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Making sense of Alberta’s post-secondary options

How do you pick the right post-secondary to attend in Alberta? This is a question that’s not always clear, as more institutions are taking university as a title.
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How do you pick the right post-secondary to attend in Alberta? This is a question that’s not always clear, as more institutions are taking university as a title. But what you might take at University of Calgary, for example, is different than MacEwan University.

Luckily, we’ve made a list of every type of post-secondary institution in Alberta to help make some sense of all the offerings.

Comprehensive academic and research universities

Comprehensive academic and research universities (CARUs) offer a range of academic and professional programs with a strong research focus, according to the Government of Alberta.

These institutions not only offer degrees and diplomas, but also graduate programs, offering students opportunities to pursue master’s programs. CARUs collaborate with other post-secondary institutions for transfers to support access to undergraduate programs

Alberta is home to the following comprehensive academic and research universities:

  • Athabasca University
  • University of Alberta
  • University of Calgary
  • University of Lethbridge

What you might apply for: Applying to a CARU is necessary to pursue a master’s program. Law school and medical school are also offered at some CARUs

Undergraduate universities

Alberta’s undergraduate universities provide undergraduate degree programs, alongside diploma, certificate, academic upgrading and adult learning programs. They do not provide graduate level programs, except in special circumstances.

These universities also serve as another opportunity for regional students to transfer into if their home institution is unable to provide them with undergraduate degree programs.

Alberta’s undergraduate universities are:

  • Alberta University of the Arts
  • MacEwan University
  • Mount Royal University

Comprehensive community colleges

Regional and community colleges provide academic upgrading and adult learning programs, coupled with diploma and certificate programs. Comprehensive community colleges (CCCs) also provide access to undergraduate degree programs through collaboration with larger institutions.

Most CCCs also provide apprenticeship programs and English as a Second Language training.

Alberta is home to 11 comprehensive community colleges:

  • Bow Valley College
  • Grande Prairie Regional College
  • Keyano College
  • Lakeland College
  • Lethbridge College
  • Medicine Hat College
  • NorQuest College
  • Northern Lakes College
  • Olds College
  • Portage College
  • Red Deer College

What you might apply for: Students looking to start an undergraduate degree in their hometown can apply for a transfer program at a CCC.

Independent academic institutions

Independent academic institutions (IAIs) typically provide liberal arts, science and education programs, operating under their own legislation. These institutions are partly government by the Post-secondary Learning Act, working towards Alberta’s five adult learning system principles.

IAIs primarily provide a blend of publicly and privately upgrading, diploma, certificate and degree programs, but they may also provide graduate level programs under specific conditions.

Independent academic institutions in Alberta are:

  • Ambrose University
  • Burman University
  • Concordia University of Edmonton
  • The King’s University
  • St. Mary’s University

What you might apply for: IAIs are perfect for providing a hyper-specific degree program, such as religious studies.

Polytechnic institutions

Polytechnics provide industry and career training, including apprenticeship and continuing education, according to the Government of Alberta. These institutions provide approved apprenticeship, diploma programs, certificate programs and might also provide approved undergraduate degree programs.

Polytechnic institutions (PIs) collaborate with other post-secondary institutions to support regional access to education. They do not provide graduate level programs.

Alberta’s polytechnic institutions are:

  • Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT Polytechnic)
  • Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT Polytechnic)

What you might apply for: Many polytechnic institutions work with trades to offer apprenticeship advancement opportunities.

Specialized arts and cultural institutions

Alberta is currently home to one specialized arts and cultural institution (SACI). The Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is a global learning organization leading in arts, culture and creativity across dozens of disciplines.

SACIs in Alberta provide non-credentialed and approved certificate or diploma programs. SACIs are focused on serving learners interested in fine arts and creativity.

What you might take: Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity is perfect for refining artistic skills, such as sound design or writing.

What you might apply for: Undergraduate degrees, such as nursing or communications, and adult learning programs are big opportunities at these institutions

First Nations colleges

First Nations colleges offer adult learning opportunities in an Indigenous context. They deliver foundational learning, preparatory programs, training programs and credentialed programs, including Indigenous language and cultural knowledge.

Some First Nations college programs are offered in partnership with other publicly funded post-secondary institutions. Most of these institutions offer transfer agreements as part of Alberta’s transfer and pathways system, enabling students to transfer their post-secondary education between programs and institutions. Learn more by asking the institution you plan to transfer to or online at http://transferalberta.alberta.ca/

First Nations colleges in Alberta are:

  • Maskwacis Cultural College
  • Old Sun Community College
  • Red Crow Community College
  • University nuhelot’įne thaiyots’į nistameyimâkanak Blue Quills
  • Yellowhead Tribal College

What you might apply for: University programs specific to Indigenous culture, such as the Cree Language Instructor Training Program.

Other Indigenous learning providers

Other Indigenous learning providers include non-profit community organizations serving local foundational learning and employment readiness needs and training institutes offering accredited programs belonging to Alberta’s transfer and pathways system.

These institutions include:

  • Kayas Cultural College
  • Nechi Institute: Centre of Indigenous Learning
  • Riel Institute for Education and Learning
  • Rupertsland Institute-Rupertsland Centre for Métis Research

What you might apply for: Other Indigenous learning providers specialize in preparing students for the next level of post-secondary education, such as academic upgrading or transfer programs.

Private career colleges

Private career colleges offer programs spanning a wide range of fields. These programs, such as office administration and massage therapy, are designed to give students the skills they need to find a job after they graduate.

More than 25,000 students in Alberta are enrolled in licensed programs offered at over 170 private career colleges every year.

Students enrolled in licensed programs at private career colleges are eligible for provincial and federal student aid.

What you might apply for: Students looking to build skills aligned with a specific organization or specialized industry, such as business administration, should look at private career colleges.



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