-Rate this article and enter to win
Paying for postsecondary sure can induce a sense-of-humor failure. But at Student Health 101 we had to find an upside, so here it is: The cost of higher education is an opportunity to build certain vital life skills—like stress management, financial self-empowerment, damage limitation, and problem solving. We’re confident these skills will be at least as valuable to you as your degree is. To get started, check out what students wish they’d known about loans, scholarships, bursaries, and grants.

Student loans come in many shapes and sizes

“I wish I was more educated on what my options were. I received a student loan through my bank and was not educated about student loans in high school.”
—Undergraduate, University of Regina, Saskatchewan

  • The federal government offers several types of student loans, depending on your province or territory.
  • Bank loans and lines of credit are provided by some financial institutions. Lines of credit provide a set amount of money that you can withdraw from when needed. Interest is only paid on the amount of money you take out.
  • All loans must be repaid.

Gobbledegook overwhelm?

“I wish I had known how it works and [that it was explained simply] in a ‘book for dummies’ or a 101 course.”
—Name & university withheld

dollar signDecode loan language


“I wish I had been aware of the six-month grace period after finishing the program.”
—Graduate student, Algonquin College, Ontario

  • Know when you’ll be expected to start making payments.
  • Know what your minimum payments will be.
  • Know whether your interest rate is fixed (never changes) or variable.
  • Know when interest will start to accrue.
  • Know your grace period (how long until you’ll start making payments).
  • Know whether your loan gets you a tax deduction.

Fixed vs. floating interest rates

“I wish I had understood interest rates back then.”
—Undergraduate, University of Windsor, Ontario

  • Depending on your student loan type, you can choose between fixed and floating interest rates.
  • Fixed interest rates mean that the percentage of interest your loan acquires doesn’t change.
  • Floating interest rates mean that the percentage of interest your loan acquires fluctuates. While the percentage is lower, a floating rate changes with the economy, so it’s riskier than a fixed rate.

Get organized

“I wish I had known to pay interest while in school.”
—Memorial University of Newfoundland, Newfoundland & Labrador

  • Keep track of loan amounts, providers, etc. This helps with your taxes, loan repayments, and self-empowerment.
  • Read the info carefully. Don’t miss a deadline.
  • If possible, start paying on the interest as a student to keep rates lower later.
  • Routinely track your spending (see You may also enjoy).

dollar signStudent budget worksheet

Reconsider how much you need

“I wish I had known the amount of loan I would need so I could have made an informed decision.”
—Undergraduate, University of Waterloo, Ontario

  • Check out the “cost of attendance” info on your school website.
  • Take out as few student loans as possible.

dollar signCalculate your needs

Don’t miss your repayments

“Even if your mom pays your loan, it’s still in your name. Make sure she makes those payments on time!”
—Undergraduate, Metropolitan State University, Minnesota

If you don’t pay on your loan, it will be considered delinquent or in default. This can negatively affect your credit score and reduce your options for getting a cell phone, or buying or renting a place to live.

dollar signInfo on defaulting


“I wish I knew about other options besides loans, like scholarships, especially [because I am] the first in my family to attend university.”
—Undergraduate, Algoma University, Ontario

Student story
Felecia Hatcher was awarded $130,000 in scholarships. Her advice: Focus on what you’re great at or what you love, and apply for local scholarships: “The pool is so much smaller.” Hatcher is author of The “C” Students Guide to Scholarships (Peterson’s, 2011).

  • Scholarships are usually merit-based. Some scholarships support students facing challenges or contributing to their communities, or employees of certain companies.
  • Scholarships don’t need to be paid back.
  • Check regularly for opportunities others miss with the office of financial aid or the scholarship office, and online.
  • Apply for scholarships every year.

Grants, bursaries & paid positions

“I wish I had known a way to avoid having to take out loans in the first place.”
—Undergraduate, Humboldt State University, California

  • Grants and bursaries provide free* money for school (*usually).
  • The federal government offers grants in most provinces based on need. Check with your province to see what’s available.
  • Check for grants with your office of financial aid and your academic department.
  • Also look for opportunities  from non-profit organizations and research and travel programs.
  • Apply for grants and bursaries every year, even if it didn’t work out last time.
  • Ask about work-study jobs, residential advisor (RA) positions, and other paid part-time roles.

dollar signScholarships, bursaries & grants

Essential info on student loans:

dollar signTypes of student loans

dollar signGovernment loans by province and territory

dollar signNon-governmental loans

dollar signInterest rates

dollar signRepayment and grace periods

dollar signCalculate repayment time

Students’ stories

"I wish I’d seen the big picture"

“[I wish I knew] to apply for more scholarships so I wouldn’t come out of university with so much debt.”
—Graduate student, University of Guelph, Ontario

“I wish I’d known that I would have had to take out a student loan to pay for school. I would have started working much sooner so that I would have had to take out much less. I wish I’d also known more about general banking terms and practices—interest rates, payback periods, etc.”
—Undergraduate, University of Guelph, Ontario

“I wish they went through a budgeting plan with me for my entire university career before they let me have access to the money. (First year definitely had many hard lessons).”
—Graduate student, university withheld

“The process to get [loans] can be long and drawn out and you may not get much, as they rate you on family income and not sole income.”
—Undergraduate, Dalhousie University Agricultural Campus, Nova Scotia

Loans are not free money. It builds up and I need to pay it all back with interest after I graduate, whether or not I can find a job.”
—Undergraduate, University of Alberta

"I wish I’d known this earlier"

Without looking it up, could you say how long it will take you to pay off your loan?

  • Yes: 58%
  • Guesstimate: 24%
  • No idea: 18%

Source: Student Health 101 survey, August 2015. 250+ Canadian students answered this question.

 “I wish I had known that student loans are not [always] accessible or flexible with life circumstances that interfere with academics.”
—Undergraduate, Mount Allison University, New Brunswick

“That if I withdrew from a program I couldn’t cope with, it could affect my next loan.
—Undergraduate, St. Clair College, Ontario

“I wish I [knew] the importance of paying off the principal as I attended school. This really helps in the long run!
—Undergraduate, University of Wyoming

“I wish I knew how much I owe, how to pay it off as I go, how much they’re growing in interest, and how long it will take me to pay off!”
—Undergraduate, Roger Williams University, Rhode Island

"What I’d do differently"

How quickly could you locate the details of your student loans?

  • Right now; it’s all in one place: 59%
  • Give me an hour; it’s sort of organized: 28%
  • Give me a day; I’d need to search: 11%
  • Help! Could be anywhere: 2%

Source: Student Health 101 survey, August 2015. 230+ students answered this question.

“I should have gone through school more slowly and with less debt. I should have managed better when I left school for a time. I’m still struggling almost ten years after taking my first loan.”
—Undergraduate, University of Regina, Saskatchewan

“I wish I knew more information about a student line of credit. I regret not going with the line of credit, as I could have made payments throughout my time of education instead of having to wait until I graduate from university.”
—Undergraduate, Saint Mary’s University, Nova Scotia

“I wish I knew how to get the most out of it (less part-time semesters, how long I have before the loans runs out).”
—Undergraduate, University of Windsor, Ontario

Budget smartly and know the benefits of having a savings account.”
—Undergraduate, Humboldt State University, California

Video is loading...

This survey should take about 5 minutes to complete. You will be prompted to enter your name and email so that we can contact you if you're the winner of this month's drawing.

Your data will never be shared or sold to outside parties. View our privacy policy.

I read the article + learned from it
I read the article + learned nothing
I didn't read the article
What was the most interesting thing you read in this article?

Next >>

Brandy Reeves is a health educator at the College of Public Health at the University of Kentucky. She received her undergraduate degree from Miami University, a master of public health from Ohio State University, and a master of higher education from the University of Kentucky.