Every year, thousands of international students apply to Canadian MA programs in Economics. Studying abroad represents an investment of tens of thousands of dollars. Yet, without knowledge of Canadian customs and institutions, how can a student make the best of that investment?
Here are some common questions international students ask (and some students don't ask - but should), and my honest attempt to give you the best answer I can.
There is no single best place to study economics in Canada. Every student is different. The university that is a good choice for one person may not be a good choice for another. It's a matching game - finding the university that is right for you. A student with a B+ average from a mid-ranked Chinese university has little chance of getting admitted to one of the top ranked Canadian universities - and would be unlikely to succeed even if he was admitted.
Going to a smaller university, getting used to the Canadian way of life, and working on English language skills can be a smart decision. For example, successful Chinese-Canadian economist Professor Zhihao Yu did his Masters degree in Economics at the University of New Brunswick. Once he had proven that he could succeed in Canada, he was able to get financial support to do his PhD at UBC.
But if you want to go to the "top" Canadian school, here some rankings of Canadian economics departments:
- James Davies, Martin Kocher and Matthias Sutter provide a ranking, based on 1994-2000 publications in academic journals. They rank University of Toronto top, followed by University of British Columbia. Their ranking is available here.
- Macleans magazine provides rankings of Canadian universities here. The Globe and Mail provides reports on Canadian universities at this website. These are rankings of the university overall, not of economics departments. For a masters degree, it's generally best to avoid the "primarily undergraduate" universities, unless your main goal is to improve your English and learn about life in Canada.
- The Times Higher Educational Supplement provides worldwide university rankings. Again, these are for the university as a whole, not for economics departments
- The Repec Ideas web site gives a ranking of economics departments in Canada here. This ranking is more recent than the Davies et al ranking.
Except for the Macleans and Globe and Mail ones, these rankings are based primarily on the universities' research output. They say little about the quality of teaching, the quality of the student experience, or the quality of life in the local community.
There are some rankings of Canadian universities available on Chinese-language web sites, like this one: http://www.douban.com/note/238802915/. This listing is put together by an agency. These agencies find it easiest to place students in the smaller institutions, like Brock - and so tell their clients that Brock is a top Canadian university. Why not? By the time the student finds out the truth, she'll be thousands of miles away.
This raises another question...
Should I use an agency?
Negotiating the process of applying for a visa in Canada can be intimidating, so I can understand why people use agencies. But be careful, there are ones who will take your money and provide you with nothing of value. Immigration Canada warns people: "When immigrating to Canada, you don’t have to use an immigration representative to represent you."
For students, all the forms and information that you need to apply for a Canadian visa are available for free here. Every university has application forms available for free on its web site too. There is a list of Canadian economics departments, with links to the department websites, at the Canadian Economics Association website here. Application forms can usually be found by clicking the link for "prospective students" or "graduate students", and then "how to apply" or "application information."
Before you turn to an agency, do your own research, and find out as much as you can about studying in Canada. You can do this on your own, without an agency.
What will I learn in an MA in Economics?
Students don't ask this question as often as they should. In an MA in Economics, you will learn nothing about accounting or running a business. You will be required to take course in microeconomic theory, macroeconomic theory, and econometrics.
The courses are typically very mathematical. Here are the textbooks that have been used recently for micro, macro and econometrics at Carleton. Looking at them on-line can give some idea of the topics covered and level of difficulty of graduate economics courses. A strong undergraduate background in mathematics or a similar discipline is very helpful. If you don't enjoy mathematics, or if you find it difficult, there is not much point in doing an MA in Economics at most Canadian universities.
You can find out more by checking out individual department web sites (listed here). Every department will have a web site that lists its professors, its courses, and its program requirements, and will have course outlines on line. Just search for, say "economics Carleton University" and you will find the page.
What should I put in my statement of interest?
For many years, I have been on the committee that decides whether or not students will be accepted into Carleton's MA program. I have read hundreds and hundreds of statements of interest. Some tips:
- I don't care about your family history. I don't care about your father, or your mother, or your childhood. I especially don't care about the sacrifices your family made for your education. There is one exception: it is worth mentioning any family in Canada. They are likely to support you, and increase your chance of success. Saying "I would like to come to Carleton because I have family in Ottawa" is perfectly legitimate.
- Don't mention how much you like Keynes (unless you have actually read Keynes, and you genuinely do like and admire his work). You're not going to read Keynes' General Theory in an most MA Economics programs in Canada. If you say something like "I want to learn more about Keynes and that's why I'm applying to ______ University" it shows that you probably haven't done your research. [Updated]
- Provide concrete information about your skills and knowledge. What did you learn in econometrics? Micro theory? Macro theory? Who taught you? Where did they learn economics?
- Tailor the statement of interest to the university that you are applying to. For example, if you plan to apply to McMaster, say something like "I want to study at McMaster because it has a strong group of labour and public economists and I'm interested in labour economics and public policy." For UBC or U of T, say: "I want to go to UBC/U of T because it's the top ranked economics department in Canada". For Dalhousie: "I want to go to Dalhousie because I want quality instruction in a beautiful part of Canada, and because it has a unique program in development economics."
A good statement of interest involves doing some research - going to each university's web site, checking out individual faculty members' web sites, looking at the graduate program requirements, checking out course outlines. But this is tens of thousands of dollars and a year or more of your life - it's worth while doing some research.
Where can I find out more information?
Always try to find official sources for information.
- For information about visas, entering Canada, and Canadian embassies abroad, look for official government of Canada web sites. Their email addresses always end with "gc.ca". So "http://www.studyincanada.com/" is not an official government site. The study in Canada web site http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/study/index.asp is an official Canadian government site, because it has that gc.ca in the address. (For the US, urls ending in "gov" are official government web sites.)
- An increasing number of universities are holding information seminars in Taiwan and China to recruit good students. There are international recruitment fairs in major cities across Asia, where students can meet representatives from North American universities. These are good opportunities for students to obtain information and introduce themselves to university recruiters.
- General information about studying in Canada can be found through the Association of University and Colleges of Canada website here. This information is available in a variety of languages, including Chinese.
- Always try to ask for a second opinion from trustworthy sources.
Do not write to individual professors at Canadian universities (except perhaps the graduate supervisor) asking for information and assistance. They are not in a position to assist you, and do not like to be asked to provide something that it is not in their power to give. At best, a professor will tell you to go and read the "how to apply" information on the department web site. Most likely they will just ignore your message.
Some students may not be confident about finding and reading English information on-line. However, if you want to study abroad, it is best to get used to searching for information in English as soon as possible. After all, if you can't navigate a university web site, will you be able to navigate life in Canada? (Thanks to Loretta Fung for these suggestions).
There are probably dozens of other frequently asked questions and helpful tips I could give, but I'll end now and let people ask questions, or give their thoughts, in the comments below.
Update: Nick Rowe mentioned below that students often have questions about financial support. The amount of financial support varies from university to university. Graduate administrators can sometimes answer specific questions such as "what percentage of the international students who applied to your university last year were admitted with financial support?" "what is the average level of financial support awarded to international students in your program?"
One warning: living in Canada costs more than you might think. Rent is the biggest cost, but things like mobile phones are shockingly expensive ($25 a month for a minimal acceptable plan from Mobilicity - but you can easily pay $50 or $60 a month). Textbooks are also very expensive - you can save yourself hundreds of dollars by finding out the ones you need ahead of time and buying them overseas. Warm clothes and/or rain gear costs money.