The Canadian High School Experience


Studying at a Canadian high school is a great way for international students to learn about the Canadian education system and increase their chances of attending a Canadian university. During my high school experience, we had an international exchange student from Germany, but the program accepts students from across the globe. The International Exchange Program through my former school board offers international students ESL classes in addition to other subjects such as science, the arts, and English. Since a strong foundation in English is important for admission into Canadian universities and colleges, international students can benefit from these ESL classes as well as being immersed in an English-speaking environment.

In Ontario, Canada, high school students are required to earn 18 compulsory credits, which includes subjects like math, English, French, science, the arts, geography, history, physical education, and civics and careers. These 18 credits are categorized as “Group 1, 2, or 3”, and students must complete a course from each of these groups. For example, a student may complete a course in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit studies in addition to English courses (Group 1), business studies in addition to French (Group 2), and computer studies in addition to science (Group 3). As you can imagine, there are many different ways to meet the requirements for acquiring a high school diploma!


The number of required courses you must complete in each subject varies. For example, students must take English all four years, but only need two credits in science to graduate. Notably, while a high school student may only need two science credits to receive their high school diploma, they may need many more credits in science to pursue a university program such as engineering. This is why working with a university admissions counselor is helpful for ensuring you are on the right track. In Canada, these counselors are referred to as guidance counselors. Every high school student is assigned a guidance counselor when they enroll at the school. This counselor will provide them with student consultation meetings to increase their chances of receiving a high school diploma and acceptances from universities or colleges. I worked with my counselor many times throughout high school and found it helpful for navigating these requirements.

Your guidance counselor can also assist you with choosing electives, as the amount of choice you have increases as you progress through the grade levels. For example, when I was in Grade 9, only had room to choose one elective course because I was automatically enrolled in required courses such as English and math. I decided to enroll in drama as my elective, but some of my peers chose different courses, like visual arts. By the time I had reached Grade 12, I had much more choice and my guidance counselor helped me enroll in courses to prepare me for university.

Depending on your goals, your high school experience may look different than mine did. For example, I wanted to pursue music in university, so I travelled to university campuses to complete auditions and interviews in Grade 12. Other students aren’t required to visit the university campuses, but may want to arrange for a tour anyway so they can make an informed decision about where they study. I also wasn’t required to write an application essay since I was already auditioning and interviewing, but other applicants may have to depending on their program of choice. This can feel overwhelming, but working with the admissions experts at your school is an excellent strategy for increasing your chances of success!

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