Engineering Tuition Bargains

I have been meaning to do a comparison of US and Canadian tuition costs for a while, and now a U.S. News article has come out describing the benefits of doing a degree in Canada (presumably aimed at Americans).  So it’s a good time to complete my comparison.

First thing to point out, since 2014 the exchange rate between U.S. and Canadian dollars has shifted significantly.  Where they were once nearly equal, now $1 Canadian is worth about $0.76 U.S.  So if you have income or savings in US dollars, that’s how you can get the big bargain (about 30% more for your dollar!).

Next, which schools should we compare?  Although I don’t particularly like rankings and question their value for selecting an undergraduate education, lots of prospective international student and parents do use them.  So I decided to use the 2014 QS Rankings for Engineering & Technology, centering on Waterloo with a few universities above and below our ranking.  Here are the results of my survey, converting Canadian to US dollars where appropriate:

Tuition per academic year
University CDN$ US$ QS Ranking
U Texas @ Austin $36,012 24
Princeton $43,450 27
Michigan $43,402 32
Cornell $48,880 34
Toronto $43,540 $33,090 35
Purdue $30,964 38
U British Columbia $32,559 $24,745 51
UC San Diego $36,334 56
Waterloo $31,000 $23,560 57
McGill $34,118 $25,930 59
Wisconsin-Madison $30,924 61
Pennsylvania $43,838 64
Northwestern $48,624 66
Columbia $50,526 69
Washington $34,143 74
Yale $45,800 82
Virginia Polytechnic $29,129 83

Some explanations/qualifiers are necessary:

  • These are tuition costs as I found listed on the university websites, not including room & board, incidental fees, books, etc.
  • For American universities, these are out-of-state or non-resident tuitions (what anyone would pay if not from that state), for engineering (if I found a program-specific tuition).
  • For Canadian universities, these are international or visa student tuitions (what an American would pay if they came to Canada), for engineering.
    • perhaps it’s important to note a difference.  American universities tend to charge tuition based on residence.  Canadian universities charge tuition based on citizenship, so a Canadian (or permanent resident) pays a lower tuition even if they are not from the same province (some exceptions apply).
  • The gaps in the QS rankings are positions held by European, Asian and other universities.  Within North America these are contiguous rankings.

So we see that the top ranked Canadian universities are quite a bargain for Americans and other international students, ranging from $6,000 to $25,000 cheaper per year, for something that QS ranks as roughly equivalent.  Just something to consider.

14 thoughts on “Engineering Tuition Bargains

  1. Professor, in what respect would you say that university rankings ARE useful for undergraduate students. Are they based purely on the grad schools at these schools, or does a high ranking imply that the quality of undergraduate education will be higher?

    • Rankings are only ever useful if they are based on factors that are important to you personally. The QS rankings used here are apparently based on a reputation survey among academics (I filled one out a while ago), employers, and citation counts for the research papers. Personally, I don’t think that any of that is a good indication of undergraduate educational quality.

  2. Professor Anderson,

    Great post. Just a couple of questions:

    1. Should high school students expect that the C$ stay at the current level over the next 6 to 8 years – the likely time horizon paying undergraduate fees for a student who is entering grade 12 this September).

    2. How important are QS Rankings for employers in Canada? There are several Canadian universities with international student tuitions that are significantly lower than U of T, UBC, McGill, Waterloo (BCIT, SFU, U of Saskatchewan, U of Alberta, University of Calgary, Ryerson…). These engineering schools have lower QS Rankings, does this mean that international students who choose these schools are making a tradeoff: lower tuition for employability/respectability?

    I hope these questions don’t seem too “provocative” (I’m a huge fan of your blog, which is one of a kind in Canada) , its just that I encourage the students and families I work with to think deeply about the “economics” of undergrad education when they consider options across borders (provincial and national). I start by asking them to convert beliefs like “the differences in university/faculty ranking are meaningful” into assumptions/hypothesis, so that they can have a basis for fact collection/hypothesis testing. I believe that many of the students I work with “overvalue” university rankings, and this means that they may “overpay” for university degrees. There is an increasing spread in the range of international tuition rates at Canadian universities, and I think this is partly due to the “monetization/marketing” of global rankings.

    Having said all of this, I’m open (happy) to be corrected – you are much better placed than me to have the relevant facts to answer questions like:

    Are the QS ranking differences of Canadian Engineering Schools meaningful? Do the experiences at accredited engineering programs vary greatly? Would an employer of engineering students in Alberta (for example) value a graduate from highly ranked schools like U of T, UBC, McGill, Waterloo more than students from lower ranked schools?

    Keep up the great work Professor Anderson. And have a great summer.


    Philip Varghese

    • Thanks. Predicting exchange rates is pretty difficult, but the Canadian business media is currently predicting that the C$ will remain low for the next 3 years (along with oil prices, which tends to drive the C$ exchange rate). In the worst case, if the C$ and US$ become approximately equal over time, the Canadian tuitions are still not too bad compared with many US schools.

      For Canadian employers, I would say that rankings like QS are irrelevant. There are a fairly small number of engineering schools in Canada (around 35 I think) and so it is not difficult for employers to have some idea about all of them. Considering that they are all accredited by a national body (CEAB), the quality is fairly consistent too. Data within Ontario tends to suggest that employability of engineering graduates is pretty good at all the schools, no matter how highly ranked they are. Most employers I’ve talked to just want to find people with the right “fit” for their company, and don’t particularly care what school they went to.

      I would agree that some people will tend to make a decision based on rankings, when other factors should be playing a larger role. Whether those factors are based on economics, location, lifestyle, etc., is more of a personal decision.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response. I do believe that Waterloo Engineering is a good value relative to the US schools you list. I’m curious, how many US citizens – not eligible for domestic tuition at UW- enter Waterloo Engineering in a typical year?

      BTW As far as I know, you are the only faculty member in Canada blogging for a high school audience school. Im sure the students greatly appreciate the time and attention you spend on these postings – I know I do. Thanks again.

      Philip Varghese

      • Thanks. Historically we have had relatively few US citizens, but there have been a few in recent years. We have quite a few coming from US high schools, but it’s not easy for me to determine their citizenship, as some are Canadians and other nationalities living in the U.S.

  3. Hi,
    Regarding admissions as an international student, I was wondering if it is any more beneficial to submit SAT subject tests and AP test scores along with other required test scores.


  4. Hello Professor,

    I was reading your admissions post where you submitted a graph detailing what the percentage likelihood of someone being accepted into a stream of engineering was.

    If one has an average of 93%, they have an 80% chance to get into the respective program per the graph you created.

    Along with good EC’s related to the field of engineering, is 80% probability a good estimate for your admisison?

    Thanks for your input


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