High school in Canada

Are you coming to Canada with your teenager or thinking about sending them to Canada for a high school exchange program? Both offer opportunities for your teenager to grow in a safe and supportive environment while gaining a world-class education.

Also known as secondary school, high school runs from grades 9 to 12 in most Canadian provinces and territories, except Quebec, which starts in grade 7 and ends in grade 12. After successfully completing high school at age 17 or 18, students can go on to college or university.

High-quality education, high student achievement

Canada has one of the strongest records of student achievement in the world. That’s why we’re an excellent choice for high school education. In fact, sending your child to Canada for secondary school is one of the best ways to prepare them for college or university.

Canada’s teenagers are among the best educated in the world. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reviews and ranks education systems worldwide. In its most recent assessment, Canada was ranked 2nd in reading, 10th in math and 7th in science. We also have the 2nd highest rate of high school completion worldwide.

As far as excellence in education, we currently rank 3rd among 15 of our wealthiest peers. The quality of our education system is recognized as one of our greatest strengths[1]. Much of our success can be attributed to our exceptional teachers. Canadian teachers hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and 1 year of practical teacher training. Many go on to earn master’s degrees. Teachers are required to regularly upgrade their skills through ongoing education and professional development.

Standards and quality assurance

Canada’s 10 provinces and 3 territories oversee education, and each of their ministries of education recognizes the importance of maintaining high standards. Through the Council of Ministers of Education Canada, a national organization, they make major policy decisions and design initiatives using their provincial and territorial counterparts as benchmarks[2]. This ensures quality and consistency in the education system.

Attending high school in Canada

Each province and territory decides when the school year starts and ends, although it usually begins in September and ends in June. School hours generally run from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. or later, from Monday to Friday. Some students attend summer school. This happens when they need to complete a course they did not finish during the school year.

Education is free for all students in the Canadian public school system. High school students must attend school until age 16 or 18, depending on the province or territory.

Public high schools

Many Canadian public high schools now accept international students into their programs. Publicly-funded schools are managed at the local level by elected school boards, which deliver a standard curriculum or program of study. Almost all public schools have male and female students in the same classes. They offer day programs only.

In most parts of Canada, international students can choose to study in English, French or both. Some provinces offer a separate school system that includes classes in religion. This is part of the public school system and is open to all.

Many parents send their teenagers to Canada for a study abroad experience. You can do this too. Students live with Canadian families, learn about the culture, gain memories to last a lifetime and earn an outstanding education at the same time.

Private high schools offer alternative options

Canada also has private secondary schools. They charge fees for attendance. Private schools must deliver the same curriculum as public schools in the province or territory. This ensures that students complete the same course of study as they would in the public school system.

Class sizes in private schools are often smaller than public schools where students may benefit from specialized programming. Some private schools will have a religious program as well as standard school subjects. Sometimes, private schools are set up for boys only or for girls only.

Private high schools include boarding schools (with on-site accommodations), alternative schools, international baccalaureate programs and specialized sports programs or schools for students with learning disabilities.

Cost of high school in Canada

Public secondary or high school is free in Canada for residents of the country. Many schools charge fees for international students, which can range from approximately CAD 8,000 to CAD 14,000 per year. Please check with the school you want your teenager to attend to confirm the cost, if any, for international students.

Sometimes, schools charge small fees for your child to participate in extra activities, such as sports teams or school outings. In high school, many students bring their own lunch to school, however, some schools offer cafeterias or hot lunch programs where your child may purchase a meal.

Educational requirements

To enter a high school in Canada, your child may need to show they have:

  • Finished certain grades that correspond to grade levels in Canada
  • Proficient language skills in English or French
  • School results or report cards from their home country

Use this national directory of schools (public and private) to identify a Canadian school and then determine the requirements your school sets for international students.

How to enroll

Contact a local school board if you want to enroll your child in a public high school. These boards often assess new students, so the student can begin classes in the correct grade. The school may offer free English or French language classes before your child begins academic classes. To enroll your child in a private high school, contact the school directly.

There may be deadlines for applying to certain public schools. This also applies to private schools.


[1] Education and Skills Report Card, Conference Board of Canada, 2014.

[2] Top Performing Countries (Canada), Center on International Education Benchmarking, 2018.