Differences Between PhD in the USA and Canada

Both the United States and Canada are two North American nations with a rich tradition of high academic achievement, with the two countries being highly regarded destinations for obtaining a PhD. Many international students are drawn to these countries to pursue postgraduate degrees such as PhD, particularly in various fields. As a result, it is important to compare the differences between PhD in the USA and Canada.

Statistics Canada reported that the number of international students enrolled in Canadian universities increased by more than 100% over ten years, rising from 142,200 in 2010/2011 to 388,800 in 2019/2020. This increase in enrollment has also led to an increase in their share of total postsecondary student enrollments, from 7% to 18%, significantly impacting the academic environment in Canada. As a result, Canada has become a highly desirable destination for higher education.

According to a report from Forbes in 2023, the growth of international students in various categories was significant, with graduate programs showing the greatest increase of 21%, accounting for over 80,000 more students compared to the previous year.

What is the difference between getting a PhD in America and Canada? Although there are many similarities between the two, there are also some key differences. If you are applying to American and Canadian schools or already completing your PhD in either country, you should be aware of those differences. In this post, the key differences will be discussed in detail to form a comprehensive guide for comparison.

Differences Between PhD in the USA and Canada

Differences Between PhD in the USA and Canada#1. Admission Requirements

First, let us discuss the preparation required for admission into PhD programs in the USA and Canada. In the United States, a bachelor’s or a master’s degree is accepted for admission into a PhD program, whereas in Canada, a master’s degree is the minimum prerequisite. This means, students are allowed to do a PhD without a Masters in the USA. However, taking a direct entry at a doctorate level after a bachelor’s degree may require students to cover all the courses before embarking on the PhD research.

The second difference can be found in the coursework requirement during the doctorate studies. In general, American institutions require a doctoral student to complete 2-3 years of coursework, possibly equal to earning a separate MSc degree. Most Canadian students, on the other hand, will have already completed the coursework during their MSc program and start their PhD to work and the research/theses as early as possible.

The United States and Canada share almost the same admission requirements for candidates enrolling in a PhD Program in all the public universities. Although there may be slight variations in specific criteria, such as standardized test scores or GPA minimums, overall the admission process for PhD programs in the USA and Canada is quite similar. In both countries, PhD applicants are expected to meet the following criteria:

  • Good Grades on a postgraduate entrance examination, such as the GMAT or GRE
  • Language Proficiency Certificates (English for the U.S., and English or French for Canada)
  • Statement of Purpose (SOP)
  • Research Proposal
  • 3 Letters of Recommendation
  • Writing Sample

#2. Program Duration and Expectations

The research expectations for PhD students in Canada and the USA are quite similar overall, with a strong emphasis on conducting original and innovative work within their specific areas of study. In Canada, however, there is typically an expectation for students to begin their research earlier in their PhD program. This is because a significant amount of coursework is completed at a higher level during the previous Masters program. In contrast, the USA follows a more traditional model of progressing from a bachelor’s degree to a PhD, with many students completing one or two years of graduate coursework in their research area of interest before starting their PhD.

The standard duration for PhD programs in Canada is approximately four years, but it is more practical to anticipate completing your doctorate in five years or longer. Keep in mind that some programs do not offer extended funding, which means you may need to cover the tuition costs for any additional years required to finish your studies.

In the USA, the timeline for completion of a PhD program is typically five to six years, with no pressure to finish within a specific timeframe. Funding is maintained until the program is completed, allowing for flexibility in completion time, ranging from three years with extensive research to up to eight or even ten years.

#3. Tuition and Fees

When working towards a PhD, students face financial obstacles regardless of their country of origin. Canadian PhD programs tend to be more affordable than those in the United States, with Canadian citizens paying lower tuition fees than international students. In Canada, international students pay roughly twice as much as domestic students. In contrast, the United States offers more fully-funded scholarships for international PhD students compared to Canada, where scholarships are primarily awarded based on merit.

The United States offers extensive financial assistance and funding options, such as tuition waivers, stipends, and assistantships. Additionally, there is a noticeable disparity in tuition and fees between in-state and out-of-state students in the U.S., with in-state students benefiting from significantly lower costs. Comparatively, the cost of living in Canada is generally more affordable than in the United States.

Overall, the average tuition fee in the USA is between $28,000 – $40,000 USD annually which is much more compared to Canada with an average tuition between $8,000 – $20,000 CAD annually. In addition, international students may also have to pay higher tuition fees in both countries. On the other hand, the cost of living in Canada is relatively cheaper at about $1,000 – $1,500 CAD per month, compared to the USA which is about $1,200 – $2,500 USD monthly.

#4. Funding and Scholarships

Both Canada and the USA provide financial support and grants for PhD students, but they have distinct differences. In Canada, they have renowned national scholarships such as the Vanier CGS, which covers all expenses. On the other hand, the USA prioritizes university-specific fellowships and research assistantships. Generally, funding packages in the USA may be more substantial, but the competition is intense, particularly in prestigious universities.

Canada offers a viable alternative with scholarships that are more accessible for international students. While research funding in the USA may be more abundant due to larger grants, Canadian universities are also becoming increasingly competitive in securing research funding. Ultimately, the best choice depends on your research field, the selected university, and the specific funding opportunities offered by each program.

#5. Career Paths and Job Market

The variations in employment opportunities and requirements for academic positions may impact the training received in different countries. Overall, the United States graduates a larger number of PhD students compared to Canada. In terms of academic positions, teaching assistantships play a significant role in the US business model. Therefore, it is more prevalent for individuals in the US to have experience as teaching assistants, although it may also be possible to obtain this experience in Canada.

PhD studies in the United States are shown to have better results than those in Canada. Current data indicates that there are fewer job opportunities for individuals with a PhD in Canada compared to the number of graduates. However, this should not deter you. Rather, it suggests that you will need to establish yourself in a more challenging job market, particularly since most available positions for PhD graduates in Canada are within the academic and research fields.

Fulfilling the requirements for a PhD commonly involves a strong emphasis on research and teaching. While bachelor’s or master’s degrees may be sufficient for many professions, research suggests that obtaining a PhD does not necessarily result in immediate financial gains, but rather offers long-term financial benefits.

#6. Research Culture and Opportunities


Canadian doctoral students are typically prioritized to engage in research activities and may only be involved in teaching on a limited basis. The focus is primarily on research. It is noteworthy that Canada, with only 20% of doctoral students compared to the US’s 80%, has a significant competitive advantage. This disparity has implications for the interactions between students and faculty members.

In contrast, doctoral students in the US are often encouraged or mandated to gain teaching experience and have a structured schedule for a set duration. Many PhD students are required to balance teaching responsibilities with their studies. Teaching undergraduate students has the potential to enhance their learning, foster the development of innovative ideas, and provide opportunities for social interaction.

If the teaching workload is substantial, there can be negative consequences including reduced learning time, decreased satisfaction, and increased stress. A significant contrast between Canadian and American PhD programs lies in lab access. Canadian PhD students are provided with more individual lab space compared to their counterparts in the USA. The American model of large research groups in labs is not well-suited to the more spacious arrangements found in Canadian universities. This difference can be attributed to the lower research funding available at Canadian universities compared to those in the USA.

However, the smaller number of students competing for lab positions in Canada creates a less competitive environment, leading to greater satisfaction among students and professors, as well as a more specialized training program. The Canadian system allows for greater independence and responsibility for students in their lab work.

Similarities Between PhD in the USA and CanadaSimilarities Between PhD in the USA and Canada

A significant similarity between pursuing a PhD in the USA and Canada is the rigorous academic requirements and research expectations. Both countries prioritize research and academic excellence, emphasizing the need for original contributions to the field. The PhD programs in both countries require a significant amount of hard work. It is important to understand that a PhD program is significantly different from a bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Fortunately, both the U.S. and Canada have established international student organizations and associations that can assist in integrating into the PhD program, adapting to life as a PhD student, and building connections. Active participation in these networks is encouraged in both countries.


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