Whether it’s to nourish a love of learning or gain much-needed skills for an ever-changing labour market, many counsellors have clients who are interested in going to school. Prices for education can range from free/low cost to several thousand dollars per year. How can we help clients financially plan for their education?
When I meet with a client to talk about paying for school, I start by suggesting they complete the following:
- An annual budget that lists income/expenses for the year. This helps them know if they’ll have enough money for school overall;
- A monthly budget that breaks down income/expenses for each month in school and determines if they’ll have enough money on a monthly basis; and
- A month-to-month cash flow statement for the period they’re in school. Using a spreadsheet or an app like Dollarbird, clients enter and see all income/expenses for the upcoming months. By carrying forward last month’s balance to the next month’s opening balance, clients know if they will have enough money on the date they need it.
If, after these exercises, a client determines more money is needed for school, there are several options:
Clients may be able to take advantage of education funding through the Ontario Student Assistance Plan (OSAP) or the BC equivalent, BCSAP, for example. The following is relevant to OSAP. Check your province’s student loan program for specific details.
- The funding from OSAP combines a federal/provincial loan and grant; in some cases, students can reject the loan and take only the grant.
- Applicants must be Canadian citizens, permanent residents or a protected person, meet academic progress requirements, be studying an OSAP-approved program and demonstrate financial need.
- Loans are to be repaid starting six months after school is done, with monthly interest; grants do not need to be repaid. Repayment assistance is available.
- OSAP is for part-time or full-time students taking most college/university programs at any level including diploma, undergraduate or graduate degrees (other than continuing education certificates, with some exceptions).
- Being approved for OSAP may make students eligible for other school bursaries, work-on-campus programs and specialized funding such as the Bursary for Students with Disabilities, a grant of up to $10,000 for disability-related educational services and equipment.
- Apply online, at no cost, at least six weeks prior to program start date. Funding is based on financial information provided by the student, course load, program and other factors. Appeals can be made to the financial aid office of the school the student will be attending.
If you like this article, you might also enjoy “5 steps to guiding clients through education planning“
Scholarships and bursaries (offered by the school)
- Scholarships offered directly by a school are awarded based on merit (eg, academic, community work). Typically students don’t need to apply for these (unless otherwise instructed); they’re given out automatically by the school to outstanding students on the basis of grades or other achievements.
- Bursaries are based on financial need. Students apply for these in the late summer through their school (typically through their online student account). The student’s application should demonstrate financial aid and bursaries may be awarded based on their need and available funds, and is usually a credit toward their tuition. Once enrolled (in a college/university), emergency bursaries are available as well.
- These are databases of scholarships and bursaries available across Canada, searchable by geography, school/program, dollar value and award requirements. Students apply for these directly via the website. The eligibility for funds varies greatly, and applications may require an essay or evidence of community involvement, for example. Both are valuable resources and can offer unique and specific opportunities (for single mothers or students in the trades, for example). However, since it may take some time to research options and satisfy the requirements, I usually suggest this option after clients have exhausted others first.
Savings/employment (including on-campus jobs)
- Can your client save money for school from an existing job? Do they have savings? Can they work while in school (without sacrificing study time)?
LLPs (Lifelong Learning Plans)
- Canada’s Lifelong Learning Plan allows eligible students to withdraw money from their own RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan) to fund their education (or their partner’s), up to $10,000 per year to a maximum of $20,000. Students have 10 years to repay the funds to their RRSP.
Second Career/other provincial funding
- In Ontario, Second Career funds up to $28,000 for education and living expenses to help laid-off workers attend a program to retrain for a field that’s in demand. Second Career’s emphasis is on employability: clients interested in Second Career attend an information session at an Employment Ontario centre and work with an employment counsellor to conduct and document a thorough job search. If/when eligible, their employment counsellor assists them in submitting a Second Career application. There are many rules to this program, but it could be an option for laid-off workers who require new skills in order to secure employment.
Social services caseworker (social assistance/disability programs)
- For clients who access social services, their case worker can be a great asset. The case worker may know of affordable education programs or have funding available to support the client.
- Friends/family. Studying part-time. Crowd funding. Side hustles. Participating in (safe) research studies. Yard sales.
Takeaway advice for clients
Not all of these options will work for every client, but you can generally suggest: apply for everything and anything you might be eligible for, but apply smart: start with your own resources, then government funding, then school bursaries and lastly external scholarships. Finally, start early, don’t give up and relish your opportunity to learn!