You’ve been doing your research to apply to grad schools: looking at the school, the program, the faculty, its facilities and services, its reputation and its academic requirements.
However, one thing you must also do your research on is the location of your program.
“I would encourage any prospective students to worry about other factors, such as faculty and funding, rather than social or living factors.” —Zac Spicer, PhD student, University of Western Ontario
A lot of students tend to not consider how much living in a certain city will cost, and that should be almost as important as the school itself, since those costs are very much linked together.
Since you will be spending anywhere between 12 and 24 months as a full-time student at these schools, you need to consider the city the school is located in as well.
Let’s say you abhor all things snowy and cold. Even though the University of Alberta and the University of Manitoba have programs that suit your research interests, how well are you going to be able to cope with temperatures that can be as low as (and sometimes even colder than) -40C?
Cost of living
Although the climate and temperature can have a lot to do with how you will enjoy the city, you need to also examine the cost of living within the city as well.
Because some provinces are more isolated or have shorter growing seasons, groceries can be much more expensive in some areas over others. However, in smaller urban centers, there is often less variety and it can be more difficult for you to purchase specialty foods.
In other cities, the climate is great, or it is close to major financial or cultural centers, so the cost of living there is much greater than other places within Canada.
Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary are among the cities with the highest costs for rentals as well as purchasing houses and apartments.
Zac Spicer, a PhD student in Political Science at the University of Western Ontario says, “Going to school in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver will obviously cost you more money in rent and your funding is rarely made with that consideration in mind. But, that is hardly a reason to turn down an offer from U of T, UBC or McGill. Some students do not want to travel too far from friends and family, but I would encourage any prospective students to worry about other factors, such as faculty and funding, rather than social or living factors.”
Something else to consider is the cost of transportation within different cities: do you have a U-Pass included in your tuition, or do you need to pay for a monthly transit pass? Or, do you have a car, and do you need to pay for gas, parking and maintenance? Similarly, if you live in a large city, car insurance has a tendency to cost more than if you were in a smaller community.
One of the last things you should consider is how much it will cost you to move to this new city. If you are moving cross-country, the cost of renting a vehicle to bring all of your stuff can be upwards of $10,000 or more. This can includes the rental of a truck/trailer, insurance, a fee per kilometre you drive, the cost of gas, the fees issued by the rental company to drive their vehicle back, as well as buying food and renting a hotel room.
If you opt to bring only the essentials with you when you move, furnishing an apartment or house can be expensive as well. If you only plan on living in that city for the length of your program, perhaps it’s more worthwhile for you to live in residence for some of the time.
However, Spicer makes a great point when it comes to accessing what the location of your prospective school may be: “Location should be the last consideration of anyone applying to grad school, but it does obviously play a role in deciding where to go. […] I would caution anyone from letting this factor be the deciding one. Look at what the school offers, then consider the location.”