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How to Take Control of Your Finances While in College, University, or Post-Secondary Trades or Technical School

Post by Madison Guy

Is your post-secondary financial stress as bad as your exam stress? Many college, university, and post-secondary students find their pockets feeling quite empty by the time second term or second year roll around. Saving up enough money working during high school or in the summers isn’t always possible. And you might not have an RESP (Registered Education Savings Plan) to fall back on. If you’re like me, you don’t want to hit your parents up for cash, so what can you do? Let me tell you what I did, and how you can do what I did.

It Is Possible to Graduate Debt Free – I Did and So Can You

Graduate post-secondary debt free, tips from Madison Guy of Grant Me.I recently graduated from the University of British Columbia and the Sauder School of Business without any debt and over $15,000 in the bank. My parents only helped me my first year; after that I wanted to do it on my own. But the stress of working, studying, and trying not to worry about money was killing me. I knew I had to find a better way to pay for my education – and I did. I was able to collect $50,000 to help pay for my own education, after which I started Grant Me to help other students do the same. 

Here are 5 key ways in which you can take control of your finances for the remainder of this school year and beyond:

1. Apply for Scholarships and Awards – Money You Don’t Have to Pay Back

Most of the non-repayable funding I accessed in scholarships and awards came after I had already begun my undergraduate degree. Many students believe the only time you can access scholarships is in your last year of high-school, however this certainly isn’t the case. There are millions of dollars available to current post-secondary students each year.

There are scholarships available in every type of program including four-year degree programs at university, diploma programs at colleges, trades and technical programs. There is almost always something for everyone and many of the scholarships that are available go unclaimed. If you are willing to do a bit of research you will definitely be able to find scholarships that you are eligible for.

Tip: Start by checking with your school or program to see what scholarships or awards may be available to you.

2. Look for a Part-Time or Summer Job

I was fortunate enough to have made over $10,000 every summer which allowed me to focus on school in September and worry less about money. Set yourself up for success by beginning your summer job search early. You will need to create a strong resume and cover letter that can easily be adapted to different job descriptions. Competitive and high-paying summer jobs are posted as early as January and interviews begin in early Spring. If you wait until after exams to start looking, you will miss out on many high-paying summer job opportunities.

If you weren’t able to make enough money over the summer to cover all of your expenses, there are many part-time student jobs available during the school year. Many schools have a work-learn program, in which students can work part-time hours in positions on campus. These positions are flexible so that you are able to work around your study schedule. Most programs also offer co-op positions for students to gain hands-on work experience for their resumes, while making money to pay for tuition and other expenses.

Tip: Look for positions within the municipal or provincial government. Positions with a strong union will often pay well above average. If you’re still in high school, develop skills and obtain certifications that lead to high-paying summer jobs, e.g. life guarding.

3. Create a Realistic Budget

Create a student budget, apply for scholarships & awards, graduate without debt & money stress.I always took the time each summer to create a financial plan before I headed into the school year so that I had a clear understanding of my income and expenses. Creating a budget can be as simple as comparing your educational expenses against any income streams you may have and writing it down on a notepad. It can take less than 15 minutes, but it is an easy way to make sure that you are being smart with your money.

Students who completely ignore budgeting and make purchases without tracking them often end up with large student debt that takes years to pay off. Creating a plan for your monthly expenses is a long-term solution to ensuring you make it through the school year debt-free.

Tip: Many websites offer free budget worksheets including Grant Me’s Ultimate Student Guides. A downloadable, interactive Excel spreadsheet for students is available from

4. Cut Your Expenses – Avoid Turning Wants Into Needs

During my undergraduate degree, I found many creative ways of cutting down my expenses. It is important as a student to compare your necessary and unnecessary expenses. If you mismanage your money in September, it is likely that by the end of first semester your pockets will be empty. Look carefully at your budget to determine if you have any unnecessary expenditures.

For example, if you are covered under a parent’s medical and dental plan, then you can opt out of your institution’s student healthcare plan. Many students have double coverage that they don’t need, which costs them $200-$400 extra each year. Another good idea is to rent your textbooks instead of purchasing them. Many textbooks are available at university or public libraries and can be borrowed for free!

Tip: It is still okay to treat yourself on occasion! If you have factored it into your budget, go buy the new shoes!

5. Understand Your Debt – Student Loans Must Be Repaid

There are many different types of debt that students face including student loans, student lines of credit and credit card debt. If you have already gone into student debt or if you are thinking about applying for a student loan or line of credit, make sure you fully understand your responsibilities. Student loans and lines of credit are meant to support students and can be helpful if they are managed correctly.

Before applying for a student loan, line of credit or credit card, make sure you fully understand the repayment terms as well as how interest will accrue. Government student loans defer required payments; private sources of funding, including student lines of credit from your bank or credit union, typically require at least interest payments while you are at school.

If you do apply for any kind of student loan, make sure that you don’t treat that money like it is yours. Financial aid should be used as a safety net and you must remember that every penny you spend is a penny you will have to pay back later on.

Tip: If you do apply for financial aid of any sort, look into any scholarships or awards that you may be eligible for because you are now in financial need.

Take Control of Your Post-Secondary Finances and Graduate Without Debt

Post-secondary education has become as basic of a requirement as a high-school diploma in order to successfully enter the workforce. However, the cost of that education has continued to rise. Think about these 5 tips now in order to take control of your finances and graduate without debt.


Madison Guy is the founder of Grant Me, which she started to help students navigate the university admissions process and make it easier for them to pay for their education. After receiving over $50,000 in scholarships and awards herself, she wanted to share her experiences with others. 


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