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The traditional path to Canadian higher education is typically through university, as it is by far the most prestigious form of higher education in the country. There is no universally prescribed set definition to what constitutes a "university" in Canada as they come in various forms that serve the different educational needs of various Canadians. Each province has its own legislative meaning of the term but universities do intersect in terms of the types of degrees that they offer, research, competitiveness, location, and global institutional reputation. Canadian universities require students' senior high school transcript along with an application for admission. Admissions criteria to a university in Canada involve the rigor and grades earned in core senior high school courses taken and an admission average GPA (grade point average) based on the senior high school courses calculated in the form of a percentage. Applications for admission outline additional academic and extra-curricular achievements that cannot be expressed through a students high school transcript. In the case of more prestigious and selective university programs, an essay, statement of intent or personal statement of experience must be submitted directly to the faculty being applied for. In addition, letters of reference, examples of extracurricular activities, volunteering and community service endeavors, athletic participation, student awards and scholarships are also required for acceptance to some of Canada's most prestigious university programs. Overall, Canadian universities base admission around a student's academic performance in senior high school courses taken during their grade 11 and 12 years. In addition, most universities in Canada also establish a GPA or an admission average cutoff. This admissions cut off is established based on the competitiveness of applicants applying to the individual programs offered at specific universities. A more competitive program at an esteemed university could have an admissions cutoff of 90 percent or higher, while mid-tier universities have programs that maintain cut offs at around 80 percent. Lower tier and lesser known Canadian universities with more liberal application processes could have admission cut offs as low as 65 to 70 percent.

Among the countries most prominent institutions are national research universities that are domestically and internationally ranked such as the University of British ColumbiaMcGill University, and the University of Toronto. Other types of universities across Canada include denomination universities such as (Redeemer University CollegeYorkville University), undergraduate universities (MacEwan UniversityUniversity of WinnipegAcadia UniversityWilfrid Laurier UniversityMount Saint Vincent UniversitySt. Francis Xavier University), liberal arts colleges (St. Thomas UniversityTrinity Western UniversityMount Allison UniversityBishop's UniversityNipissing University), art schools (Emily Carr University of Art and DesignLaSalle College VancouverVancouver College of Art and DesignOntario College of Art and DesignNova Scotia College of Art and Design), online universities with distance education (Athabasca UniversityUniversity of Fredericton), military schools (Royal Military College of Canada, which is the military academy of the Canadian Forces and is a full degree-granting university and is the only federal institution with degree-granting powers) as well as institutions that serve people in more rural and remote parts of the country such as the University of Northern British ColumbiaUniversity of Prince Edward IslandBrandon UniversityRoyal Roads UniversityVancouver Island UniversityUniversity of the Fraser Valley, and Thompson Rivers University.

The quality of universities in Canada is internationally recognized and is home to some of the top universities in the world making it a global leader in scientific and technological research. There are 26 Canadian universities ranked in the 2020 QS World University Rankings, with the University of Toronto ranked 29th, McGill University ranked 35th, and the University of British Columbia ranked 51st.

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