Canada’s International Student Population is Getting Older. Here’s What That Means for Canadian Institutions

With the Canadian government capping international student applications over the next two years, increasing the likelihood of study permit approval is more important than ever. As we’ve covered recently, maximizing study permit approval rates will be critical for Canadian institutions in the cap era.

This means many institutions will be turning their focus to study permit approval rates. For some colleges and universities, this will mean shifting their recruitment strategies to countries with historically higher approval rates. But for all institutions, it will mean taking a much closer look at all the factors that influence study permit approval rates.

For international students looking to study in Canada, there are many study permit approval factors that they can control. Before applying abroad, they can work during their studies to save money and more easily meet proof of finance requirements. They can also apply themselves during their studies, achieving a high average so they can get accepted at their preferred institution and program. However, there are two major factors that influence approval rates that students cannot control: their nationality and their age.

Many involved in Canada’s international education sector know that older applicants often experience lower approval rates. But just how much of an impact does age have on study permit approvals?

Key Insights at a Glance

  • While study permit approval rates for applicants under 25 years old increased by 2.6% from 2019 to 2023, approval rates for students over 25 increased by 16.7%.
  • Applicants over 25 years old saw increased approval rates for every level of study at college and university over the past five years, unlike applicants under 25.
  • Students over 25 accounted for more than a quarter of all study permit approvals in 2023, up from under 15% in 2019.
  • Students over 20 are most likely to receive study permit approval for certificate programs at Canadian colleges and other studies at Canadian universities.
  • Study permit approval rates for mature ApplyBoard students surpassed 75% in 2023, compared to less than 45% for all mature study permit applicants.

Read on as we dig into the impact of student age on Canadian study permit approval rates,1 how growing interest from older students is affecting Canada’s international student population, and what institutions can do to attract mature students (aged 25+) in today’s shifting policy landscape.

Post-Secondary Study Permit Approval Rate by Applicant Age

Since at least 2016,2 younger international post-secondary students have consistently seen higher study permit approval rates.3 Over the past five years, students under 20 were at least 75% more likely to have their study permit approved compared to students over 30. This strong negative correlation between approval rate and age is stark, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Let’s take a closer look at how approval rates have changed based on applicant age since 2019:

Generally, the data shows that the older an applicant is, the less likely they are to be approved. But there are a couple of interesting caveats.

First, applicants over 30 were more likely to be approved for a study permit than those aged 26 to 30 in both 2020 and 2022. More interestingly, approval rates for students aged 25+ have increased more than rates for younger students. From 2019 to 2023, approval rates for applicants under 25 years old increased by 2.6% compared to a positive bump of 16.7% for older students.4 And the age group that saw the largest shift in approval rate since pre-pandemic was 26 to 30 year old applicants. In 2023, a 26 to 30 year old applying for a Canadian post-secondary study permit was over 20% more likely to be approved than they would have been in 2019.5

Canada’s International Student Population Is Getting Older

These increased approval rates have had a major impact on the number of older students approved for study permits over the past five years:

This data shows that despite achieving over 50% growth in the past five years, the under 20 age group was actually the slowest-growing population as measured by new study permits approved. In fact, 2019 was the last year that students under 20 accounted for the most study permit approvals. For the last four years, students aged 20 to 25 have received more study permit approvals than any other age group.

But interest in Canadian post-secondary studies from mature students is booming. Both age groups have seen study permit approvals more than triple since 2019. From 2022 to 2023 alone, the number of approvals for students aged 26 to 30 increased by 35%, while approvals for students over 30 grew by over 45%.

This incredible growth has resulted in Canada’s new international student population growing older each year:

Since 2019, mature students have represented an increased portion of international student inflows to Canada. In 2019, mature students accounted for around 15% of all approved study permits, but by 2023, they accounted for over 25%. Over this same period, students aged 20 to 25 drew roughly 40% of approvals while younger students claimed a lower portion each year.

There are many potential causes for this increased interest from mature students. One example is increased awareness of Canada’s college post-graduate offerings, which typically appeal to older students who already have a degree. Through these programs, students are able to learn new skills that could benefit their professional growth, advancing their careers.

Looking forward, recent changes to the Canadian international education landscape also generally favour this older population. With more time to work and save funds, mature students may find it easier to meet higher proof of finance requirements. Similarly, increased funds could also enable them to afford to find appropriate housing during their studies, a key challenge in Canada’s tight housing market.

Read our other articles to find out more about recent changes to Canadian international education policies and how study abroad policies have also shifted in Australia, the UK, and the US.

Unfortunately, it’s not all good news for mature students. For example, recent changes to limit open work permits for spouses of international students will likely have a greater influence on mature students.

We’ll be keeping a close eye on whether mature student application volumes shift significantly under Canada’s new policies. But if these trends continue, and more mature students are approved for Canadian study permits, this age group must become a more important consideration for post-secondary institutions.

Let’s take a closer look at the impact and opportunities for Canadian colleges and universities when it comes to older international students.

Mature Students at Canadian Colleges

Study permit approvals for mature students at Canadian colleges have increased substantially over the past three years. While younger students still accounted for over 70% of all college study permit approvals over that time, approvals for mature students grew by more than 100%:

This growing interest in Canadian college studies from mature students is bolstered by rising approval rates. Approval rates for college studies increased across all age groups from 2021 to 2023. However, 26–30 year old applicants saw the greatest shift in approval rate, jumping up from 42% to 52%. If current trends continue, the number of college study permit approvals for mature students will eclipse approvals for students under 20 in 2024.

This could present a major shift in the average age of international college students, creating new opportunities and challenges for Canadian colleges. As more older students arrive on college campuses, the demand for family support services and career counseling may increase, as mature students are more likely to be supporting a family and trying to advance their career. Similarly, while these students may have more funds to support their education, they are less likely to still have parental support and therefore may have a greater need to work during their studies.

Attracting Older Student Populations to Canadian Colleges

When it comes to attracting mature students to Canadian college studies, it’s important to consider approval rates for different program types. Drawing students towards programs with low study permit approval rates will lead to frustration for students and for colleges, especially due to new study permit application caps.

Based on study permit approval rates, mature students are most likely to be approved for certificate-level programs at Canadian colleges. However, this is not the study level most older students apply for. In 2023, mature students applied for study permits for college diploma programs 51% of the time, compared to 47% for certificate programs.6 Yet students aged 25+ were approved for college certificate study permits in 52% of all cases, compared to 44% for diploma programs.

While diploma programs will be the right fit for some mature students, colleges looking to recruit more mature students should promote the quality of their certificate programs, as well as the positive outcomes they can create for career advancement.

Approval Rates for University by Applicant Age

Compared to Canadian colleges, Canadian universities have seen fewer study permit approvals for mature students over the last three years. However, approvals for older students looking to take university programs grew by 160% from 2021 to 2023:

While approvals for students under 20 have remained stable since 2021, approvals for all other age groups have boomed. Mature students accounted for around 8% of all university study permit approvals in 2021, but this jumped up to over 15% in 2023.

The growing interest in university studies from mature students is clear. While these shifting demographics are less of a pressing concern for Canadian universities than colleges, they present the same opportunities and challenges. Older students are more likely to be supporting a family and thus need access to different support systems and services. They are also more likely to live off-campus, driving the need for community-based support and work opportunities.

Attracting Older Student Populations to Canadian Universities

As with Canadian colleges, study permit approval rates by program type can be a major factor for Canadian universities looking to drive older student recruitment:

Across nearly all age groups, international students are most likely to apply for a university study permit for a Bachelor’s degree program. However, approval rates for university programs that are not Bachelor’s degrees remain substantially higher.7 For mature students specifically, approval rates for Other Studies programs are more than double approval rates for Bachelor’s degree programs.

This “Other Studies” category includes programs such as postgraduate diplomas and certificates, as well as other professional programs that do not result in the awarding of a Master’s degree or PhD. These types of programs can be crucial for international students looking to advance in their careers, especially if they are considering pursuing Canadian residency pathways. Promoting these post-graduate programs should be a key focus for universities looking to attract mature students and take advantage of increased interest from older applicants.

Maximizing Mature Student Approval Rates With ApplyBoard

With new study permit application caps in place, institutions need to maximize study approval rates to achieve their international recruitment goals. While younger students do have higher approval rates, the demand for a quality Canadian education from mature students is going to keep growing. Finding solutions that enable successful recruitment of mature students will be key for more stable, diverse international student populations.

Unlocking higher approval rates for mature students starts by working with ApplyBoard. Over the past three years, mature ApplyBoard students were over 50% more likely to have their study permit approved than average mature students approvals:

Mature students using the ApplyBoard platform are steered toward programs that match their academic and professional journey. This means mature ApplyBoard students are more likely to be viewed as genuine, increasing their chance of study permit success. And, thanks to ApplyBoard’s ability to send offers-in-principle and consolidated tuition deposit processes, institutions can save time and focus on students who are most likely to enroll.

For data-backed guidance on how you can maximize mature student conversion rates, please reach out to your Partner Relations Manager or contact ApplyBoard’s Partner Relations team at

Key Takeaways

For all Canadian post-secondary institutions, mature students are poised to play a major role in international student population growth and stability. Study permit application volumes from older students are likely to continue climbing, and rising approval rates will further bolster this opportunity market. ApplyBoard can help institutions take advantage of growing mature student interest without sacrificing limited application cap space. By working with ApplyBoard, Canadian institutions can take advantage of proven, sector-leading agent training and document verification, helping institutions increase their chances of conversion while remaining efficient and agile.

But these rising mature student populations will also require new marketing strategies and different student support systems. Canadian colleges should also look to promote the quality and impact of their certificate programs to mature students, specifically focusing on how these programs can advance their careers. Likewise, Canadian universities should focus on explaining how their post-graduate diploma and certificate programs can help mature students take the next step after graduation. All institutions looking to support older students should consider investing in both on- and off-campus services, given that mature students are less likely to live on-campus than younger students.

Next month, we’ll revisit Canadian study permit trends for mature students, digging into the nationalities of older students and how Canadian institutions can leverage these trends to increase the impact of their diversification efforts. Stay tuned!

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About the ApplyInsights Team

Led by ApplyBoard Co-Founder and CEO Meti Basiri, the ApplyInsights Team analyzes the latest government, third-party, and ApplyBoard internal data to provide a complete picture of trends in the international education sector. They also work with sector experts and ApplyBoard team members to gather local insights across key source and destination countries, where ApplyBoard has helped more than 800,000 students around the world.



1. For this article, we will only look at study permits for college and university programs, not including ESL/FSL. We’ve also omitted master’s and PhD students given that these study levels are excluded from Canada’s new provincial attestation letter system.

2. Based on age-based study permit approval rate analysis we conducted back in 2021, looking at approval rates spanning back to 2016.

3. Statistics used in this article are for new study permits only. All data courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), except where noted.

4. Approval rates for applicants under 25 increased by 1.6 percentage points and applicants over 25 saw approval rate increases of 6.3 percentage points.

5. A change of about +8 percentage points.

6. The remaining ~2% of study permit applications by mature students for college programs were for applied degrees.

7. ESL/FSL studies are captured in a separate category and are not discussed in this article.


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