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The good news is that Canada is home to so many great universities that it’s difficult to make a poor decision. That’s why choosing the school that best suits you requires going beyond rankings and reputation, and considering the unique culture and educational environment of your potential alma mater. Here are the top universities in Quebec:

BISHOP’S UNIVERSITY

  • Lennoxville (main) and Knowlton
  • Students: 2,700 Cost: $3,500 (Quebec residents), $7,800 (out-of-province)

Small, tight-knit, supportive and full of school spirit, Bishop’s University is a home away from home for most students. “I wanted the closeness of the community that Bishop’s offers,” says first-year psychology student Rebecca Ubhi. “I couldn’t see myself anywhere else.” Bishop’s earned top scores on a national student survey in which students assessed their relationships with faculty, advisers, student services and other students. The school’s dedication to teaching shows in the success of its students: 83 per cent graduate within six years. The beautiful campus – an expansive green space dotted with historic, ornamental buildings – is relatively small and easy to navigate.

Out of the classroom: Bishop’s has an array of opportunities, from traditional co-op terms to grants and scholarships, which send students overseas to pursue new experiences. For example, Bishop’s Experiential or Service Term (BEST) awards $50,000 annually to students; past BEST recipients have travelled to a lemur reserve in Madagascar, received seed funding to start their own business and have run an arts camp for Tibetan refugee children in India.

In the community: Each year, students put on a charity fashion show featuring local artists and designers. In 2014, a team of more than 100 volunteers organized two shows to meet the huge demand for tickets. More than $12,000 was raised for the Lennoxville Youth Centre.

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CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY

  • Montreal
  • Students: 43,800 Cost: $3,700 (Quebec residents), $8,000 (out-of-province)

The Quartier Concordia, a foursquare-kilometre downtown neighbourhood full of bike paths, coffee shops, retail and open public space, houses the Concordia University campus. A 20-minute shuttle to the Loyola campus – where additional facilities, including the communications and journalism building and a recreation centre, are located – leaves every hour. Students are welcome to study as late as they like; both libraries are open 24-7. A friendly rivalry between McGill and Concordia, the province’s two largest English-language universities, drives competition between students to be greener, fitter and more involved.

Out of the classroom: Last year, the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation awarded Concordia $500,000 for its RECODE project, an initiative to foster new social enterprises. This award will be more than doubled with matching funds from the university to develop the school’s capacity in social entrepreneurship. For students, this means mentors, grants, networking opportunities and increased support to start innovative, socially conscious businesses.

This year: Concordia added 20 additional programs to its co-op program, including archeology, public history and aboriginal studies. More than 1,200 students were enrolled in co-op at Concordia in 2014.

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UNIVERSITÉ LAVAL

  • Quebec City
  • Students: 48,000 Cost: $3,000 (Quebec residents), $7,300 (out-of-province)

The tourism agency responsible for Quebec City describes it as “So Europe. So close.” Just 25 minutes away from its historic downtown, Université Laval is a similarly important cultural institution in Quebec’s history. The primarily French-language university is a leading research institution with dozens of Canada Research Chairs on staff and more than $300-million in research funding. The majority (90 per cent) of Laval’s programs have mandatory or optional internship or work experience components.

Out of the classroom: SIGMA+ internships are paid and offered in undergraduate programs in the faculty of science and engineering. Students decide how many internships they want to complete and when they want to complete them. Students receive a certificate for each completed internship, a signal to future employers of valuable skills.

Students say: Professors are inaccessible. Typical of most large universities, Laval performed well below average when students were asked to rank their interactions with faculty on a national survey.

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McGILL UNIVERSITY

  • Montreal (main) and Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue
  • Students: 39,500 Cost: $2,800 (Quebec residents), $7,200 (out-of-province)

There’s no denying the prestige and reputation of McGill University. The heavy-hitting research institution attracts some of the country’s brightest young minds, including more TD Scholars (a prestigious award worth up to $70,000 given to 20 students annually) than any other university. With more than 120 Canada Research Chairs on staff, research opportunities are endless, but class sizes are large, and the atmosphere is fiercely competitive. Still, the university is consistently ranked among the top schools in the world. Students have access to quality residences, including some hotels-turned-dorms, where they can bathe in the luxury of private bathrooms.

In the community: Bernard d’Arche and Cécile BrancoCôté, students in a social entrepreneurship class, worked closely with city officials and residents of Lac-Mégantic, the small town in Quebec that was tragically affected by the 2013 derailment and explosion of a train carrying crude oil, to create and build a centre for entrepreneurship and help the town rebuild. The project is still in its early phases, but is on its way to raising the $3.6-million it needs.

This year: McGill’s prestigious medical school made headlines when it was put on probation by a U.S. accreditation body in June. The medical school consistently ranks among the best in the world by both the Times Higher Education and QS World University rankings. Probationary status will not directly affect students, and the school has been given two years to achieve compliance.

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UNIVERSITÉ DE MONTRÉAL

  • Montreal
  • Students: 66,100 Cost: $2,200 (Quebec residents), $6,200 (out-of-province)

No mention of UdeM would be complete without noting its distinction in research: It holds third place in Canada in terms of funding from the big three Canadian research granting commitees. The primarily French-language university ranks well above its main competitor, Laval, on international rankings, coming in the top 100 schools in the world, according to the QS World University Rankings in 2014. UdeM is located on the opposite side of Mount Royal from McGill and surrounded by green space, giving it less of an urban feel and more of traditional university campus atmosphere.

Students say: UdeM’s ranking on a national student survey greatly improved over a 2011 result, which saw students rank it lower than any other school for student/professor relationships. This year, UdeM ranked higher than McGill and many Eastern Canadian universities.

In the classroom: UdeM launched the new bachelor of East Asian studies program, which covers Asian culture, economics and politics. Students in the program can take up to 12 language courses in Japanese, Korean and Chinese.

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With Erin Millar, Nelly Bouevitch and Colleen Kimmett

Which university is right for you?

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