Money: How to Fund Your Education

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by Guylaine Spencer

You know what you want to study after high school and where you want to go. Next comes the hard part: figuring out how pay for your college or university education. In Canada, tuition alone can cost between $2,500 and $8,000, and then you have books and commuting expenses on top of that – additional costs that students often underestimate, says Tracie Long, Associate Director, Student Financial Aid, McMaster University.

You may not be aware of all of the financial aid opportunities that exist out there – yet. But if you think of this as your first “school assignment” you’ll find, as Long says, that “a little bit of legwork/research can go a long way.”

So where do you start? The best place is the financial aid office at your post-secondary institution.

Long says that staff can help “make students aware of the financial aid available. They also advise students of the importance of creating a budget and sticking to it!”

One major source of money for students is summer employment and part-time jobs. According to a Labour Force Study Survey, 41 percent of male full-time students aged 20 to 24 and 52 percent of female full-time students had part-time jobs in 2007-2008. In addition to employment in restaurants, stores and temporary placement jobs, you may be able to get an assignment related to your studies through a co-op placement or through the Federal Student Work Experience Program.

Many schools also hire students for campus jobs. “McMaster offers approximately 700 full-time summer work (up to 35 hours per week) and over 600 fall/winter work-study jobs (up to 10 hours per week) with on-campus employers,” says Long.

What skills do you have? Could you offer your services on a freelance basis? For example, could you tutor others in music or art, coach sports, teach other students your native language, write articles for your community newspaper, walk dogs, paint houses, sew, design web sites, create and sell your craft, or art work, etc?

Long also suggests participating in research studies and note-taking (McMaster’s Centre for Student Development pays students who take notes for students with disabilities).

Looking for more creative ideas? What about trading basic skills for housing? A family might want a tutor and babysitter for their children in exchange for room and board. An older person or someone with a physical disability might need someone to do work like cooking, shopping, cleaning, and snow shoveling in exchange for a free or reduced-rate room. Check on campus, with a community centre, or with a religious institution, or post your own advertisement.

Then there are scholarships.

According to a recent report, 23 percent of undergraduate students at Canada’s major universities receive merit-based scholarships. “Entrance scholarships are a recruiting tool for institutions, so there tends to be more awards for entering students,” says Long.

Other possibilities include athletic scholarships, company and union scholarships (where you or your parents work), and grants from professional associations, community associations, Lion’s Clubs, Legions, and local chambers of commerce. Some awards are set aside for specific ethnic communities, religious communities, women, people with disabilities, people who do volunteer work, and different fields of study.

Some scholarships are only open to students in later years of study based on their performance, so plan to keep those marks high.

You may also be eligible for grants from the provinces, territories and the federal government depending on your income and that of your family.

Long stresses that “students from low income families… need to know that there are opportunities available to them before they rule out post-secondary education as an option.”

In addition to the grants mentioned above, the federal and provincial or territorial governments can arrange loans for students in need. The government covers your interest payments during your studies and until six months after your graduate. If you’re still dependent on your family, your parents will need to provide their financial information. If the government decides that your family can afford to cover all your school expenses, though, you may have to seek a loan elsewhere.

A grandparent or aunt or uncle might be willing to loan you funds. You might also be able to arrange a bank loan or a student Line of Credit if your parents will co-sign.

If you still need money, you might want to consider studying part-time and working full-time. It will take longer to earn your degree, but it will be easier to afford.

You may still be eligible for help through the “Canada Student Grant for Part-Time Studies” program. Ask your employer if they offer grants for education; many do. Finally, don’t forget to file your annual income taxes. As a student you could get a nice refund from tax credits such as: Tuition tax credit, Canada employment tax credit, Public transit passes tax credit, Moving expense deduction.

How parents can help

Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP): If you save money for your children’s education through a RESP, the interest you earn will be tax-free. In addition, you may be eligible for a free grant of up to $500 a year from the government through the Canada Savings Grant program.

You can also use the new Tax Free Saving Account to save money. Need to borrow? Some banks offer a Homeowner’s Line of Credit. You could also co-sign for a loan for your child, or get a credit card for them.

Tax Credits: If you’re earning more than your child, you should probably claim their tuition on your taxes. This will give you the bigger tax return, which you can then turn over to your child.

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