What is the Most Affordable Canadian City for University Students?

When it comes to getting a quality post-secondary education, Canada ranks among the top countries in the world for the finest institutions; from coast to coast, there are over 96 universities and colleges, with undergrad and graduate programs for every practical skill set imaginable, ranging from science to technology, business and media, and fashion and agriculture. 

The nation’s pristine selection of schools, accessible student visas, and competitive immigration policies are also an attractive draw for international students who make up an estimated 500,000 of the 1.8 students enrolled in a post-secondary program this year.

However, deciding where to put down one’s educational roots can be a daunting decision for both domestic and international students. In addition to choosing the right program, it’s important to take into account the cost of relocating and living in a new city. So, which Canadian college destinations are friendliest on student wallets?

Affordable Cities for Students

To find out, Zoocasa partnered with Course Compare, a Canadian comparison marketplace for education, to crunch the cost of living numbers. The study factors in shelter cost – the average rent for a bachelor unit – as well as annual and monthly tuition prices for domestic and international undergraduate and grad students in each city. Other regular lifestyle expenses, such as a monthly transit pass, gym membership, and meals out, were also factored into the cost of living equation.

Check out the monthly cost breakdowns and total tuition costs per city below:

Average Annual Tuition per City

Monthly Cost of Living per City

Monthly Cost of Living for Students – City Rankings

1 – Montreal

  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Undergrad: $1,143
  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Grad Student: $1,152
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Undergrad: $2,718
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Grad Student: $2,179

With more than six universities and 12 junior colleges crammed into an eight-kilometre radius on the island of Montreal, this city has the highest density of post-secondary students in North America. In addition to the array of institutions available – local schools include the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM), McGill, Concordia, and Polytechnique Montréal– it’s also a popular city to live in for its variety of diverse neighbourhoods filled with art, culture, and dining options. Montreal also boasts the most affordable student rent of any major Canadian city, with the average bachelor unit at $641, and the lowest transport costs – a monthly pass costs a total of $85. Dining out and gym costs were also among the lowest on the list at $120, and $51. Some of the most popular neighbouroods in the city for students include the Plateau, The Village, Côte-des-Neiges, and Downtown.

2 – Edmonton

  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Undergrad: $1,584
  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Grad Student: $1,392
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Undergrad: $2,932 
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Grad Student: $2,120

Canada’s northernmost major metropolis has many excellent educational institutions – combined with very comparable living costs to the rest of the nation, it’s a popular destination for students. Renters enjoy a much more relaxed market than in other cities with a vacancy rate of 5.3%, which keeps the average bachelor rent under $1,000 at $862. One can also get around the city for less than $100, with monthly passes priced at $97. While dining out costs a bit higher at $134 monthly, students can work out for quite cheap, at around $44 for a monthly membership.

Edmonton is home to the University of Alberta, as well as MacEwan University, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Popular student neighbourhoods include Strathcona, which is just a stone’s throw from the nightlife found on Whyte Avenue, and Parkallen for its proximity to U of A, LRT access, walkability and green space.

3 – Calgary

  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Undergrad: $1,621
  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Grad Student: $1,429
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Undergrad: $2,969
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Grad Student: $2,157

While tuition costs in Calgary are similar to those in Edmonton, a slightly higher cost of living makes it a pricier city to call home. Renting is more competitive in Cowtown, with a vacancy rate of 3.9%, which has pushed average bachelor rents up 2.4% over the last year to $879. It’s also more expensive to take public transit, with passes costing $106. Eating out will cost an estimated $134 per month, while a gym membership is $55.

With their close proximity to the oil and gas industry, Calgary schools are known for the quality of their engineering programs, as well as business, medicine, and agriculture. Local universities and colleges include the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, Bow Valley College, and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT). Popular neighbourhoods for students include Sunnyside and Kensington, for their hip feel, walkability and transit access, as well as Connaught, which is just a short C-train ride from U of C, and steps from 17thAvenue SW, the city’s nightlife hub.

4- Ottawa

  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Undergrad: $1,870
  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Grad Student: $2,043.50
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Undergrad: $4,121.50
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Grad Student: $3,015.50

Ottawa’s rental market has been rapidly heating over the past few years, as the city’s stable job market has been an attractive draw for new migration from other provinces as well as the Greater Toronto Area. That’s pushed the vacancy rate lower to 1.6%, and the average bachelor rent up 1.3% to $881 from last year. Transportation will run students $118 per month, while dining out runs about $175, and gym memberships at $51. 

Located in the nation’s capital, Ottawa schools are renowned for their political science, business and journalism programs, with popular institutions including the University of Ottawa, Carelton University, Saint Paul University, and La Cité Collégiale. Nearby student neighbourhoods include Old Ottawa South, where stately homes have been divided into apartments, as well as Centretown / Little Italy / Chinatown, where units are affordable, with close access to transit and good walkability.

5 – Vancouver

  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Undergrad: $2,581
  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Grad Student: $2,208
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Undergrad: $3,603
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Grad Student: $2,896

Infamous for being Canada’s most expensive housing market, Vancouver’s rental market is also a tough slog – the vacancy rate is an extremely tight 1%, making units hard to come by. That’s put upward pressure on average rents, which rose 0.9% over the last year to $1,150. Vancouver also has some of the highest transportation costs at $128 monthly, while costing $160 to dine out per month, and $43 for a gym pass.

The city’s schools include Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, Langara College, the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT), and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Students tend to dwell in Dunbar Southlands, which is closer to UBC than the downtown core, or Kitsilano, which offers a great retail and food scene. Kerrisdale, which is 20 minutes away from the campus by bus, is also a popular locale.

6 – Toronto

  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Undergrad: $2,845.25
  • Total Cost of Living for a Canadian Grad Student: $3,018.25
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Undergrad: $5.096.25
  • Total Cost of Living for an International Grad Student: $3,990.25

Toronto ranks as the most expensive city in Canada for students and no wonder – with one of the tightest vacancies plaguing renters at all income levels at just 1.2%, the average bachelor unit within the city proper will set one back $1,821*. It’s also the most expensive city to commute in, with a monthly Metropass at $146.25. Dining out monthly will cost an estimated $160, while the average gym membership costs $56.

The city is home to many post-secondary institutions including the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, York University, as well as George Brown, Seneca, Centennial, and Humber Colleges, just to name a few. Popular neighbourhoods to dwell for those taking class downtown in include the Annex, Kensington Market, and Chinatown. The high-density condo neighbourhoods of Liberty Village and CityPlace are also popular for those willing to share a unit with roommates.

This report was compiled in partnership with Course Compare, Canada’s marketplace for education. Course Compare has helped tens of thousands of Canadians prepare for the future of work by connecting them to top-rated courses and training programs in business, technology and design across the country. To learn more about the costs and return on investment of in-demand educational programs, including web design coursescyber security coursessocial media marketing coursesdata analytics coursesdata analytics certificate programs and more, visit CourseCompare.ca.

*Average Bachelor rents for Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal, Calgary, and Edmonton sourced from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation’s annual rental report for 2018. Toronto bachelor rent was sourced from the Toronto Real Estate Board’s Q4 2018 Rental Report.

About Penelope Graham

Penelope Graham is the Managing Editor at Zoocasa. A born-and-bred Torontonian and quintessential millennial, she has over a decade of experience covering real estate, lifestyle and personal finance topics. When not keeping an eye on Toronto's hot housing market, she can be found brunching in one of the city's many vibrant neighbourhoods. Find her on Twitter at @pjeg14.