Succeed at school in Canada

Canadians value higher education. Like you, we see it as a way to build a career, succeed in the workplace, earn money and enjoy a good quality of life. This section offers an overview of the things you should know to help you succeed at school in Canada.

Ethics and conduct at school

All Canadian colleges and universities have a code of ethics to guide professors, staff and students.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the policies that apply to you. The code of ethics (also known as a code of conduct) covers your academic life, while other policies cover non-academic matters like:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Stalking or bullying
  • Sexual assault
  • Disruptive or dangerous behavior
  • Damage to library materials or university property

The goal of these codes and policies is to keep everyone safe.

There are also good manners or etiquette that students apply to their daily life on campus. This includes arriving on time for classes, submitting work on time as well as interacting in a respectful way with professors and other students.

If you’re unsure of anything related to student life and your conduct, reach out to other students or your school’s resource office with your questions. You’ll find that people are happy to help.

Working in groups

Even in high school, Canadian teachers provide opportunities for students to work as a group to complete a project. This is a great way to make friends and learn how to work with others.

At the post-secondary level, professors will ask you to be part of a group and to work with that group to deliver a quality product, on time.

In a group setting, you have a chance to be a leader and a follower. It’s important that everyone has a voice and contributes equally to the project. If you haven’t worked on a group academic project before, you may want to ask your professor, your school’s resource centre or other students for advice.

How your group works together will determine the quality of the product you produce. This team approach is worth learning at college or university, since it’s the way many workplaces operate, too.

Writing essays

Your college and university professors will ask you at times to write an essay to fulfill the requirements of your course. Writing an essay means you must do research, organize your arguments or ideas, and communicate data as well as your perspective in a clear way.

As an international student, especially if English or French is not your mother tongue, your education in Canada will give you the skills to write excellent essays. This will help you succeed in post-secondary education in Canada.

Tips for writing essays

  • Ask your teaching assistant (the graduate student assigned to your course) for suggestions about how to prepare an essay that will get high marks.
  • Research online resources, including those provided by your college or university that’ll help you conduct rigorous academic research and prepare a good essay.
  • Ask the advisors at your school’s writing or resource centre for advice or support. 
  • Meet with your professor during office hours to discuss the essay. Be sure to arrive with clear, concise questions and you’ll get the answers you need.

Delivering presentations

Like group work, doing presentations is an important part of post-secondary education in Canada. It’s natural to feel a bit nervous the first time you present in front of a group. As an international student, you may have concerns about delivering a presentation in English or French if neither is your mother tongue. Your school has resources and support to help prepare you. Take advantage of them, as they’ll help put you at ease. And don’t forget, practice makes perfect!

Tips for delivering presentations

  • Take the time to prepare a good presentation. Make sure each slide is clear and concise. Prepare your speaking notes.
  • Know your presentation. If you prepare well in advance, you’ll be more comfortable with the information you’re going to deliver.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Practice by yourself, with a mirror and even in front of friends. You might also wish to videotape your presentation, so you can watch your performance to see how you can improve.
  • Anticipate questions. Most presentations conclude with questions from the class. Prepare a list in advance, along with your answers, so you can respond with confidence.
  • Speak slowly. Bring a water bottle with you so you can stay hydrated while you deliver your presentation. 
  • Prepare small cue cards. Don’t try to memorize your full presentation. Write key words or bullet points on your cards as small reminders about the main points of the presentation.
  • Use feedback from your professor or classmates to improve for the next presentation.


Plagiarism takes place when a person presents the work of another as their own. It happens at colleges and universities on occasion, so it’s important to be aware of what it is and what it can mean for a student who plagiarizes. Some of the reasons students offer when they’ve been found plagiarizing include:

  • “I thought I could copy text from slides in class and use it in my essay”
  • “I was just helping a friend by sending them words from a website”
  • “I do not have the skills to paraphrase and cite the source of original material”
  • “I thought I needed to say exactly what my professor said”

The punishments for plagiarism include:

  • A lower grade on the essay or presentation
  • A zero on the essay or presentation
  • A zero for the entire course
  • A note about the offence on your transcripts
  • Being suspended from school
  • Being expelled from school

Post-secondary schools in Canada treat plagiarism as a serious offence, so be sure you understand the rules at your institution. Your college or university likely provides a short course or advice on how to cite sources and avoid plagiarizing. Speak with your campus writing or resource centre if you have questions.

Getting help when you need it

If the demands of academic life become overwhelming, where can you go for help? Your college or university offers counselling services for students as well as a resource or writing centre to support you in your academic work.

Through these resources, you can access support and advice about:

  • Improving your performance at school
  • Finding a tutor to help you with the course material
  • Working with a group on a project
  • Addressing personal difficulties
  • Dealing with culture shock, homesickness or mental health concerns

The international students’ association can connect you with other international students. This is a great way to build a support system and receive advice from someone who understands you. Your institution may also offer a mentoring program. Your mentor can provide guidance and advice during your studies.