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Education Vocabulary in Canada

Whether you’re moving to Canada for work or study, you will likely need to speak about your educational history. If your moving with your family and you have children it is also important to get to know the education system a little bit before you go.
In Canada, the vocabulary we use in education is very different from American (US) and British (UK) English. In this post, I will go through the stages of the education system in Canada and highlight important vocabulary you should know. All the Canadian terms are bolded.


In Canada, your education begins at about age 4 in Kindergarten. Most schools have two years of Kindergarten which are divided into Junior Kindergarten and Senior Kindergarten. Depending on the province and school board, children can attend full-day Kindergarten (9:00-3:00, Monday-Friday), or half-time (mornings or three days a week).

Elementary School

After Kindergarten is Grade One, and this is when students begin school full time. Elementary school is eight years, from Grade One to Grade Eight.  In Canada, we say Grade One, Grade Two, and so forth. In American English it is First Grade, Second Grade, etc. and in the UK it is First Class, Second Class, etc. Some school boards also have a Middle School, this is called Junior High in American English. This is usually Grade 7 and 8.


Secondary School

After Elementary School is High School or more formally called Secondary School. There are four years of Secondary School (Grade 9-12). You may recall from American movies they use the terms Freshman, Sophomore, Junior and Senior to label the four years of high school. In Canada we don’t use these terms, we just stick to the standard Grade 9, 10, 11 and 12.

In Secondary School students take classes to earn credits. When students achieve the required amount of credits required by their province to graduate Secondary School they are awarded a Diploma. The name of the Diploma is different in each province.

Post-Secondary Education

Post-Secondary Education refers to any education you complete after Secondary. This education is completed at a Post-Secondary Institution (a Career College, College, or University). In most cases, you need a high school diploma to attend one of these institutions.

Differences between College and University

In America, the terms College and University are used interchangeably to describe similar institutions. In Canada, there is a clear distinction. College in Canada refers to a Technical or Vocational institution where graduates receive a certificate or a diploma. Some Colleges also have four year applied or technical Bachelor Degrees. There are also many Post Graduate programs offered by colleges and these are becoming increasingly popular.

Universities are institutions where students study for either three or four years (four years is most common) to earn a Bachelor Degree. In University the four years of study are called First Year, Second Year, Third Year, and Fourth Year. Again this is unlike the American terms Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, and Senior.

Universities also offer Post Graduate studies. These are two year Masters programs or Ph.D. studies. In Canada, it is usually required that students complete a Masters Degree before enrolling in a Ph.D. program.

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