Finance 101

Finance 101: Navigating the financial aid system and how to get money for school

Cost of education

Post-secondary education is an investment in the future. While the government subsidizes the cost of post-secondary education, it does not cover all costs. Students are responsible for making a reasonable contribution to the cost of their education.

The cost of studies at a post-secondary institution varies based on the program of choice, whether a student lives in residence, off campus or at home, the cost of books, equipment, transportation and other living expenses.

Students may pay several types of fees:

  • tuition (academic) fees
  • residence fees
  • program-related fees
  • compulsory incidental (non-academic) fees

Tuition and Incidental Fees

A student’s tuition fees will depend on the program of study. University fees average anywhere from $5,700 to $12,000 per year. In some academic faculties/departments the tuition fees vary according to the number of courses taken in that academic year. Some college-based diploma and certificate programs cost much less.

Tuition fee information can be found at the university/college website. In addition to tuition fees, students pay incidental fees which average about $1,000 per year. Incidental fees cover the cost of campus and student services, and organizations (eg. library, athletic facilities, student activities).

Living Expenses

Board and lodging costs for the school year will vary according to where a student lives, whether or not he or she purchases a meal plan, and other living expenses. If a student lives in a university or college residence for single students, it costs approximately $8,500 to $15,000 with a full meal plan ($5,000 to $7,000 for housing only) per year. Some universities require first-year students to purchase a meal plan. Additionally, students should budget for phone, cable and Internet usage (depending upon where they live).

Books and Supplies

The majority of programs of study will require a combination of textbooks, special classroom aids, lab equipment, computer equipment, etc. The cost of books and supplies varies depending on the program of study, with $900 per year being the average for undergraduate students.

Transportation Costs

When budgeting costs for university, keep travel costs in mind. Those who commute by car and want to park on campus will need to purchase an annual parking pass or pay for day-parking fees.

Those who plan on travelling by public transportation should check to see if special student rates are available.


It is important to carefully review ALL the costs associated with obtaining your post-secondary education. There are tools available to parents and students to review and assess costs. It is also important to talk to your child about budgeting and family finances now to help them understand how budgeting, credit and other money matters work.

The following websites provide general information on budgeting for post-secondary studies:

  • - An informative website for planning post-secondary studies, including financial matters.
  • - This is a US-based website targeted at recent graduates with good tips for helping parents and students handle money matters.
  • Nearly all university and college websites offer information relating to budgeting. Visit the website of the institution(s) to which you are applying for more specific information.

Paying for post-secondary education

Financing your child’s post-secondary education program can be done using a variety of resources, including personal savings, education savings plans, scholarships, bursaries, grants and government-sponsored student loans.

Government Financial Aid

Ontario students have a variety of government-funded financial aid programs. Some of the programs in Ontario, include:

  • OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) provides a “Canada-Ontario Integrated Student Loan” and various and provincial grants for full-time students.
  • Ontario Student Opportunity Grant: This grant provides partial forgiveness of loans after the student completes his/her academic year. This grant reduces the debt for the academic year (Sept. to April) depending on the student's individual situation.
  • Income Tax Credits: Tuition fees are a tax credit when a student files a tax return. Students are also eligible to claim education and textbook credits. Unused credits may be transferred to a supporting parent.
  • Texbook and Travel grants for full-time students.

Students can be considered for all of these options through one application.  More information is available in the OSAP section of this guide and at

Please note: As a parent, you are NOT responsible for your child's student loans, even if he/she is unable to make repayment when the loan comes due. Repayment assistance programs can help borrowers in this situation.

Other Options

  • Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP): If you have set up a RESP account for your child, you can access the funds for the purpose of financing their post-secondary education once he/she has officially completed high school.
  • Personal savings: Some parents may choose to finance their child’s education without the help of a loan program or through application for scholarships and awards.
  • Bank loans/lines of credit
  • Assistance from another country (birth or residence)
  • Workplace benefits

Financial Aid and Resources Offered by Post-secondary Institutions

Work-Study Programs

Many schools offer work-study programs, which provide part-time on-campus employment opportunities for students.

  • Convenience of working on campus
  • Flexible hours
  • Practical experience
  • A pay cheque!

Scholarships, Awards, Grants and Bursaries

  • Entrance scholarships (awarded at admission)
  • In-course scholarships (awarded during study)
  • Specific achievements awards
  • Awards by application
  • Community contribution awards
  • Travel awards
  • Part-time studies awards
  • Bursaries
  • Grants

Financial Counselling

Every post-secondary institution has a team of qualified financial aid counselors/advisors who can assist with planning and managing finances. Their services are offered for free to all registered students. Most financial aid offices also provide workshops on money management throughout the academic year.

Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP)

The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) ( is used by approximately 35 to 45 per cent of Ontario students to fund their post-secondary education.

OSAP is a needs-based, Ontario government student loan and grant program designed to supplement the cost of post-secondary education. Students do not repay the loan until after they graduate from university or college (or if they decide not to return to full-time studies).

OSAP uses the cost of tuition and other fees, books and equipment, and a modest living allowance to determine eligibility. Most students find that they need to supplement their OSAP funding through summer employment, part-time work or other means.

It is a basic assumption of the OSAP program that parents will assist their children during the first four years of university study if they are financially able to do so. Therefore, the OSAP application must be completed by both you and child. The form asks that you declare information about your income, and about the number and ages of children in the family. The student is asked to provide details of summer earnings, assets and other income. The amount and the kinds of assistance for which your child qualifies is then based on this information. Completing the application does not obligate you to provide financial support.

Maximum for Full-time Students

To budget for your school year, it is important to understand OSAP's limits. Here's a helpful chart to illustrate the maximum amount of aid available for full-time students based on program choice and your personal circumstances.


Weekly Aid Maximum for OSAP Approved Schools

If you are enrolled at:

Single student with no dependants:

Student who is married, in a common-law relationship or a sole support parent:

A public college or university in Ontario



An approved private postsecondary school in Ontario or an Ontario hairstyling school (that is not on probationary status)



An approved Ontario private postsecondary school or Ontario hairstyling school on probationary status



A public college or university in another Canadian province



A private postsecondary school in another Canadian province



A private or public postsecondary school outside Canada



A hairstyling school outside Ontario

Not eligible

Not eligible

* This maximum is funded only by the Government of Canada.

Qualifying students submit their Master Student Financial Assistance (MSFAA) document to a designated Canada Post outlet.  Once classes begin the post-secondary institution confirms the student’s full-time enrolment to OSAP and the funds are automatically deposited to the student’s account.  The government pays interest on the loan while the student remains in school full-time.

Some parents may not wish to reveal the financial information required on the OSAP application, however, be assured that the information you provide is strictly confidential. You will be asked to sign personalized Consents, Declarations and Signatures forms which allows the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities to verify the income information against your tax return. You will appreciate that it is very important that the OSAP program, which is supported by your tax dollars, be safeguarded against abuse.

When you review the information on the OSAP website, you may receive the impression that the program’s expectations are inflexible and ignore individual circumstances. This is not accurate; appeals may be made for a variety of reasons. For example, parents whose income decreases as a result of retirement or job loss may have this factor considered in their child's assessment. If you are concerned about your situation, or if you have questions, you and your child should contact the college or university’s Financial Aid Office for advice.


Full-time students may be eligible for assistance through OSAP if they are:

  • Canadian Citizens or Permanent Residents or Protected Persons
  • Residents of Ontario*
  • Enrolled in a minimum of 60% of a full course load in EACH term (or 40% if you have a documented permanent disability)

*The student or student’s parents/spouse/partner must have lived in Ontario for at least 12 months prior to the start of post-secondary studies.

How to Apply

Applications can be made at It is highly recommended that first-year students apply by mid-June, to ensure that they will receive a “Notice of Assessment” before the start of classes.

Students must be enrolled in an adequate number of courses and have paid or deferred their fees in order to obtain their student loan documents once classes have begun in September. It is critical that students pay close attention to their college/university deadlines for paying and/or deferring (postponing) fees.

Fee Deferrals

A fee deferral is an arrangement made between the student and the university to pay fees after normal deadlines. For example, if a student is unable to pay the minimum balance of his or her tuition fees before the start of classes AND has applied for OSAP, he/she may request to have the fees “deferred” (or postponed) until his/her OSAP funding becomes available. Once the student has received a “Notice of Assessment” (either by mail or online), he/she may request a deferral at his/her institution. Each institution has a different process and policy. Please check individual college and university guidelines carefully.

NOTE: OSAP eligibility will be jeopardized if a student drops courses throughout the duration of the year. Dropping below 60% of a full course load at any time will result in a reassessment of OSAP funds.

More essential tools can be found on the OSAP website:

  • Search for OSAP approved schools
  • Learn about the “Student Access Guarantee”
  • Use the OSAP Aid Calculator to assess what financial aid is available to you
  • Use the Repayment Calculator to determine a payment plan once you’ve completed your studies