Under-the-radar Canadian college towns
Young woman wearing a backpack in a college classroom

Thinking of where you want to apply for college, but not sure where you want to go? Typically, Canada’s big cities are the go-to’s, but that doesn’t mean that they are for everyone. There are a number of good post-secondary institutions in smaller Canadian cities and towns that offer up a great education with the added bonus of lower living costs.

Looking for some application inspiration? Here are three under-the-radar Canadian college towns to consider.

Abbotsford, British Columbia

British Columbia is considered to be one of the most beautiful provinces in Canada thanks to the ocean, mountains, and sprawling forests. This mix of nature is a big draw to outdoorsy types who love the idea of studying during the week and hiking, camping, skiing, or paddling over the weekends. However, the price of living in Vancouver is quite expensive - especially on a student budget - which is why it’s worth considering somewhere else like Abbotsford.

Abbotsford is about an hour outside of Vancouver but smaller, quieter, and much more affordable. The main industry is farming and agriculture, which means the area is known for its fresh produce, wineries, and breweries. Of course, there are still plenty of outdoor activities to take part in, including hiking, biking, fishing, and more. The best part is you can do many of these activities year-round - Abbotsford has a very mild climate and temperatures here rarely dip below freezing. Other perks include its proximity to the US border for travel, and a thriving job market with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, which could be very handy for those looking to work while they study.

Abbotsford may not be as big a name as Vancouver, but it has so many of the same draws at a much more reasonable cost, making it a great option for students who are looking to study in British Columbia.

Laval, Québec

Another popular province that students like to move to for post-secondary education is Québec. Montréal especially is a favourite when it comes to university cities but, like other major cities in Canada, the cost of living can be a strain for students. Instead, if you are considering studying in Québec, take a look at Laval. 

Laval is just outside of Montréal, only about 30 minutes by car, and the cost of living here is significantly cheaper. Another perk (especially for students who may not have access to a vehicle) is the public transportation system, which is incredibly efficient for travel through Laval and beyond. Those who enjoy being outside will also appreciate that 24% of the city is covered in greenery, plus Laval is bordered by Rivière des Prairies and the Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, offering you an escape to nature when needed.

Nearly one-third of the population of Laval is from abroad, which has given it a reputation for being friendly and welcoming - an attractive feature for a student who is likely leaving home for the first time. The cultural diversity also has the added bonus of influencing the food scene here; there is a wide range of restaurant options in the city featuring all types of cuisines. 

Laval is considered by many to be an up-and-coming city, and being a student here is a great way to take advantage of the lower cost of living and all the community benefits. One thing to note: it is very French, so you’ll want to make sure you speak the language before choosing this town.

North Bay, Ontario 

Ontario is also always a popular pick when it comes to university and college towns. Toronto and Ottawa are both known for their post-secondary institutions, but big city life isn’t necessarily for everyone. If you’re looking for a smaller community closer to nature, then North Bay could be a great choice for you.

North Bay is located on the shores of Lake Nipissing and has a rich history as one of the main transportation centres. It’s also on the route of the Voyageurs, which many well-known explorers travelled on. Today, it’s a relatively small city with a population of a little over 50,000, but it’s still known for its pristine surroundings and stunning nature. The lakes and rivers here make it a popular place of interest for those looking for outdoor escapes and adventures. 

While the surrounding nature is a huge perk, one of the biggest draws of North Bay is the cost of living in comparison to other Ontario cities. For example, the average rent in North Bay is 46% cheaper than the average rent in Toronto. That’s a huge difference for everyone, but especially for students. So if you’re looking for somewhere to enjoy fresh air and lots of green space with a low population density - but still have access to all urban services - then consider studying in North Bay. 

Before you go: Did you know that university and college alumni can bundle and save on home and auto insurance? Learn more about exclusive discounts for Canadian university and college alumni.

Hannah Logan is a Canadian travel writer who dreams of being just like Indiana Jones. You can follow her travels on her personal travel blog Eat Sleep Breathe Travel where she shares her travel tales and (mis)adventures around the world.

Hannah Logan is a paid spokesperson of Sonnet Insurance.