Parents and students often ask me for information on how to secure post-secondary placements in colleges and universities and how to finance their education.
Post-secondary education is expensive but a worthwhile undertaking if parents and students plan ahead. Studying for a college or university degree is an exercise in delayed gratification. It might seem expensive now, but as some children of my friends who did not finish college found out belatedly, the personal, financial, and opportunity costs in the long-run are even greater.
Whether one is a local or international student in Canada, expect education costs for tuition, books, housing, daily allowance and incidentals to go higher. So the sooner parents save up for their children’s education, the better. If our saving capacity,through a Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) or other instruments,is limited, our children can do three things:
(1) Get student loans;
(2) Work while studying; and
(3) Apply for scholarships, bursaries, awards or grants.
There are pros and cons in the first two options. Borrowing to invest is always a good idea; consider it a form of “good debt.” However, your ability to pay back your loan within a reasonable period of time depends on the interest rate at the time you are required to pay back and your ability to stay in the labor market. Borrowing money now can pay off well sooner when your chosen field of study is in high demand, recession-proof, and offers the security of wage or salary increases to offset inflation, interest rates increase, and costs of moving for career promotion. Some companies are now offering student loan repayment as part of benefit packages to help retain young professional talents.
Working while studying is a good option if the type of work one does while studying contributes to one study program and career goals. Internships and practicums are now part of post-secondary curricular programs, but these are often unpaid when taken for credits or are part of university-industry partnerships. Many colleges and universities offer Coop Education Programs – as diverse as Engineering and Arts -- where part of the curriculum is career placement in an agency or enterprise that pays the Coop Students a regular salary as they would an employee. Coop Programs are highly competitive because of the high demand for guaranteed on-the-job training employers prefer.
University and college campus-based jobs often pay better than minimum wage fast-food jobs and travel time from [school] to [work] gets reduced. Departments and Faculties also offer worthwhile work experience to students, often posted on bulletin boards or through listservs sent out regularly by the administrative staff. So regularly check out the bulletin boards and sign up for your Student Union or Alma Mater Society and Departmental/Faculty listservs, that sometimes sent out announcements for jobs, scholarships, and grant application.
I also advise that you check out and connect with faculty members with research grants from the three federal funding agencies (NSERC or Natural Science and Engineering Research Council; SSHRC or Social Science and Humanities Research Council, CIHR or Canadian Institute for Health Research) as they often have funding for research assistants, project coordinator, and other roles. The rule of thumb is to secure employment in the line of work or career you want to enter.
I personally prefer working over borrowing, given the benefits above. However, if a study- or career-related job is not possible, I recommend a combination of student loans, part-time work, bursaries, grants and scholarships that can be merit-based (e.g. top marks, community involvement, leadership record, etc.), needs-based (e.g. financial hardship, single parent status, etc.), identity-based (e.g. indigenous, person of color, new immigrant), or academic criteria-based (e.g. research interests, field of study).
Early admissions are often required if students are also applying for scholarships, so check the different deadlines for admissions with scholarship or grants, and for admissions only. Besides the actual college or university websites – the first ones to visit -- there are many good websites to consult when computing the costs of a post-secondary education in Canada, some of which provide links to scholarships and grants, such as this one:
While there are often more scholarships available to graduate students doing their Masters or PhDs or post-doctoral programs, undergraduate students should check out first the General Entrance Scholarships and specific scholarships or bursary programs offered by the specific college or university where they want to gain admissions.
Most universities offer scholarships for specific programs. For example, the University of Calgary has the $24,500 Seymour-Schulich entrance award for students entering Engineering.
Specific agencies or donors give awards with specific criteria such as this one, a $4,500 grant offered by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to female Canadian students with interests in community activities related to women’s issues:
Another good source of scholarship grants are Canadian philanthropic foundations or societies. Vancouver Foundation has several criteria- and needs-based student scholarship awards, some linked to partner agencies, such as the Association of Women in Finance. The one from West Vancouver Foundation, which offers six scholarships of $1000-1500 with different criteria and eligibility for each award.
Most Canadian banks and credit unions also offer awards and scholarships to entering first-year students, such as TD Bank’s Community Leadership renewable award of 10,000 for tuition and $7500 for living allowance per year, and Royal Bank of Canada’s yearly Students Leading Change awards to undergraduate students, as well as 50 awards of $2500 to children of RBC employees:
There are dozens of agencies offering millions of scholarships to undergraduate students, as shown in this partial list:
Sometimes, we just have to look, and know what to look for.
Applying for these scholarships and awards is one thing, getting them is another thing. The more competitive our application package is for college or university admissions, the more competitive we are for scholarships, grants, and awards.
As it is with life and schooling, success breeds more success. The challenge is how to get started and stay on that path.
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