Are you wondering how to afford your education?
Although attending university in Canada is arguably more affordable than going to college in the US, tuition costs are steadily rising. Notably (and to the outrage of many), Quebec opted to double tuition costs for out-of-province students in late-2023.
Thankfully, there are several avenues students can explore to get financial aid in Canada. Below, I’ll share some of the most common forms of financial aid, explain how they work, and how to handle your student loan debt.
In addition to rising tuition costs, the cost of living has also increased substantially in recent years. The cost of groceries, transportation, and rent (for those living off-campus) are becoming costlier, resulting in an increased demand for financial aid.
Here are some of the most popular forms of financial aid Canadian students can explore.
When it comes to financing your education, government loans are a staple.
The Canada Student Financial Assistance Program (CSFAP) is your federal go-to, offering interest-free loans while you’re attending university. These loans won’t accrue interest until you’ve graduated (and often started working in your chosen career field).
Provinces and territories may also offer their own versions of student loans, often working in tandem with federal student aid. For instance, in Ontario, there’s OSAP, and in British Columbia, it’s StudentAid BC.
Each region tailors its program to suit its students, so check what’s available in your area. Remember, while they’re a lifeline, government loans do need to be repaid, so plan your borrowing with your future in mind.
- Related Reading: Options For Student Loan Forgiveness In Canada
Grants and bursaries are often overlooked but equally invaluable for students looking to fund their education.
The great thing about grants is that students don’t have to pay them back. This essentially means that grants are free money.
They’re typically need-based, targeting students who need financial help the most. To ensure that they’re not taken advantage of, some grants may also have stipulations requiring a student to maintain good grades or remain enrolled in school.
The Canada Student Grants Program is a prime example, as it offers support based on specific criteria like your family’s income or if you have dependents.
Educational institutions and private organizations also offer grants and bursaries, each with its unique application process and eligibility criteria. Keep an eye out for these opportunities as they can significantly lighten your financial burden and don’t have to be paid back.
Unlike loans (which must be repaid) and grants (which often have a lower threshold for eligibility), scholarships are incentives that recognize your achievements in academic, athletic, artistic, or community-oriented areas.
They’re not one-size-fits-all; some cater to specific fields of study, extracurricular interests, or community involvements.
For example, top schools often offer sports scholarships to talented athletes who agree to play for the college team in exchange for tuition reimbursement.
Private organizations and community groups may also offer scholarships to young people who meet certain criteria.
ScholarshipsCanada.com is a great resource to find scholarships that you can apply for.
Work-study programs allow you to earn money and gain valuable work experience while you study.
These programs typically provide part-time, flexible job opportunities on or near your campus, that align with your academic schedule. They’re a smart way to earn an income without venturing far from your studies.
Aside from your paycheque, work-study positions can help you build your resume, grow your professional network, and give you a taste of real-world work experience in your field of study. Check with your university’s financial aid office to see what work-study options are available to you.
Applying for financial aid, grants, and scholarships can be a bit confusing, especially if it’s your first time. Thankfully, most secondary schools offer student resources and guidance counsellors to help you through the process.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to begin applying for student aid in Canada:
Step 1 – Start with Research: Begin by identifying which financial aid options are available to you. Check out government websites, university financial aid pages, and scholarship portals for up-to-date information.
Step 2 – Gather Your Documents: Most applications will require documentation like proof of income, academic transcripts, and identification. Here’s a handy list to keep you organized:
- Personal identification documents (e.g., driver’s license, passport)
- Proof of enrollment in a post-secondary institution
- Financial documents (e.g., tax returns, bank statements)
- Academic records (e.g., transcripts, report cards)
- Letters of reference or recommendation (for scholarships)
Step 3 – Understand Deadlines and Timelines: Each financial aid program has its own deadlines. Missing these can mean missing out on aid, so mark them in your calendar. Government loan programs usually have fixed deadlines, while scholarships and bursaries can vary widely.
Step 4 – Filling Out Applications: Whether you’re applying for loans, scholarships, or work-study programs, attention to detail is key. Fill out every section accurately, and double-check for errors before submission. For scholarships, tailor your application to align with the scholarship’s specific requirements or themes.
Step 5 – Seek Help If Needed: Don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. School counsellors, financial aid offices, and even online forums can provide valuable guidance. They can help clarify application questions, review your application, and offer tips.
Final Step – Follow-Up: After submitting your applications, make sure to follow up if necessary. Keep track of your applications and don’t be afraid to inquire about their status.
After you graduate, you’ll need to create an action plan for repaying any student loans you applied for. This will help you avoid stress and any credit issues that could affect other important purchases in your life.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
Understand Your Repayment Terms: Get familiar with your loan terms. Look into your interest rates, monthly payment amounts, and the repayment period. Federal and provincial loans often have a grace period post-graduation, but it’s important to set your calendar to make sure you don’t miss the first payment.
Automate Your Payments: Budgeting is your best tool. Prioritize your loan payments and consider setting up automatic payments to avoid missing them.
Explore Repayment Assistance Plans: Canada offers several repayment assistance plans for federal student loans. If you’re facing financial hardship, these programs can help by reducing your monthly payments or even pausing them temporarily.
Consider Consolidating Loans: If you have multiple loans, consolidating them into one single payment can simplify your finances and potentially lower your interest rate.
Extra Payments Can Make a Big Difference: If possible, making more than the minimum payment can reduce your total interest cost and shorten your loan term.
Thankfully, there are ample opportunities for Canadian students to receive financial aid. The trickiest part is finding and applying for the various scholarships, grants, and student loans. The more organized you are, though, the easier this will be.
I recommend applying for free forms of financial aid first, such as grants and scholarships, as these don’t have to be repaid. Then, if you need additional funding, try applying for federal and provincial student loans.
While we’re on the topic, it’s also a good idea for students to plan their budget before attending school. Here’s how to determine your average cost of living as a student in Canada!