or public schools, anecdotally we know that public schools are hosting significantly more international students.

Why are international families increasingly choosing public schools?

More than 369,000 students are enrolled in Canadian independent schools. Parents choose these schools for reasons such as: smaller classes; enriched and focused academic setting; educational philosophy; and, emphasis on specialties like arts, music and athletics. Still the vast majority of Canadians – more than 95% – choose public school education for their children. Why?

High quality public schools

Canada is internationally recognized for its high quality public education system. On international tests run by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada was one of a handful of countries to rank in the top 10 for maths, science and reading.

One of the reasons cited for Canada’s performance is a commitment to fairness and equal access. For example, across the country public school students have access to the prestigious International Baccalaureate program and Advanced Placement courses, sometimes for free or for a nominal fee.

Relative affordability

Despite the high quality tuition fees are competitively priced. Tuition fees at public schools generally range between CAD$11,000 and CAD$16,000 per year. Once room, board and personal expenses are included the total fees are in the range of CAD$30,000. However, the total cost can be substantially lower than the cost for attending a boarding school.


Whereas many boarding schools prefer students attend for four years of high school, public schools are able to accommodate families looking for a short-term international experience. For some students, enrolling at a Canadian high school – even if only for a year or two – provides the opportunity to enhance English language skills and to learn about North American culture before applying to university.

Are there any downsides?

Families cite one major concern: housing options. When you choose a boarding school option, as part of the evaluation process families are able to consider the school’s housing and dining infrastructure. Public school boards rely on local families – vetted by private homestay companies – to provide housing and meals to students.

A benefit of homestay is that it provides students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the local culture and language. It is also generally less expensive than boarding. However, seldom do families have a chance to evaluate the host family before making a decision on whether or not to accept an offer of admission. Some families prefer to have everything in place before making a decision.

VerveSmith helps families find high schools that match their aspirations, and to manage the admissions application process. For further information, contact us.

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