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How to Pay for College or University without Getting into Major Debt

Q: I recently finished my first year at college. I had too much fun being out on my own for the first time that I didn’t manage to keep my grades up high enough to have my scholarship renewed for a second year. By the time I realized this, I’d missed the deadline to apply for a student loan. I can’t ask my parents for help, so I’m working full time to earn what I can. I’d rather not take a year off, so what can I do to pay for school and manage better on my own?

College & University Costs, Paying for Post Secondary EducationA: The school of hard knocks is a tough teacher; unfortunately you’ve learned an expensive lesson. The trick now will be to develop an overall plan for your finances, as well as your studies, which keeps you from having to worry about money so that you can focus on your grades.

How to Budget Your Savings

Between now and September, create a plan to account for how you’ll pay for education and living costs and how you’ll balance study, work and free time. Keep in mind your savings need to be budgeted carefully, as it is considered “irregular income,” so that it lasts throughout the school year.

Excel Budget Calculator for Canadian University and College Students

Avoid High Student Loan Debt | Other Funding for College & University

Funding for school generally falls into two categories – repayable and non-repayable.

Repayable funds include government student loans, student lines of credit and family loans. Money that you borrow for college and university studies is debt and needs to be repaid when you stop studying, whether you graduate or not.

There are many different types of non-repayable funds – scholarships, community awards, bursaries, grants, co-op programs, working while studying and for some, family gifts or living at home while attending school. Exploring all of these options takes time, however it’s usually well worth it.

Contact your financial aid and awards office at your college or university to find out more about the different kinds of funding available to students. Also ask about the next application deadlines so that you don’t miss out again.

You Don’t Need All the Money Up Front

Post-secondary education is expensive, but it also doesn’t need to be paid for all at once. Working part time, while taking a slightly reduced course load, might mean that you spend an extra year at school or study year round. However, it also means that you could avoid excessive amounts of debt, leave school with some experience on your resume and maintain a work-life-school balance.  

Create a Personal Budget

Regardless of how you fund your education, your expenses can’t exceed your income. As you make your plan, establish a budget (that has a little room for fun!) and prioritize your goals – personal, academic and financial. Here’s a list of practical tips for post-secondary students to get you started.

A Money Action Plan (M.A.P.) Will Keep You on Course

The last thing you might want to do right now is sign up for a workshop about money management. However, a little direction from a free webinar will easy your worries.

With a realistic plan to keep your spending in line and to help guide your decisions, you’ll get through the stressful periods that we all experience from time to time.


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