Students pursue graduate studies for many different reasons: a change in career path, a requirement for a field or profession, or a desire to research a particular topic.

Some pursue another degree for the financial compensation and benefits that may come afterward. And some students pursue graduate studies because of a love of knowledge and learning.

Earning a graduate degree usually requires a considerable commitment of time and resources, and sometimes a geographic move.

When considering graduate school, it is important to reflect on your priorities and commit yourself to your own reasons for pursuing such a degree.

Professional or graduate school?

Graduate degrees involve an advanced level of research within a particular discipline. Typically, graduate and professional schools are split into two categories: non-terminal and terminal degree pathways.

The non-terminal degrees, such as the Master of Arts or Master of Science degrees, are usually meant to be followed by doctoral research.

The terminal degrees do not require doctoral study and tend to be focused on professional or vocational skills. These programs will involve training for a specific field in medicine, law, accounting, business, or architecture.

Both non-terminal and terminal degrees will often require a standardized test as part of the admission process, i.e. the MCAT, GRE, LSAT or GMAT.

One important difference between professional and graduate programs is how they are structured. Within a professional program, students usually move in a cohort that follows a pre-determined curriculum, whereas graduate programs will vary from 10 months to 3 years depending on whether they are coursework or thesis/project based.

What degrees are out there?

Master’s degrees – usually the next step after earning a bachelor’s degree – offer specialization in a broad range of academic subjects: MA, MSc, MEd, MBA, MPhil, LLM and MTh.

The majority of MA and MSc degrees will have classroom instruction culminating in either a thesis or research project. However, there are a growing number of master’s degrees that are entirely course-based, so students can complete them within a shorter time frame.

It is important to know the academic consequences of deciding whether to pursue a coursework-intensive, thesis, or research project program. After earning a master’s degree, some students choose to pursue a PhD. or D.Phil. (Doctor of Philosophy). The completion of this degree demonstrates a level of insight, mastery of subject, research ability, and capacity to carry out independent research at an intensive level.

Often, PhD programs include rigorous training as a professor since most Ph.D. students intend to become university faculty. However, the Ph.D. can be used as a gateway to careers beyond academia, such as government positions or work with archives or NGOs.

What about law school?

The J.D. (Juris Doctorate) degree in Canada is granted upon successful completion of a three-year course of study that prepares students to practice law.

Most law school applicants have completed a bachelor’s degree when they apply. Most law schools have multiple applicant categories where they will assess students based on their GPA, LSAT score, references, and personal profiles.

This category relies most heavily on your academic record and LSAT score.

While admissions committees will consider factors other than undergraduate grades and LSAT scores in this category, they are primarily concerned with the academic foundation that will help you succeed in law school.

  • Competitive applicants typically have at least an A-/3.7/80-84% GPA as well as an LSAT score of 157 or higher. Each school will assess GPA on a different grading scale and will consider a different portion of your academic career. Ensure that you understand how a school will calculate your GPA based on the information the school provides.
  • For students who do not meet the full-time course load assessment when applying for law school, admissions officers place a greater emphasis on the CGPA of your entire academic career. Students should have a minimum CGPA of 3.3.

Canadian applicants who self-identify as Aboriginal, including First Nations, Métis or Inuit, are encouraged to apply in the Indigenous category.

Law faculties across Canada recognize that members of Indigenous communities are not represented adequately within the legal profession and strongly encourage applications from members of these communities.

Those applying in the Indigenous category are also automatically assessed within the general category as well.

Applications in this category are considered based on your identification with your Aboriginal community, academic performance, LSAT results, employment history, personal statement, and letters of reference.

This assessment forms the basis of the admissions decision. In circumstances where there is strong evidence of academic ability, exceptions may be made to certain admissions requirements.

Applicants within this category have had their lives or academic careers profoundly shaped by a proven disadvantage. Candidates should be able to describe how this disadvantage affected their undergraduate academic record and performance, and be able to provide the supporting documentation.

This category is also used for students who have been out of school for long periods of time or those with exceptional backgrounds who do not fit in the other admission categories.

Candidates will be asked by law schools to show evidence of the potential to succeed while at law school. This will typically require a minimum of one year of competitive grades among a three-year record of full-time undergraduate study.

Furthermore, special consideration for LSAT scores tends to be given by law schools when there is a causal connection between the disadvantage and an applicant’s performance on the LSAT.

Admissions committees will consider these factors:

  • Disability
  • Educational and financial disadvantage
  • Membership in a historically disadvantaged group
  • Age
  • Life experience
  • Any factors related to educational barriers, or your ability to enrich the diversity of the law school community and the legal profession.

Students will be asked to demonstrate the following capabilities:

  • Strong potential to complete the JD program
  • The ability to reason and analyze
  • Being capable of expressing yourself effectively
  • Possessing both the skills and attributes needed to cope with the demands of law school

The traditional measures of academic and LSAT performance may have comparatively less weight in assessment for those applying in this category, while non-academic experience and personal factors showing your unique qualities and affirming your special circumstances may be given more weight. 

  • Competitive applicants should have a minimum B+/3.3 GPA in their best two years of their undergraduate degree program as well as a LSAT score of 154 or higher
  • For a student who does not have two years at full-course load, more emphasis will be placed on their CGPA, as calculated by OLSAS, which should be at least a 3.0.

I'm interested in medical school.

There are 17 different medical schools in Canada ranging from coast to coast to coast. All of them have different admission requirements and standards.

Some schools place more emphasis on academic achievement while other schools see more value in what students have accomplished outside of the classroom.

Additionally, there are a wide array of course requirements, ranging from very specific to very general, among medical schools. The broad range of admissions standards for medical school mean that students should start researching where they would like to apply and what is required early on in their undergraduate careers.

The application process for most medical schools takes nearly a year and is very rigorous. It is important to stress that while some schools will give preference to their own graduates, there is no particular degree program that is preferred or considered ideal for entry to an M.D. program.

The application process can include writing the MCAT, sending in resumes, applications, transcripts, letters of recommendation, participating in multiple interviews, and much more, so it is important to understand what to expect before you start the process.

Additionally, the completion of a bachelor’s degree will greatly improve your chances of acceptance to medical school in Canada. Most medical schools will require students to have been full-time for at least three years to qualify for admission.

I'm interested in becoming a physiotherapist.

There are 15 different schools of physiotherapy within Canada that range from UBC in Vancouver to Dalhousie University in Halifax.

Each school has its own admission requirements and standards. Some schools seek provincial residency requirements from students while others focus on volunteer hours and grades.

While the course requirements will vary, nearly all schools will require students to have completed Human Anatomy, Human Physiology, English, and Statistics courses and earned a grade of B or higher for acceptance.

Schools will post the accepted list of pre-approved courses in these areas for students to confirm prior to application.

The following is a general list of requirements for what schools look for in applicants to their programs:

  • Achieve the minimum academic requirements as set out by each school’s Faculty of Graduate and Post-Doctoral Studies.
  • Have completed a recognized 4-year bachelor’s degree or its equivalent in any field from an approved institution. Additionally, students should contact the school they are interested in attending to check whether your institution is acceptable.
  • Have completed a minimum of 70 hours of Volunteer and/or Paid Work Experience completed across no more than 2 areas/facilities.
  • Successful completion of pre-requisites, including Physics, English, Anatomy, Psychology, Statistics and Human Physiology. Students are often required to achieve a minimum grade of B in each pre-requisite course.