Studying in Quebec

After reading a post by Sarah from Sarah in the Six about the Italian school system, I thought it would be a great idea to finally demystify the Quebec school system for you! Studying in Quebec is completely different from studying in the rest of Canada. It’s the only school system like that in the entire world (or, at least, that I know of).

Ever wondered what studying in Quebec it's like? Click through to learn everything you need to know about the Quebec education system!

I’ve mentioned CEGEP a couple of times on my blog and it always seems to surprise some college bloggers when I tell them that I’m a sophomore at university and that I’m 21 years old. But trust me, it makes total sense. So whether you want to study abroad in Quebec or if you’re just curious about how the school system works here, this post is for you! 

Elementary school

Like in most countries, we start with elementary school. You first get into kindergarten when you’re 5, and then you stay at the same school for the next 6 years. So all and for all, it lasts 7 years. During those years, you’ll touch all subjects from mathematics, sciences, history, French (as it is our mother tongue), physical education, music, and so on! Your class’s teacher is the one responsible for teaching you most of these subjects (except for PE and music).

You are also taught English as a second language, but in my time (God, I feel old saying that), you only started learning it in 3rd grade. Now, things have changed and children start learning English as soon as they get into elementary school.

You can go to public or private elementary school, but trust me, there’s not much of a difference between the two. There are many public elementary schools in each city, so you normally go to the one that’s closest to where you live.

As far as the school year goes, it starts at the end of August/beginning of September and finishes in late June. It’s divided into three “terms”: one that goes from the beginning of the year until early November, one that goes from November until mid-March, and one from mid-March until the end of the school year. That means you receive three report cards throughout the year.

High school

This is where things change. Once you are done with elementary school, you have to go to high school. There are no such things as middle school here. High school lasts 5 years, so you will be there from the age of 12 until you are 17.

You have the choice between private and public schools. In sixth grade, you’ll probably have toured a couple of schools with your parents (in my city, you have a choice of 4 public schools and 4 private high schools), applied for them and did a test (at least for private ones).

Let me be honest here. I went to an all-girl private school, and I do think private education is better than the public system, at least in my city. I’ve had a wonderful experience in high school, and while it did have its ups and downs, I would go back in a heartbeat. I’ve met incredible teachers that were passionate about their jobs and loved the students. I learned things and went places. I’ve learned to work hard and to give my best in everything I do. I loved my experience, and I think it was worth every penny. And I also did see a difference when I arrived in CEGEP. I was more organized, I seemed to have acquired more methodological skills, and seemed to know more about the subjects that were taught. I’m not saying I was the best, never would I go that far, but the adaptation was easier for me than it was for people who went to public school.

As for classes, high school covers all kind of subjects: French, English, physical education, history, ethics and religions… and the list goes on! Mathematics are all the same for everyone until you reach secondary 4, then you have to choose between advanced and regular maths. Same goes for sciences. Everyone has the same classes until secondary 5. Then, you can either decide to continue down the sciences path and choose chemistry and/or physics, or you can decide to completely ditch sciences and go with history of the 20th century and economy. You also have to choose one “art” class throughout your five years. In my school, I had to choose between visual arts, dance, music, drama. As an IB student, I also had Spanish classes from secondary 1 to 3.

Cegep

That’s where things get complicated. If we were in most countries, you would go straight from high school to university. But it’s not the case here. I like to think of CEGEP as a preparatory school for university. You have many classes that will help you prepare for your more advanced studies.

When you apply to CEGEP, you have two choices: you either apply for a “pre-university” major, which lasts two years, or you can choose what we call a “technique“. A technique lasts 3 years and doesn’t require you to go to university once you’re done. You can go straight to work in your field. So as you can see, you have already chosen your major when you apply. However, you can change it without too much trouble if you’re unhappy with your choice.

Your school years are divided into semesters: one during the fall and one during the winter. You also have the opportunity to take classes during the summer, but you can only take a limited amount and have to receive your advisor’s approval.

As far as classes go, you have to take a couple of classes that are mandatory for everyone, no matter what you major is such as French, English as a Second Language (there are different levels), physical education, philosophy and two complementary classes. Complementary classes are subjects that are outside your field of work. They are meant to widen your horizon. The rest of your classes are determined by your major.

University

The final step is university. There are many universities scattered across the province, so you have a variety to choose from. Like in most universities, there are three types of diplomas you can get (in that order): bachelor degree, master’s degree, and PhD.

When you apply, you already know what your major is going to be. To give you an idea, I’m currently attempting to get a bachelor degree in communications. The selection process changes from one university to the other. For some, you have tests and interviews, but not all universities require that. At my university, for example, your acceptance is based on your CEGEP report card. If you have the required minimum average, then you’re almost automatically accepted.

Bachelor degrees last at least three years. The years are divided into two semesters: the fall and winter one. The fall semester starts at the end of August/beginning of September and ends at the end of December, right before Christmas. The winter semester starts in early January and normally ends at the end of April. For some, there is also the possibility to have a summer semester, where you can either study part-time or full-time (like it’s my case). Classes go according to your major. Usually, you have a few mandatory classes to pass in order to get your diploma, plus some optional classes, which you get to choose based on what’s offered that semester. All and for all, you need to get 90 credits to get your bachelor’s degree. Classes normally last three hours, and you have them only once a week.

There is also the matter of cooperative programs. What is that? Well, it’s a program that my university (and some other) offers that allow students with a sufficient GPA to do three internships during their academic years. Normally, you start going on internships during your second year, and you alternate between semesters and internships until you get your degree. In my case, the schedule is a bit more messed up. I’ll be going on my first internship this winter, and that will be followed by another internship this summer (or my winter internship can last 8 months. It depends on the employer). Then, I’ll be going back to university for a semester in the fall, followed by my last internship during the winter. I will finish my degree with a summer semester of classes.

Internships are provided by the career center, who publishes the offers online. Students can apply up to 20, which can lead to a lot of interviews, like it was my case. All interviews happen during the span of two weeks, one of which being the fall break. You can also find your own internship. If that’s your case, you don’t have to go through all of this. You just need to have it approved by the career center before the due date.

Internships are paid and can happen either in Quebec, in Canada, or even internationally.


Studying in Quebec is a completely different experience. If you want to study abroad in our beautiful province, you will definitely be welcomed! However, it can be a bit of change compared to what you are used to.

How is the school system in your country? Do you see any resemblances or differences between the Quebec school system and yours?

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  • Amazing content you have and very discriptive and informative on the schooling system in Quebec, I’m sure many will find it helpful! 🙂 X

  • Wow, I thought I finally got to understand the Canadian school system a bit better, but I didn’t realize Quebec also had a different system. When I started looking for schools in Canada, I saw they had different pre-requisites but I didn’t know it was because things are so different there.

    A thing I’ve noticed is that you started studying English in elementary school exactly when we start learning it over here (except I’m sure they’re teaching it a bit better there). This is kind of mind blowing, since for the longest time (until I got to visit some places there) I’ve thought everyone in Canada would speak like half a sentence in English and the other half in French 😀

    It would be a dream going from elementary school directly into high school. I didn’t like my middle school that much, so I would have loved to skip that. I think I would have loved going to school in Quebec, also because of the internships during university. First, it’s so nice that they’re paid positions. Second, I think it’s a bit less stressful that the career center provides them. I remember when I wanted to get one during my second year, I had to sent like 50 emails and just a couple of places were kind enough to reply. But this could be because here internships are not mandatory and not many people decide to do them. The good thing is that I didn’t have to go through interviews, since I was the only one applying.

    • I don’t know about the rest of Canada (I like to think that it’s a bit like in the US), but things are done a bit differently here in Quebec.

      As for the English part, trust me, even if we start learning it early, not that many students get fluent. Actually, it’s kind of rare to see someone whose mother tongue is French to speak English fluently! Most of us have a big accent, and a lot of people cannot form proper sentences. Of course, some people are really good at it, but it’s sadly not the majority. I don’t know if the rest of the Canada speaks better French than we do English though.

      Internships are paid positions at my university, but I know it’s not the case everywhere. Like I mentioned, not all universities offer the opportunity to do internships. But I do love the fact that the career center provides them! Like you said, it makes the whole process a lot less stressful, even though the interviews made me really nervous!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment, Sarah!

      • No, I don’t think they speak French well in the rest of Canada, for sure not better than you speak English in Quebec. The first time I visited there it was in BC and I’ve never heard any French. The few people I got to meet there told me they had to study French in high school but couldn’t even form a proper sentence now. While, when I was in Quebec I didn’t have any problem even if I relied just on my English 🙂

        • Oh, that’s good to know!

  • linda spiker

    Great information! Thanks so much!

  • I love reading about the different school systems around the world, so this was so cool to read. I have a question, is CEGEP like general education courses? Or do you still have to take those when you get to university?

    Caitlyn | http://www.collegewithcaitly.com

    • Yes, they’re like general education courses! It’s really just a way to ensure you’re ready for university. By choosing a major, you can get an idea of what your courses will be like when you go to university! But CEGEP is mandatory. That means that you HAVE to get a DEC (the diploma you get once you’re out of CEGEP) before you can go to university. I don’t know if that’s clear? haha

  • I wish I had studied abroad! Love this insight….

  • Greta Hollar

    Such an interesting post! Thanks for sharing!

    Greta | http://www.gretahollar.com

    • I’m glad you liked it! 🙂

  • Adriana

    It’s so interesting to see the difference in each country! Cool post!! : )

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  • Sydney Power

    Very interesting, I am from BC here in Canada. I had elementary school from kingergarden to grade 7 so 8 years of that then I went to high school( my town did not have a middle school) and highschool was grades 8-12 then I went to university. I went to all public school and loved it!

    • That’s interesting! I didn’t know other provinces in Canada didn’t have middle schools.

  • Michelle mink

    I live in the states so this post was very educational for me. That’s cool that the university is so involved in the internships.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed! And I think it’s great that my university gets so involved with helping students find internships.

  • This is really interesting, especially the “pre-university” years which seems really helpful for helping students decide what they want to do.

    • It is helpful! I used to think it was useless, but now I realize that I probably wouldn’t be studying in this field if I hadn’t gone to CEGEP.

  • Victoria Stacey

    This is really interesting! I’m from Ontario so it’s really cool to see the differences between us and our neighbours! Crazy that even though we are both in Canada, there are still big differences!

    • I know right?! We’re right next door, and yet, we have an entire system of our own!

  • Imaobong Asuquo

    Oh wow, really insightful.
    I only know about how universities in Quebec work, didn’t know there was no middle school!

    • Yes, no middle schools here. I’d like to think that it’s a good thing, but I’ve never been to middle school so I can answer that for certain, haha.

  • I never considered school in Quebec! It was interesting to learn about the system.

  • Wow I had no idea it was so different from the USA. The only thing I could think similar to CEGP would be technical school for us but that’s usually during your last 2 years of high school. Interesting!

    • Oh, that’s interesting! We have a similar thing called a DEP here. I didn’t know you had that in the States as well!

  • Always so interesting to learn about how things are done in other countries, but it looks like the system differs across Canada as well!

    • It is! I find it fascinating how it can be so different in the same country.