How To Finance Your College Education in Canada

For many students the prospects of attending college and achieving their career goals is hampered by their inability to navigate how to pay for their college education.  Don't panic!  Most students encounter the very same challenge and have found ways to work through it.  The following steps will break it down into very doable and manageable steps and remove some of the myths around how to finance your education.

Phase 1.  Getting Started Towards Your Chosen Career

1.  Explore the Right Career Option for You  - Before you even begin figuring out how to finance you education, you need to determine what the right career is for you.  High School Counsellors, Career Aptitude Tests, university and college web directories such as this one, can be great ways to assess your skills and interests and match you to the career that you know is right for you.  The fact of the matter is if you really want something bad enough, then the other steps are that much easier for you to successfully tackle.

2.  Choose the Right School - Research all the schools and the different programs they offer that you feel will satisfy your career path.  Then select your favorites and take the time to research each one and better understand these education options.

3.  Investigate All Your Funding Options including Grants, Scholarships and Loans - After high school you have the primary responsibility for paying for your further education. Most students meet their costs through employment income, savings, assets and support from their family.  However, if this is not enough or you've been out of high school for a number of years, Government Financial Aid may be able to supplement your own financial resources to help you reach your educational goals.

Types of Funding Available through Government Financial Aid:

  • Student Loans - There are three types of loans available to students in Canada – Provincial Student Loan, Canada Student Loan and Part-Time Canada Student Loans.
  • Grants and Bursaries - Several grants and bursaries are offered by the different provinces and are awarded based on financial need and other criteria. Neither Grants nor Bursaries need to be repaid.
  • Scholarships - A number of scholarships are available in the different provinces and are awarded based on various criteria, such as academic achievement or community involvement. Scholarships do not have to be repaid.
  • Programs for Student with Permanent Disabilities - If you have a documented permanent disability and will be studying at a designated post-secondary institution, there are financial aid programs available that you may be eligible to receive.
  • Programs for Students with Dependents - If you have dependents and will be studying at a designated post-secondary institution, there are programs available that you may be eligible to receive.

4.  Submit Your Student Loan Application - Work with your school's Financial Aid Office for assistance in completing your Online Student Loan application.

5.  Notification of Assessment Arrives in the mail - The Notification of Assessment will outline the amount of funding you are eligible to receive through provincial and federal funding.

6.  Fill Financial Aid Gaps if needed - If you do not receive enough funding through Grants, Scholarships and Government Financial Aid to cover the full cost of your education, consider looking into alternative loan options to make up your financial aid deficit. Select the best type of loan for your situation. Many students use a combination of funding sources to cover the cost of their education.

Finding Other Sources of Funding Beyond Government Financial Aid:

  • Check with your school's Financial Aid Office for upcoming opportunities in your area related to other available local scholarships, bursaries and awards.  Many times good colleges will maintain a list of available opportunities for students to pursue.
  • Direct loans from banks and credit unions may be another option for you
  • Financial support from community organizations and service clubs
  • Part-time Employment while you attend college
  • Family resources such as cash contributions for your education regardless of the amount.  Every little bit helps.  If your family is not in a position to offer a cash contribution they may be able to offer you a contribution in kind such as letting you live at home while attending school, helping with living expenses such as groceries, bus passes and other similar things.  Anything that will help you reduce your expenses will be helpful. 

7.  Understand the terms of your loan - It’s very important to fully understand the magnitude of committing to a loan. Provincial and Federal loans (not including Grants) need to be repaid. If you do not meet the terms of your agreement there are serious consequences.  So avoid the consequences of not repaying your loan!

Phase 2.  During Classes

1.  Meet your Financial Aid Administrator - The Financial Aid Administrator usually works in the college's Student Financial Aid Office and will be able to answer any questions or concerns you have for the remainder of your program and repayment period.

2.  Take your Student Loan Certificates to the Post Office! - Remember to thoroughly read the terms outlined on BOTH Provincial and Federal Certificates.

3.  Academic Requirements - Maintain good attendance and academic requirements while attending college. Each province has their own attendance and academic requirements that need to be met to remain in good standing with your Student Loan. See your school's Financial Administrator for complete details.

4.  Early Repayment - If your particular situation allows you to, you may want to start repaying your student loans while you are still in school. Any payments you make will be applied directly to the outstanding balance of your loan, so starting your repayment early will reduce your debt load after graduation.

Phase 3.  After Graduation:

1.  Enjoy The Grace Period - The Grace Period allows for you to find employment and get into a place where you have regular income coming in before you are required to make payments.

2.  Find Employment - Put the skills you learned to good work! Send out resumes and attend interviews.  Start your career.  You've earned it.

3.  Begin Repaying your Loan - When it is time to start repaying your loan, your lender will let you know when your first payment is due, the payment amount and where to send it. Make sure to select a payment method that works for you.

4.  Write-Off Student Loan Interest on your Income Taxes - This is very important and can help reduce the taxes your have to pay.

5.  Apply for Repayment Programs - If you’re struggling to make your Student Loan Payments, there are solutions available to help you.  Check with your college's Student Financial Aid office for suggestions.  Chances are they have seen it before and can be a wealth of information.  Just be proactive.

6.  The Final Payment - Congratulations! Be proud of your achievement!  You've earned it.