Over 2 million students were enrolled in Canadian post-secondary programs in 2021. Options for study? Vast.
But so are your potential debt obligations upon graduation.
The truth is that post-secondary school simultaneously supports and crushes financial goals at the same time. Crippling student loan debt, saturated job markets, inflation, layoffs, and high accommodation costs can transform your once-optimistic education plans into financial stress.
You don’t want that, and neither do we. That’s why our certified credit counsellors support so many of our clients in finding relief from a variety of debts, including credit card debt and student loan debt.
But back to your program. How can you minimize the financial burden of student loans and find financial stability after graduation? Whether you’re a parent supporting a graduating high school student, a prospective student, or a mature professional considering post-secondary education, these five financial considerations will help prioritize finances along with your studies.
1. Program job prospects and average salaries
School is for learning, and work is for making money. But that ideology didn’t consider the average $15,000 - $28,000 in student loan debt plaguing so many Canadians today.
It’s 100% worth it to map out career considerations to follow your post-secondary program.
Think of it this way. It’s much easier to make monthly student loan payments on a starting $50K salary than a year or so of zero luck trying to find work.
So when you look for a post-secondary program, consider two aspects for your financial future:
- Job prospects and progression: How’s the market looking? Are there plenty of job openings with your post-secondary program as a requirement or a nice-to-have? Or is a monthly job posting with 1,000 applicants more accurate? Similarly, consider whether your program offers you wiggle room in career advancement, or the opportunity to work independently down the line.
- Average salary: These are fairly easy to find on Glassdoor and Indeed. Of course, an investment banker’s higher starting salary is always attractive. But don’t feel dismayed if your career prospects have lower salaries. You might feel comforted in a field with lots of job growth, be it via seniority or professional development.
Post-secondary programs with high demand and starting salaries
Monster released a list of various post-secondary programs with their respective “earning premium” percentages. A simple example? A bachelor’s degree generally offers a 30% earning premium over just high school graduation. But you have to consider specific programs as well.
Here are some undergraduate programs that made their list for top-earning premiums, aka job prospects and salary potential:
- Engineering: 117%
- Computer Sciences: 86%
- Commerce: 74%
- Nursing: 71%
- Architecture: 65%
- Occupational or physical therapist: 60%
- Pharmacy: 58%
- Education/Teacher: 53%
Unfortunately, this list didn’t extensively cover skilled trade programs like plumbing, construction, mechanics, metal workers, and other professions with seriously high demand in Canada. Some of the highest job vacancies are in the retail trade, construction, manufacturing, and transportation industries, prompting a skilled trade shortage in Canada. Over 256,000 new apprentices are needed over the next 5 years to meet demand.
That’s why cities like Toronto are introducing students to skilled trades in high school. So if you want to graduate from a program with a near certainty of job availability, the trades are a fantastic option.
Post-secondary programs with saturated markets and lower starting salaries
Monster mentions a few fields that don’t line up with workplace demand or salary potential:
- Social sciences: 38%
- Life sciences: 37%
- Humanities: 23%
- Fine and applied arts: -12%
Now, does this mean you should write off post-secondary programs in the arts, for example? Not necessarily. You might leverage network connections in a certain program, or travel abroad to a city with more demand. The options are always there, but the path won’t be as clear-cut.
As for life sciences? You’ll be in school longer, but if you pair that BSc with a master’s in pharmacy, medical sciences, nutrition, or plenty of other specializations --- you might tack on more earning premium.
Still, you might want to consult a credit counsellor or financial planner to map out your financial goals and a plan to help you can reach them with a more modest salary.
2. Total program cost
The average four-year post-secondary program in Canada is just shy of $20,000. While tuition takes up a chunky 34% of that number, rent takes the highest cut at 40%. Other expenses in that figure include transportation, food, and groceries.
Macleans found that student debt increases each year you’re enrolled:
- Year 1: $9,217
- Year 2: $14, 052
- Year 3: $19,033
- Year 4: $23,396
What if you’re looking at a specialized program with a much higher tuition cost than average? Educational policy expert Rachel Fishman advises “improving your ROI.” That means looking at:
- Graduation rate to see if students are actually completing the program
- Co-op opportunities for relevant experience, and
- Simple major requirements, to nurture a timely graduation
You might limit your options to schools near your parents’ house so you can avoid hefty rents and transportation costs. But if you can’t sacrifice your dream post-secondary school and decide to move away from home, you’ll need a strict budget to make things work.
Our Budget + Expenses tracker helps you stay organized with spending categories that demonstrate where your money is going.
3. Internships and co-ops
Interested in a program with lower starting salaries upon graduation? We’re not telling you to abandon your dreams. But you should still try to find opportunities to fill in that gap, and internships is one of them. Some programs give you unique access to internships and co-ops, which offer:
- Work experience to beef up your resume
- Networking contacts to improve chances of employment
- Part-time or full-time income to help cover costs while in school
One example is the publishing field. Whether you’re a starting copyeditor or book designer, you won’t find high starting salaries in a publishing house. Plus, the competition is fierce, with fewer job postings and lots of applicants. Still, programs like Toronto Metropolitan University’s Publishing Certificate offer students an exclusive portal for co-ops and job boards to help students score employment and network contacts.
Need some inspiration? Check out Indeed’s roundup of Canadian internships and corresponding salaries. Industries like engineering, banking, and public policy seem to have some of the highest figures.
Pro tip: Make sure you negotiate a higher-than-entry-level salary upon graduation if you’ve completed an internship.
4. Credit counselling to learn more about loan options and repayment planning
Canadians have access to various loans and grants depending on their annual income, financial need, and program of specialty. For more information on those types of student loans, check out our student loan debt 101 article.
Get familiar with student loans via the National Student Loan Center (NSLC).
You will also want to consider a plan to repay those loans. You could plan to start while you’re still in school via part-time work or co-op placements. Or, you could bank on securing a solid job after graduation to start repayment.
If you already have student loans and are having difficulty making your payments, the Government of Canada’s Repayment Assistance Plan is a valuable resource. Depending on your income, you may qualify for reduced payments or no payments at all. You can apply for repayment assistance as soon as you start to repay your student loans and anytime while in repayment.
And if anything feels unclear? Consider a credit counselling session to become more aware of student loan repayment strategies, consolidation, refinancing, and even loan forgiveness.
5. Budgeting and money management
Bills tend to add up while you’re in school. You’re going out with friends, buying textbooks, taking trips back home, and budgeting for university takes a back seat. The result? You might notice your credit card balance creeping up slowly but steadily.
Money management is a vital skill for post-secondary students. A simple way to get started is by writing down expenses and income details to keep track of things. Our Budget + Expenses tracker is an accessible way to do that. It includes categories for debt obligations, home expenses, tuition, and more to help you identify areas of wasted spend.
Consult a Credit Counsellor for Student Finance and Loan Concerns
Bottom line? Post-secondary education should get you closer to your financial goals, not further away.
But we won’t sugarcoat things. One survey found that nearly 75% of older graduates regretted taking on student debt.
While you can minimize your burden through budgeting, careful program selection, and scholarship options, it’s unlikely you can eliminate student loans completely from the equation.
Our advice? Start early. If you haven’t determined a financial plan for your post-secondary journey, talk to a credit counsellor to learn more about student loans and how to mitigate their burden. And if you’re struggling with student debt, we can help you explore debt refinancing and consolidation options.