Notable alumnus: Photographer Edward Burtynsky’s work is housed in more than 50 museums worldwide, including the Guggenheim in New York and the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
University of Toronto
The heart of Toronto
Pro: Incredibly diverse student body
Con: Unsupportive learning environment
U of T’s alumni list is a “Who’s Who” of influential Canadians. Add in its famous research – on topics from stem cell to dinosaurs, solar power to national security – and it’s easy to see why U of T is regularly ranked among top universities in the world. The diversity of its 700 undergrad programs is rivalled only by the diversity of its student body. U of T is an obvious choice for ambitious students wanting to study among heavy-hitters, but the university scored dead last in the country in NSSE for “active and collaborative learning” and similarly low for “creating a supportive campus environment.”
Hotshot prof: Yu-Ling Cheng, director of the Centre for Global Engineering, led faculty and students to win a $2.2-million grant from the Gates Foundation to design a waterless toilet for use in developing countries.
Notable alumnus: Lester B. Pearson,the 14th prime minister of Canada, won the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize.
Students say: “I would recommend the school if you are very independent. Campus spirit is definitely not our forte.”
– Jonathan Zvi Hadad, third-year political science
Pro: Small but not too small
Con: Inconvenient location
Trent was modelled after the college system at Oxford. With an average first-year class size of 30, students enjoy lively discussions in place of the 300-student lectures at larger universities. The average entering grade is lower at Trent than at the more prestigious Ontario universities, making it more accessible, and all students with an entering average of more than 90 per cent are automatically awarded a full scholarship. Students report a distinct leftist political atmosphere; at convocation new graduates are invited to take the “Green Pledge,” a promise to be environmentally and socially conscious in their future career.
Hotshot prof: Suresh Narine, director of the Centre for Biomaterials Research, was named one of Canada’s “top 40 under 40” by The Globe and Mail.
Notable alumnus: Yann Martel, 2002 Man Booker Prize winner, has sold more than seven million copies of his opus Life of Pi.
Students say: “Because Trent is small, it can’t accommodate all activities, like varsity swimming. If you want a good education, Trent can give you that.”
– Anita Vieu-Robson, third-year nursing
University of Waterloo
Canada’s silicon valley
Pro: Massive co-op program
Con: Lack of support and access to profs
If you’ve got a big technology idea to turn into a billion-dollar company, University of Waterloo is the place to be. With more than 17,000 undergrads enrolled, its co-op program is the largest in the world. Students benefit from ties to prestigious research institutes such as the Balsillie School for International Affairs and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, and it offers Canada’s only undergraduate degree in nanotechnology engineering. Students study hard, but Waterloo life isn’t only about work; the city stages the largest Oktoberfest outside of Germany.
Hotshot prof: Larry Smith, an associate economics professor, attracted almost one million views on YouTube for his TED talk, “Why you will fail to have a great career.”
Notable alumnus: Mike Lazaridis cracked the Forbes billionaire list after co-founding BlackBerry.
Big school with big energy
Pro: Great “school spirit”
Con: Spirit-induced hangovers
Western’s reputation earned it a nod from Playboy’s 2011 list of top party schools. But the fun atmosphere runs deeper than just keggers, lending Western an energetic feel rare for such a large school. The university offers exchange opportunities at 85 universities in 25 countries. The Richard Ivey School of Business consistently appears on national and global rankings of top schools and its alumni’s salaries are higher than that earned by grads from other schools. One benefit of such a large school is having 300 academic programs to choose from, but drawbacks include unusually large first-year classes.