Dear High-School Graduates:
Congratulations on your high school diploma! This is probably the first of many milestones in your life. Give yourself a pat on the back. You deserve it. Even more so after 2 years of pandemic. Take a few days off. Relax and enjoy.
But if you’re moving onto post-secondary education, there’s actually a lot to think about.
I was the first in my family to go to university. As such, I didn’t have anyone to turn to for advice on this particular matter. My saving grace was that I lived in France back then. Tuition was pretty cheap. I also still lived my parents. I graduated debt-free.
Then, I emigrated to Canada and my 2 returns to school as an adult were a completely different story.
Here are a few pieces of advice that may help you avoid some of the mistakes I made.
Think Past Post-Secondary Education
What types of jobs can you get with your post-secondary education? How will you earn a living?
This is the mistake I made, back in France. I enrolled in Modern Languages, which is a subject I’m passionate about. Although it made worldwide traveling and emigrating to Canada easier, it didn’t land me any solid, high-paying job.
The first few years of my professional career were pretty unstable. It caused problems in other aspects of my life. So much so that I returned to school in 2009 to study Accounting.
I know it’s hard to think about right now, but you really need to be smart about an education that may put you tens of thousands of dollars into debt. Remember – education is only an investment if you can develop a career out of it and make money.
Don’t Dismiss Colleges and Trades Training
Another mistake I made was to only look at university studies. There are many benefits to going to a community college. They’re cheaper than universities, the programs are more hands-on in terms of practical experience; you can also take your time to figure-out what you want to do. And if you wish to go to university afterwards, you can usually transfer your college credits.
Trades training really has a bad rap at times. It shouldn’t be. Most tradespeople earn as much or more than their white-collar counterparts. Since robots and AI haven’t made their way into most trades, employment prospects remain excellent.
Understand Your Student Loans
If your parents couldn’t save for your education in an RESP, or if you don’t have enough savings yourself, you’ll most likely have to take student loans.
Whether you go through the government or your bank, please understand how your loans work, when you’re expected to start repaying them and how much your monthly payment will be.
They’re loans, not free money. Although the Federal Government is currently not charging interest, you still have to repay the principal at some point. Same applies in BC. In Canada you can’t discharge a student loan in bankruptcy unless you’ve been out of school for 10 years.
Research and Apply for Grants, Bursaries & Scholarships
Unlike student loans, grants, bursaries and scholarships are free money. You don’t have to pay them back and you don’t pay taxes on them either.
In Canada, about $10 millions of grants and scholarships are unclaimed each year. Why? Because people don’t apply for them! Start here and here.
I understand the application process can be tedious. You may be asked to write an intent letter, or an essay. You may need to attend an interview. Remember-each dollar coming from a grant or a scholarship is a dollar you don’t have to borrow.
That’s what I kept in mind, back in 2009 when I applied for a grant with the BC government. I had to fill-in pages of application documents, demonstrate how Accounting was a good career choice and attend an interview. It resulted in a $25 000 grant. I used it to pay for my living expenses. I took a loan to pay for the tuition fees, about $ 12 000. Both allowed me to focus solely on studying for 8 months.
Get a Part-time Job
Having a part-time job while you go to school is a smart idea for most students. It means you have to take out less student loans, and that you could potentially graduate with little to no student debt at all.
If you’re worried about a part-time job being too hard while taking full-time classes, there is no law that says your post-secondary education must be full-time.
The extra year or two it might take to finish your degree will be worth it when you graduate debt-free, or almost.
Stay Local and at Home
I know. Still living with your parents at 18 or 19 is uncool in North America. You know what’s more uncool? Still living with your parents at 30 because you’re saddled with student debt and don’t earn enough to pay your way.
Being a commuter student has many financial benefits. You’re better off paying a small rent to your parents than a full rent to a landlord. Campus accommodations aren’t better, provided you can obtain one.
If it’s not possible for you to study close to home, then follow the above-mentioned pieces of advice…and the one below.
Protect Your Reputation and Your Image
Whether you go to university, college or into trades training, please heed this valuable piece of advice: great companies don’t hire drug users, alcoholics, felons or drama king and queens. If they do by accident, these individuals are fired soon enough.
Protect your reputation, because one of these days you’ll want more out of life than attending a frat party. What you say and post on social media today can prevent you from getting your dream job tomorrow, and don’t ever have your picture posted on websites like Crime Stoppers.