ApplyInsights: The Most Popular Schools in Canada for Latin American Students

In this edition of ApplyInsights, I’m sharing my observations on the top post-secondary institutions in Canada for students from Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia. These three Latin American (LATAM) countries have long been seen as source markets with strong growth opportunities for Canadian schools due to their emerging economies. Each was among the top 15 source countries for international students to Canada in 2019.

As full-year data for 2020 isn’t yet available, I’ll focus on the 2019 numbers for this article. I’ll revisit this analysis later in the year when the remaining 2020 data comes in.

Here’s what this blog post will cover:

  • Brief snapshots of the post-secondary institutions that issued the most study permits to Brazilian, Colombian, and Mexican nationals in 20191
  • The list of the top 20 schools for Brazilian enrollment in 2019, and the list of the top 10 schools for Mexican and Colombian enrollment in 20192
  • How enrollment numbers for these top schools have shifted over time

Many of the schools below are ApplyBoard partner schools. It’s an honour to get to work with these schools in recruiting students from Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia!

Top Canadian Colleges for Brazilian Students

The number of study permits issued to Brazilian students increased just 2.6% between 2017 and 2019, hampered by falling application and stagnant approval rates. Nevertheless, Brazil remains the top source of LATAM students in Canada and the fifth-largest source of students overall.

Many of these students attended college in Ontario or British Columbia, which accounted for all but one of the top 20 post-secondary institutions for Brazilian students in 2019. Though the International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC), a language school, holds the top spot on the list below, language schools generally saw minimal Brazilian student population growth from 2018 to 2019.

Let’s take a look at the top five colleges for Brazilian students:

  1. Centennial College: Despite taking the top college spot in 2019, Centennial College didn’t see any growth in study permits issued to Brazilian nationals compared to 2018. Looking back further, 505 Brazilian students were issued study permits for Centennial College in 2018, a 9.8% increase over 2017.
  2. Greystone College: Greystone College, a private college with campuses in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal, saw 499 study permits issued to Brazilian students in 2019. This represented a 15.0% decrease over 2018 and an 8.0% decrease since 2017.
  3. British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT): 341 study permits were issued to Brazilian nationals to attend the British Columbia Institue of Technology in 2019. This was a substantial 17.8% decline in 2019 that followed an 80-student increase in 2018.
  4. Seneca College: The first school on the list to gain Brazilian students between 2018 and 2019, Seneca College saw 287 study permits issued to Brazilians in 2019, up 4.4% year-over-year. Combined with its growth in 2018, Seneca has seen 35.4% more Brazilian students since 2017.
  5. Fanshawe College: Fanshawe College was the big college winner in 2019. The London, Ontario, school saw 53.4% more study permits issued to students from Brazil in 2019 than 2018, increasing from 176 to 270. Fanshawe achieved incredible 193.5% growth in its Brazilian population between 2017 and 2019.

Top 20 Schools in Canada for Brazilian Students

Here’s the full list of the 20 most popular post-secondary institutions for Brazilian students in 2019:

Top 20 Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions for Brazilian Students, 2019
Rank Institution # of Study Permits Change 2018–19 % Change 2018–19
1 International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC) 515 -1 -0.2%
2 Centennial College 506 -1 -0.2%
3 Greystone College 499 -75 -13.1%
4 British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) 341 -74 -17.8%
5 Seneca College 287 +12 +4.4%
6 Fanshawe College 270 +94 +53.4%
7 George Brown College 260 -43 -14.2%
8 Humber College 179 0 0.0%
9 Douglas College 170 +9 +5.6%
10 ILSC Language Schools 161 +2 +1.3%
11 University of British Columbia 147 -9 -5.8%
12t Toronto School of Management 144 +109 +311.4%
12t Langara College 144 -53 -26.9%
14 Algonquin College 132 +13 +10.9%
15 Cornerstone College 114 +53 +86.9%
16 Conestoga College 110 +8 +7.8%
17 Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) 107 +46 +75.4%
18 Lambton College 96 -26 -21.3%
19 University of Toronto 95 -5 -5.6%
20 New Brunswick Community College (NBCC) 88 +29 +49.2%
t Denotes a tie

Top Private Colleges for Mexican Students

Mexico is the second-largest source of Canadian students from LATAM and remains a growing market for Canadian educational institutions. Though the study permit application and approval numbers for Mexican students grew every year from 2015 to 2019, the rate of growth has slowed, and we may see the Mexican market take longer to recover post-pandemic.

More than 4,000 Mexican students studied in Canada in 2019, with many of those students attending private colleges. The top three schools for Mexican nationals in 2019 were all private colleges, and private colleges took five of the top 10 spots.

Let’s take a look at the top three private colleges for Mexican students in 2019:

  1. SELC Career College: SELC Career College has seen huge growth in their Mexican student population since 2017. The private career college achieved almost 700% growth between 2017 and 2019, increasing from 23 Mexican nationals to 158.
  2. Greystone College: The Mexican student population at Greystone College dropped from 191 in 2018 to 180 in 2019, causing Greystone to fall from the number one spot to number two on our list. As Mexican market growth was already slowing pre-pandemic, Greystone may see a reduced bounce-back in 2021 and 2022.
  3. Cornerstone College: Rounding out the top 3, Cornerstone College also saw incredible growth in their Mexican student population from 2017 to 2019. Starting from only 50 Mexican nationals in 2017, Cornerstone’s Mexican student population grew to 121 in 2018 and 176 in 2019.

Top 10 Schools in Canada for Mexican Students

Here’s the full list of the 10 most popular Canadian schools for Mexican students:

Top 10 Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions for Mexican Students, 2019
Rank Institution # of Study Permits Change 2018–19 % Change 2018–19
1 SELC Career College 181 +96 +112.9%
2 Greystone College 180 -11 -5.8%
3 Cornerstone College 176 +55 +45.5%
4 International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC) 154 +40 +35.1%
5 Centennial College 151 +54 +55.7%
6 Hansa Language Centre 127 +18 +16.5%
7 University of British Columbia 117 -2 -1.7%
8 Vancouver Film School 113 -20 -15.0%
9 Ascenda School of Management 110 +70 +175.0%
10 McGill University 99 +11 +12.5%

Top Language Schools in Canada for Colombian Students

There’s been a shift in the Colombian market towards colleges and language schools and away from universities in the past five years. Just three universities fell among the top 30 schools for Colombian students in 2019, and each saw their Colombian student population decline year-over-year.

Growth in the college market more than made up for this, however. Between 2017 and 2019, the number of Colombian students issued Canadian study permits increased from 2,965 to 3,673, representing 23.9% growth.

As the top 10 for Colombian nationals has a higher rate of language schools than other LATAM countries, let’s take a closer look at some of these institutions:

  1. International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC): The International Language Academy of Canada is one of the top destinations for Latin American students, ranking first for both Brazilian and Colombian nationals in 2019. ILAC’s Colombian student population grew by 75.5% between 2017 and 2019, but there’s a possibility for future decline. As I discussed in my previous LATAM article, similar language programs at colleges and universities provide an easier transition to academic programs, and these programs are growing in popularity among Colombian students.
  2. Hansa Language Centre: Hansa Language Centre nearly doubled their Colombian student population between 2017 and 2019. Like ILAC, Hansa has seen persistent growth due to increased interest in language programs in Canada. I’ll be keeping an eye on Hansa and ILAC going forward to see if growing enrollment in college and university language programs impacts their numbers.
  3. ILSC Language Schools: ILSC Language Schools saw no change in its Columbian student enrollment between 2019 and 2018, a disappointing result on the heels of a 42.9% increase between 2017 and 2018. ILSC may already be showing the initial impacts of higher language course enrollment at colleges and universities.

Top 10 Schools in Canada for Colombian Students

Here’s the list of the 10 most popular schools in Canada for Colombian students:

Top 10 Canadian Post-Secondary Institutions for Colombian Students, 2019
Rank Institution # of Study Permits Change 2018–19 % Change 2018–19
1 International Language Academy of Canada (ILAC) 293 +69 +30.8%
2 Centennial College 210 +81 +62.8%
3 Cégep de la Gaspésie et des Îles 109 +12 +12.4%
4 Hansa Language Centre 100 +25 +33.3%
5t George Brown College 98 +26 +36.1%
5t Seneca College 98 -6 -5.8%
7 Fanshawe College 92 +44 +91.7%
8 LaSalle Colege 91 -17 -15.7%
9 ILSC Language Schools 90 0 0.0%
10 Humber College 79 +9 +12.9%
t Denotes a tie

Looking Forward

The LATAM student population in Canada has seen strong growth over the past five years. While the partial-year 2020 data3 shows a significant decrease in study permits issued to LATAM students, these decreases were marginally less than other major markets globally, meaning LATAM has better resisted the pandemic-related decline.

Economic unpredictability remains the largest factor that could influence LATAM student numbers moving forward. Colombia demonstrated strong year-over-year growth pre-pandemic and could rebound quickly in 2021 and beyond. The Brazilian and Mexican markets were growing slower than expected pre-pandemic, setting them on a longer pathway to recovery.

However, all three countries are likely to remain strong sources for international students to Canada in the long term. Canada’s proximity to LATAM countries makes Canada a relatively cheap travel destination. And the Post-Graduation Work Permit Program (PGWPP) to permanent residency (PR) pathway remains a major draw for LATAM students despite the challenges of international travel, in part due to proactive changes to the program by the Canadian government.

I’ll be watching LATAM closely as we navigate through the pandemic recovery and stabilization of the international student market in 2021 and beyond.

Published: January 8, 2021

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Meti BasiriMeti Basiri
Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
Meti is driven by the belief that education is a right, not a privilege. In his role as Co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) at ApplyBoard, he leads the International Recruitment, Partner Relations, Sales Enablement, Sales Operations, and Marketing teams along a shared mission to educate the world. Meti has been instrumental in building partnerships with 1,200+ educational institutions across North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Working with over 4,000 international recruitment partners, ApplyBoard has assisted more than 120,000 students in their study abroad journey.

Meti was honoured in 2019 by Forbes, being named to three Top 30 Under 30 lists, including Education, Immigrants, and Big Money. Follow Meti on LinkedIn for more access to ApplyInsights and key industry trends.


1. All schools ranked by the number of new study permits plus study permit extensions issued in the 2019 calendar year. Totals include enrollment at satellite campuses and federated colleges.

2. Please note that students from many Latin American countries do not need a study permit to study in Canada for less than six months, and these students are not captured in the data. Data courtesy of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) unless otherwise noted.

3. January to July 2020 only.