What college students in Canada can expect during COVID

Maclean’s spoke with dozens of Canadian colleges to get a sense of what students can expect this fall

Emily Baron Cadloff
Teleconferencing during COVID-19 lockdown. (Getty Images)

Teleconferencing during COVID-19 lockdown (Getty Images)

The first thing you notice are the signs—posted on the doorways reminding you to wear your mask, hanging on the walls to urge a six-foot distance from other students, and taped up in the washrooms stressing proper hand-washing technique.

This semester of college is going to be a bit different, with schools across the country taking steps to follow the COVID-19 guidance of their provincial and local health authorities. Maclean’s spoke with dozens of colleges to get a sense of what students can expect this fall.

Classes will be online and on-site—but mostly online

Nearly every school in the country will be offering a model of blended learning this semester, emphasizing online instruction. For the majority of theory classes, students can expect to meet their instructor and classmates in a virtual classroom. Some instruction that relies on hands-on learning or lab work will take place in person; schools are rethinking how those classes might be taught. At Algonquin College in Ottawa, students in the therapeutic recreation program will use video calls to interact with clients. At Assiniboine College in Manitoba, students in programs such as culinary arts or practical nursing will have personalized sets of tools they’ll be required to bring to classes, so there will be less chance of cross-contamination through sharing equipment. And where distancing isn’t possible, some schools are postponing courses or entire programs. At George Brown College in Toronto, some of the classes that require a clinical setting are on hold until 2021.


If you are required to travel across provincial lines to attend your college, there may be some help for you. Out-of-province and out-of-country students heading to the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design, for example, can request a letter to give to border officials to facilitate travel.

When on campus, keep your distance

Many schools across the country will also mandate physical-distancing guidelines and mask-wearing in common areas of campuses. You are likely to see signs, floor markers and arrows directing traffic flow throughout schools, and some faculty are adjusting class schedules to minimize the number of people coming and going at any given time. At Lakeland College in Alberta, for example, students might notice that their labs, fieldwork and farm studies are now offered on a staggered rotation, meaning the hallways could look a little empty while they’re walking to and from class.

Many schools noted that masks will need to be worn by students on entering and exiting buildings, as well as in classes when it’s impossible to keep a two-metre distance from one another. Cégep Heritage College in Quebec will be offering masks to students as part of their welcome back kits, which will also contain hand sanitizer.

A handful of schools across the country will also be conducting regular health checks for both faculty and students. At St. Clair College in Windsor, Ont., both students and staff will undergo daily health screenings to look for COVID-19 symptoms, and anyone coming to campus in the fall will have to complete a student training module that goes over COVID protocols before they can attend class in person.

Need a book? Try curb-side pickup

Campus services and amenities are also adjusting their operations. Some food halls will close or have reduced hours. The same is expected of libraries, computer labs and bookstores, so it’s a good idea for students to double-check and prepare, particularly if there are no food options on campus. Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ont., is shutting down its shared water fountains, so be sure to fill that reusable bottle at home before coming to class. Also at Mohawk, if you’re looking for the gym, you might stumble across a classroom instead. The school has decided that all fitness centres will be used for academic study. Schools in Alberta have cancelled the entire fall 2020 athletic season; if you’re a student at Grande Prairie Regional College, for example, you’ll have to wait until next year to see your GPRC Wolves.

Help is just a click away

For nearly all schools across the country, student services are shifting online this semester. At Thompson Rivers University in B.C., you can find peer mentoring, counselling and even campus tours online. Students at Durham College in Ontario can access all their campus health and wellness services as well as apply for financial aid virtually.

Finances are a big concern for students this year, especially with changing expectations about their campus experience. Great Plains College in Saskatchewan has frozen all tuition and student fees for the 2020-21 school year and is extending the period during which students can apply for scholarships. At Loyalist College in Ontario, students can apply for a one-time bursary of $1,000 to help with tuition costs.

Ultimately, this school year will look different in myriad ways. But faculty and staff from coast to coast to coast are trying to make the changes feel as seamless and integrated as possible. While the fall semester may not be what students are used to, schools are invested in making sure they have what they need, while doing their best to keep everyone safe.

This article appears in print in the Maclean’s 2020 Canadian Colleges Guidebook with the headline, “What to expect during COVID.” Order a copy of the issue here. Subscribe to the monthly print magazine here.