How to Help Your Child Pay for Postsecondary Education: First Year Debt-Free

As the parent of two children in university, the recent release of Statistics Canada’s newest figures on tuition fees is of interest to me. The average tuition fees for fulltime students in undergraduate programs in Canada is $6,373 with the lowest tuition fees in Newfoundland and Labrador ($2,759) and the highest in Ontario ($8,114). Tuition however, is just part of the cost of postsecondary education. There are also other expenses such as accommodation, food, textbooks, supplies, transportation, entertainment, etc. The cost of higher education can be daunting, especially if you haven’t prepared for it.


Two years ago, I began to look at ways we could help our children exit postsecondary education with little or no debt.

First, I researched government loans and grants (money that does not have to be repaid) for students in Ontario. Each province will have its own programs. Although I was aware that my daughter could most likely obtain a student loan from the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP), I was unaware that this program included loans AND grants. My daughters didn’t have to apply separately for these grants; they were automatically considered for them when they applied for a student loan. In the 2017-18 school year, there will be one single Ontario Student Grant.

Second, I checked out various universities and colleges and realized that postsecondary institutions offer scholarships and bursaries as well. First, there are the entrance scholarships that are based on a student’s average. Students are automatically considered for an entrance scholarship when they apply to attend the school. Also, some schools offer other major awards where a student can apply with one single application. There are also scholarships which may be program-specific, or based on leadership, volunteerism, and/or academic average. Students must apply for each of these types of scholarships separately. Bursaries as well require an application. They are given based on the student’s financial need.

It is imperative to make note of the deadline dates of the various scholarships and bursaries. Many deadlines are earlier than you may think. When your child applies to a school, encourage him to apply for the scholarships and bursaries offered there even if he has not been guaranteed acceptance into the school. Some schools even require you to apply for an award before you can make application to the school e.g., Queen’s University offers Major Admission Awards which must be applied for by December 1. The lesson here is to research the schools in which you are interested, and make note of the deadlines.

Third, I decided to take on the challenge of looking for external scholarships and bursaries for my children. These may be offered by national, provincial, or local companies, organizations, clubs, banks, professional organizations and the list goes on. Scholarships are mainly based on merit – a student’s leadership activities or volunteerism and/or academic achievement. Bursaries tend to be given based on the economic circumstances of the family.

Searching for scholarships is not straightforward. Your child may not be eligible for them, or the scholarships may be outdated. Deadlines vary. While I did the searching, my children had to be on board. Applying for scholarships is work. Most require an essay, as well as reference letters. We learned that applying for the local or provincial scholarships, rather than the national scholarships, gave them a better chance at winning; although the dollar amounts of these scholarships are generally smaller, there are also less students vying for them.

While our family takes the “we’re-all-in-this-together” approach, with the cost of higher education these days it almost seems necessary for all families to have this perspective, if they can, in helping their children obtain higher education.

And by the way, one of my daughters went through her first year of university debt-free. How did she do it? She went to the local university while living at home. She also worked a fulltime summer job before the start of the school year. She received the 30% Off Ontario Tuition Grant (valued at $1830), a Canada Student Grant ($744), two university bursaries ($3000), and two external scholarships ($3500). It all adds up! Now on to the second year!