An American's Guide to Canada: Academia


Although the American and Canadian educational systems are similar in many respects, there are notable differences that can confuse people pretty thoroughly. Here's a list of Canadian educational terms, followed by their American equivalents:

Grade x ("She's in grade three")
xth grade

Write a test
Take a test

Grades. In Canada, teachers mark students' work instead of grading it, and take "marks off" if the students give wrong answers.


Public school
Elementary school

Supply teacher
Substitute teacher

Separate school
Catholic school, parochial school

Community college or technical school

Four-year, degree-granting college or university

At university
In college

Residence ("He lives in residence")
Dormitory ("He lives in the dorms")

OAC, grade 13
An extra year of high school after grade 12, intended for students going on to university (not college). Only in Ontario, and they're phasing it out. (Some joke that because the former Ontario Minister of Education, John Snobelen, dropped out of high school in grade 11, he got rid of OAC to get that much closer to having a high school diploma.)

CEGEP (pronounced SAY-zhep)
In Québec, a post-high school college offering two-year pre-university programs and three-year professional development programs. CEGEP stands for Collège d'enseignement général et professionel. There are a few English-language CEGEPs and many French-language ones. (Thanks to a visitor for this one.)

A tuition grant, given to students in need (in the US, at least at the school where I went, the bursary was the office where you went to pay your tuition bills)

Coles Notes
Analogous to Cliff Notes; Coles is a national chain of bookstores. A friend tells me that Coles Notes celebrated their 50th anniversary in 1998, and the press coverage noted that the original Cliff Notes were licenced versions of Coles Notes.

skipping out
cutting class

minor niner
Ontario term for person in grade 9. In Ontario, high schools currently range from grades 9 to 13. Someone in grade 9 is indeed a minor niner.

On course (often used among business people to explain why they're not in the office: "You've reached Jane Doe of All-Canada Enterprises. I'm on course this week, but will be checking for messages...")
In class
Canadians don't use the terms "freshman," "sophomore," "junior," or "senior," for high school or college students. What Americans would call "juniors in high school" are "grade elevens." University students are referred to according to what year they're in: an American junior would be a third-year in Canada.

Prominent universities

The university's city is listed if the university's name doesn't make it clear where the school is. A more complete list is available from the University of Waterloo.


Nova Scotia

New Brunswick

Prince Edward Island






British Columbia

--Emily Way (
Last updated December 17, 2000

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