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How to pay for a university education (when you haven’t saved any money)

Every September, over five million Canadian children head back to school, causing many parents—especially ones of older children—to wonder about the not-too-distant future. Countless articles emphasize the future value of post-secondary education and discuss how important it is to start saving early so you’re prepared to help supplement the cost of education in Canada.

Great idea! But what if you didn’t start saving for college or university while your child was still in diapers?

Maybe it was because you couldn’t afford to, or because life happened somewhere along the way, but you’re not alone if your child’s high school graduation is coming up fast and you don’t have anything set aside. According to IPSOS data, nearly one-third of Canadian parents of kids aged 14-22 have not saved anything for their child’s future schooling. If you are one of them, fear not! We have some suggestions about how to pay for a university education in Canada when you haven’t saved any money.

The cost of post-secondary education in Canada

Before you can determine how you’re going to help your child pay for school, it’s important to get a sense of how much money they are going to need. Once the prospective student has narrowed down their list, it will be prudent to validate the cost of tuition, books and any tools or equipment they will require for their program of choice. One of the most significant factors will often be the cost of living which can vary widely by location and personal preference.

Another important consideration will be whether your child will stay home or if they will go away to school. What’s the difference? According to a recent Maclean’s article on the cost of university education in Canada, students who live at home can expect to spend about $9,000 each year on school fees and related expenses. Those who are planning to go away for school can expect to spend closer to $20,000 a year. Either way, you’re looking forward to a significant expenditure for post-secondary education in Canada.

Paying for university without an RESP

Students with limited financial support from parents who take out loans to pay for school can expect to graduate with an average of $16,727 of debt after a four-year university program. That’s a heavy burden for someone who is just getting started in the work world. It’s no wonder parents feel compelled to do what they can to help, even if it comes at the expense of their own plans for the future.

However, before you start filling out the paperwork to cash in your retirement savings to supplement the cost of education in Canada, you should know that there are substantial benefits to having children contribute to the cost of their schooling. Consider this: higher financial contributions from parents are linked to lower grades among students. If that doesn’t convince you, maybe this will: university students who worked part-time during the school year (up to 20 hours per week) had a higher grade point average than those who did not work at all. They also gain valuable work experience that can help build their career after graduation.

Regardless of how much you have saved (or not), it makes sense to set an expectation that your child will be at least partially responsible for the cost of their schooling. But that doesn’t necessarily mean accumulating a large amount of debt to attend school, especially if you’re prepared to point them in the direction of sources of funds to help pay for their education. For example, along with the application for government student loan programs, and depending on your household income, students may be able to access grants that do not have to be repaid.

In addition to loans and grants, it may be helpful to know that every year, millions of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed simply because nobody applied. You should also know that many of the unclaimed scholarships are not tied to academic performance. With that in mind, the time spent applying for as many as possible could be very well spent.

Finally, remember that whether your goal is to provide for your child’s future or your own, it’s never too late to start saving. Visit our website and speak with a deposit broker to learn more about the options that are available to you.


The information, materials and opinions contained in this Blog are provided for your information only. This Blog does not constitute legal, financial or other professional advice and you should not rely on it as an alternative to specific advice based on your particular circumstance. This Blog contains links to third party websites. These links are provided for information and convenience; Home Trust does not endorse the content of any third party website, and it makes no representation or warranty as to the information on such third party sites. By clicking on any link to a third party site, you leave Home Trust’s website and do so at your own risk.  Home Trust disclaims all liability for any damage or loss that results from your access to or reliance on information contained in this Blog or any third party site.


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