Tips for succeeding as an international student in Canada
Each year, hundreds of thousands of international students come to Canada to build a better future for themselves. Whether it’s the world-class education that draws you, or you plan to stay and work in Canada and use education as a pathway to permanent residency, achieving success as a student will set you up for a bright future.
To guide you in your academic journey, we spoke to some former international students in Canada and asked them to share insights and tips that helped them succeed.
Tips for student success
Budgeting and financial planning for international students
“As an international student, the money you bring from home can run out quickly if you don’t have a proper budget. It is important that you have a financial plan in place, so you can spend and save money wisely,” says Lucas, who arrived in Canada from Brazil in 2017.
Smart planning can help you avoid financial worries while you study in Canada. A good student budget is essential to keep track of expenses, plan savings, and ensure that you have enough money to cover any emergency expenses that arise.
Building a credit history is an important pillar for ensuring financial success in Canada. Even as a student, you may require a good credit score to rent accommodation, get a cell phone, or car loan. You can get a head-start on your financial goals by opening a student bank account and getting a credit card to build your credit history. Be sure to pay off your credit card bills on time, as late payments can result in heavy penalties. If your study permit allows you to work part-time, you will also need to get a Social Insurance Number (SIN).
Balancing studies, work, and play
“It is important to know what you want to accomplish while you study in Canada. Whether it is academic success, getting a head-start on your professional development, or honing a talent, set aside time for everything you want to do,” advises Siang, who came to Canada as an international student from Malaysia in 2008.
“Don’t forget to explore your new city and enjoy your time as an international student. Canada has a lot to offer, and each new experience could potentially become a lasting memory,” he adds.
Balancing academic and extracurricular activities can be challenging for many international students. Use your course timetable to create a schedule that allows time for everything you aim to do, including studying, networking, socializing, commuting to your university, and working part-time.
“If your study permit allows you to work part-time, do some research to check if you will have the time to work. Contact your university coordinator or speak to former students for information about the course timetable and plan your schedule accordingly,” advises Lucas.
Try not to commit yourself to more work than you can manage, and always set aside dedicated time for your studies and well-being.
Building your support system
A good support system can keep you motivated and provide the encouragement and guidance you need to continue working towards your goals. Having left friends and family behind, many international students in Canada feel a little homesick during their first few months. While connecting with your home community might seem like the easiest way of building social connections, there are many advantages to expanding your support system.
A diverse social circle will expose you to new ideas and perspectives, allowing you to widen your worldview. Talking to people outside of your home community can also help you improve your English language and communication skills. Many universities have student clubs and societies where you might find like-minded people or students who share your interests. A larger social circle will also translate into a wider professional network as you prepare for your future career.
With a schedule packed with classes, work, and social commitments, international students sometimes tend to ignore their physical and mental well-being. Pay attention to your diet and make sure you are eating healthy, nutritious meals. Limit your intake of junk food and sugar, and don’t be tempted to snack when you are stressed.
Find time in your schedule for exercise, hobbies, and activities that re-energize you. Many universities offer gym facilities and fitness classes for students. If going to the gym or playing sports is not for you, consider walking or riding a bike to class.
Remember, there’s no alternative to a good night’s sleep. While there may be days when you’ll have to work late or study all night, try not to make it a practice. Lack of sleep can make it difficult to focus and learn in class, and it can negatively affect your health.
Setting yourself up for professional success
Remember that your education is a means and not an end. Keep your end goal in mind as you go about your studies. If you plan on working in Canada after you finish your studies, you’ll need to learn about and prepare for the Canadian job market. A big part of that will be building your professional network.
One misconception that some international students in Canada have is there will be ample time for professional development after their education is completed. The Canadian job market is competitive and the sooner you start preparing for it, the easier your transition will be. Here are some tips from former international students who have walked this path before you:
Learn the art of networking
“Networking plays an important role in academic and professional success in Canada. Many international students are reluctant to talk to people, often because they are not confident about their English,” says Ke, who arrived in Canada as an international student from China in 2019. “It is important to overcome this hesitation and push yourselves to network with people who can guide you on your path to success.”
Professional social networks like LinkedIn are a great place to connect with people who have had similar journeys or are in professional roles you aspire to. “Canadians are quite receptive to LinkedIn connection requests. I learnt a lot about the local work culture and got some great tips to improve my job applications by having coffee chats with my LinkedIn connections,” adds Ke.
Explore internship and co-op opportunities
Summer internships and co-op placements are a great way to get a taste of what the industry offers and apply your skills in practice. “Some study programs include work experience as part of their curriculum. Depending on your field of study, your academic counsellors may be able to help you get internship or co-op opportunities,” says Siang.
You will need to apply for a co-op or intern work permit, and might be asked to submit a copy of your study permit and a letter from your school stating that the internship is a requirement for earning your degree.
Build your network through volunteer work
If your study permit or university schedule doesn’t allow you to work, you can still get Canadian experience and build your network by volunteering. Look for volunteer opportunities online at Volunteer Canada or reach out to local non-profits to check if they have openings.
“I spent my weekends as a student volunteering at events and industry conferences. I used those platforms to network with people, share my background, and build connections in the industry. Some people were open to the idea of having longer conversations and guiding me towards my career path,” says Lucas.
Get a part-time job
“For many international students, part-time jobs are not only a means of generating extra income, but they also help you grow your network and get work experience in Canada,” says Ke.
If your study permit allows you to work part-time, you can choose to work on- or off-campus. Find work opportunities that allow you to enhance your skills, work with people who inspire you, or apply your knowledge. Having prior work experience on your resume will give you an advantage over other candidates when you look for post-graduate employment.
Prepare for the job market
While you study in Canada, there will be a lot of opportunities to build your professional network, hone your skills, research companies you’d like to work with, and even get some hands-on work experience.
“Make the most of the resources offered by your university. International students can get access to free language courses and workshops to improve their English,” says Ke.
“Check with the career services centre in your university to see if they provide professional development resources and support to help you build a resume and prepare for interviews,” adds Siang. Do some research on how to create a Canadian-style resume and prepare for commonly asked interview questions.
As an international student in Canada, your success involves more than just academic wins. Your student life is a chance to find your place in your new community, discover new skills, and chart a path towards a successful career and life in Canada.
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