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Financial Survival 101: Making it through university

  - Leader file photo
— image credit: Leader file photo

As university students head back to campus for the fall semester, many may be thinking of ways to manage education costs, which leave undergraduates with an average debt load of $24,600 after their studies, according to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada.

Yet, while university may seem expensive, lack of post-secondary education may be even more costly in British Columbia, between 2004 and 2010, 76 per cent of new jobs went to university graduates, with only 24 per cent filled by college graduates.

How do you land those prized jobs without joining the debt statistics? First, without doubt, RESP funds provide the best security against student debt. If you’re a parent with a young child who doesn’t have an RESP, talk to your financial institution today. For students already attending university (or near entry) who have little or no RESP funds, creative solutions can help you graduate with reduced financial liabilities. Here are some ideas.

1. Stretch your studies

If possible, consider lengthening the duration of your studies to give you time to save needed funds for your courses. You will need to weigh the benefits of completing your studies promptly against the reduced financial pressure of stretching it for an additional year or two. If you can take breaks between courses to work and set aside money for school, you’ll avoid or reduce accumulated debt at the end of your program.

2. Take credit, give credit

Universities charge by credit hours and cost per credit can vary widely from one institution to the other. One strategy is to accumulate credits towards your major in a less expensive institution, such as a community college or smaller university. You can then switch to your dream institution, transferring those credits with you. You end up with a degree from your preferred university, but at a fraction of the cost. Be sure to check first that credits from your first institution are transferrable to your target school.

3. Go Spartan on spending

As a student, you’ll need to put a tight lid on your spending. Consider this a sacrificial period that will pay off later. Spending on social and recreational activities is part of university life, but as much as possible, adopt a Spartan lifestyle. You can do this by using student discounts, buying used books, living with parents or sharing accommodation with a roommate, carpooling, and cooking your own meals.

4. Let your boss pay

Okay, it’s not actually your boss who will be making the payment, but talk to her or him about whether your company can defray part of your education costs. Many companies provide some educational funding for employees if the course or program will enhance the employee’s job skills. There may be conditions attached, such as committing to work for the organization for a set period of time on completion.

5. Join the scholarship club

You don’t need to be an Einstein or a top basketball talent to win a scholarship and the Internet is making it easier to scour for awards of all kinds. According to one conservative estimate, Canadians leave more than $15 million in student awards unclaimed each year because they are unaware that they exist.

One portal that brings together a wide variety of scholarships, bursaries, contests, and special offers ($87 million in financial awards, according to the site) is www.studentawards.com. Another helpful website is www.scholarshipscanada.com. Awards from sites such as this may be small (which means you may still need other funding sources, possibly a student loan), but they can help some. And who doesn’t like free money?

Undoubtedly, university can be financially challenging. But with some planning and smart decision making, students can earn their educational credits without over-reliance on financial credit. To all my student readers, good luck in your studies!

Kathy McGarrigle is chief operating officer for Coast Capital Savings, Canada’s largest credit union by membership size.

 

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