Guide to Getting In
by Alexa Battler
October 12, 2022

How to pick the right college program

There are thousands of subjects to study at Canadian colleges. Here are 10 tips for figuring out which one suits you best.

Picking a college program can be a confusing process—here are the things you should consider. (Illustration by Ka Young Lee)

Remember: location, location, location

If your first choice is to live at home, you’re in luck: most communities in Canada are within driving distance of a college. If the schools near you don’t have the program you’re looking for, there may be an opportunity to study virtually. And if you’re thinking of moving away for college, consider how often and how easily you’ll be able to visit home. Because colleges tend to be connected to local industry, it may be easier to find work in the college’s location after you complete your studies.

Narrow it down

Perhaps you have a general idea of what you’re interested in: carpentry, for example, or health care. From there, you might want to explore programs that offer concentrations or specializations tailored to specific jobs. Within an umbrella of woodworking programs, there might be one specific to furniture making; health care can be narrowed down to such offerings as cardiovascular programs dedicated to ultrasounds or nursing programs that focus on working with Indigenous communities. This targeted type of training can provide a more direct route into the workforce.

Seek out hands-on opportunities

Co-ops, internships, apprenticeships and applied research projects allow you to build relationships with employers and test out whether you enjoy the job you’re working toward. If the program you’re interested in doesn’t have a formal work-integrated learning component, there may be other ways to connect with the industry, such as networking events or guest lectures.

Take note of a school’s strengths

Many colleges are known for specific areas of training, such as robotics or culinary arts, and offer extra resources, state-of-the-art labs and equipment, or partnerships with high-profile organizations. Having a school or program with a strong reputation in the field can also be a benefit on your resumé.

Find a program that “thinks” like you

Look at a program’s required courses to see how you’ll be learning. Some programs are based in theory, reading and memorization, while others have more practical, hands-on elements. Consider the classes you’ve done best in, and whether you’ve thrived in online, in-person or hybrid environments.

Get attention

College classes tend to be smaller than those in university, but it’s good to have a sense of how many students you’ll be sharing a classroom—and a teacher—with. It’s easier to build relationships with classmates in smaller groups, and you’re likely to have more one-on-one time with your instructors. This will help when it comes time to ask for references.

Look forward

Ask yourself how many months or years you can spend in school, especially if you find studying stressful. If you can only afford to study for a short time, see whether the program you’re interested in offers a fast-track option. If you need to accommodate family or work, look for part-time programs. Consider how soon after graduating you can expect to be employed, whether you’ll need further education to get a job and whether your starting salary will meet your financial needs.

Talk to people

Other students are often your best resource when it comes to deciding what to study and where. Ask current students why they picked their programs. Search for Facebook groups and Instagram accounts and look up your college’s hashtag on TikTok and Twitter.

Find out what alumni are doing

Recent grads can tell you what to expect after graduating from a program and can help when you eventually start looking for work. Look for a school’s statistics on how many grads are employed in their field of study.

Read ahead

Check out a program’s instructors—you may be a fan of their work or aspire to take a similar career path.

Sources: Matthew Bowie, dean of administration and guidance at Ridley College, and Sheldon Hill, president of the post-secondary counsellors chapter of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.