I’m Saif, a 23-year-old college graduate living in Toronto’s North York area. From a young age, I always knew I had to go to university. My parents immigrated here from Kolkata, India before I was born and worked hard to provide for me and my brothers.
We grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Kitchener, Ontario, and I became interested in the history of my home country and how it intersected with Europe, North America, and surrounding Asia. Needless to say, I applied to three history BA programs each at UofT, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Lakehead University.
UofT was always renowned in my family so I was ecstatic to receive my acceptance letter.
I thought that if I graduated from an arts program I was passionate about, I could pursue further graduate studies or eventually teach about the subjects I was so interested in.
Undergraduate Years at UofT
I relished every lecture, seminar, and tutorial — OK, I skipped a few here and there. But overall, I found university to be a rich, cultural experience and I learned a lot.
The only downside was money, though I didn’t quite realize it at the time.
I lived in residence my first year and used OSAP to cover rent and my tuition. Residence fees were expensive, so I moved into an apartment on Spadina Ave. with four other roommates in my second year. I still live there today, though some of my roommates moved on and new ones joined. I know it’s a big expense, but I couldn’t fathom commuting from Kitchener every day.
Throughout college, I didn’t work much. I spend most of my time socializing and studying but took the odd gig job shovelling snow and mowing lawns. I wasn't thinking about saving.
To manage my expenses, I took out three credit cards and quickly racked them up. At first, I made regular payments, sometimes even more than the minimum payment. But as my college career progressed, I engulfed myself in school and socializing, without considering my finances. I missed some payments, which hurt my credit score, but I caught up on a good portion of my balance in my final year of school.
I always figured I’d just deal with everything once I graduated and found a more grown-up job.
“Everything” didn’t feel like tens of thousands of dollars of debt at the time.
Graduation and Beyond
Fast forward four years and I graduated from the University of Toronto with an Honors Bachelor of Arts — I double-majored in History and East Asian Studies.
My degree looked great in a frame, but it didn’t spark much interest from employers. I applied to hundreds of relevant roles. Library administration, museum staff, college researcher, travel tour guides — I attended three or four interviews, but the competition must have been fierce. I never received a callback, and it’s been a year now.
I took a job at a coffee shop nearby. It’s cool to see full-time income coming into my bank account every two weeks, but all of my money goes toward OSAP and credit card payments. I can’t even think about finding my own apartment. My credit score isn’t great and paying for a room is hard enough.
As for my dreams of grad school? I stress myself just thinking about the additional debt I’d take on by pursuing further studies.
A credit counsellor’s advice to Saif
Saif’s student debt contributes to the $20 billion overall student debt owed to the Canadian government. He’s certainly not the only one struggling with similar obstacles upon graduation. But paying rent on a minimal income while balancing immense debt will only dig him deeper into a debt hole.
First, we advise Saif to move back home with his parents, at least for a few months. He can find a similar part-time job close to home and not feel pressured to work as much since he won’t have to pay rent. He may take that extra time to reflect on alternative career paths or educational opportunities.
Next, Saif should put his student loan repayments on hold by applying to the Repayment Assitance Plan. He can continue to re-apply until he finds a better-paying job to make more substantial payments.
And finally? There’s that pesky credit card debt. Saif might consider applying for a debt consolidation loan. His parents could co-sign it if his credit score is too low to do it on his own. Then, he should either cut up his credit cards or save them only for emergencies.