Financing University 101: The Basics

Posted by Megan on May 21, 2015

Archive | Finances

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Paying for university is one of the more stressful parts of postsecondary student life. To help minimize any anxiety related to money matters, I have created a new mini-series, Financing University 101. Check back often for a new post that will break down the financial side of attending university and offer useful tips, resources and more. Today’s post focuses on the basics: on how much university costs, and the most common ways students and their families pay for it.

First, let’s take a look at some frequently asked questions and their answers.

Quick graphic of FAQs, also indicated in the running text.

One of the most important things to remember is that course fees depend entirely on course load. Thirty credits – about five year-long courses, or a total of ten Fall and Winter ones – are considered a full course load.

Quick tip #1

Many students have found success taking a reduced course load, at least for their first year, making the transition from high school to university easier. A reduced course load often results in higher GPAs, a better understanding of course materials, increased self-confidence in academics and less stress-induced anxiety. It is also a great way to make tuition fees more affordable.

You will need to enrol in at least 9 credits a semester to be considered a full-time student, which is an important distinction for OSAP and other forms of funding. If you are a registered student with a disability, you will only need to enrol in 6 credits a semester to be considered full-time. You can also take up to 15 credits during the Summer semesters, which means you could do a reduced course load during the main school year, between September and April, and make up the difference in the summer, still graduating in the standard amount of time. It is important to note, however, that many students choose reduced course loads over a longer period of time (e.g., over five or six years) so that they can better supplement their degree with important resumé-building experiences such as working, studying abroad, volunteering and getting involved with student organizations on campus. At the same time, a reduced course load could negatively affect OSAP, so before dropping courses or deciding to go ahead with a reduced load, be sure to check with Registrarial Services – they can help you decide on the best options for yourself.

Funding University

The most common ways that students and their families pay for university include:

  1. Personal savings
  2. Working in the summer and/or throughout the school year
  3. Financial aid through OSAP
  4. Student line of credit
  5. Entrance scholarships, awards and bursaries for incoming students
  6. Student Financial Profile (SFP) scholarships for current students
  7. Independent scholarships and bursaries
An image of a poor student showing his empty pockets.
This doesn’t have to be you! Read on for some more useful tips. Image Source.

Personal Savings

Personal savings don’t have to come to an end once you are in university. Try to be mindful about your purchases throughout the year, so that you can continue to set money aside. While it’s a good idea to save up more money for subsequent years of school, it is also helpful to have an emergency fund in case your financial situation changes. In other words, don’t rely entirely on personal savings to fund your education.


Finding work that accommodates the often hectic schedule and lifestyle of a student can be tricky. York offers a number of student-friendly positions that will allow you to fit your working hours around your class times. Positions range from standard work/study opportunities, to research- or leadership-focused ones, such as Research at York, College Life at York and York Engaged Students. Check out Clivane’s recent post, CLAY On-Campus Job: Earn While You Learn, for more on this topic. These positions not only accommodate your schedule; they are also capped at a reasonable amount of hours, prove super flexible around the exam period and tend to pay higher than minimum wage. Score!

Quick tip #2

Interested in student employment at York? Many student positions are posted on the Career Centre website in August, so make sure to bookmark and check back then. You don’t want to miss out!

Financial Aid

OSAP, formally known as the Ontario Student Assistance Program, is a great option for many students. It is important to note that this is an income-dependent program, both for students and their legal guardians. This means that the amount of monetary assistance you will receive depends on your financial need as defined by the province. Eligible OSAP applicants also benefit from additional perks such as scholarships, 30% off tuition and many further grants that help you reduce your overall student debt.

Student Line of Credit

A student line of credit, offered through your bank, is an option for students who aren’t able to come up with the total amount of funds for university. Many banks will offer very competitive rates for up to $10,000 a year to a maximum of $40,000. Students only need to make interest payments each month (usually around $30-40 a month per $10,000) until after graduation, when normal payments will become necessary. Unless you have a moderate salary, however, you will need someone to co-sign (likely your parent) to make you eligible for a student line of credit. Make sure to speak with your bank’s financial advisor if you want to look into this option further.


Students can apply to a variety of scholarships. York offers a number of entrance scholarships to incoming students. Applicants and new students also have a vast number of awards and bursaries available to them; both need- and merit-based options exist. Once you’ve become a true Lion and are a current York student, you can fill out the Student Financial Profile (SFP) each year to be eligible for employment and other scholarships. Want to see what’s available? Check York University’s award database.

You can also look beyond York University scholarships for support. Not sure where to start? I personally recommend either Scholarships Canada or Yconic.

Quick tip #3

Many students apply for scholarships heading into first year, but stop seeking out this kind of support in subsequent years. To maximize the potential amount of funding you receive to help pay for university, I recommend checking for additional scholarships each year. Some successful students set the goal of applying for 5 or 10 scholarships a year! There is no guarantee you’ll receive a scholarship, but you will never know if you don’t apply! And chances are probably better than you think if you fulfill the eligibility criteria: significant amounts of money go unawarded each year simply because students don’t apply.

And there you have it! After reading this post, you are officially an expert on the Basics of Financing University. Have any questions about what you’ve read? Anything you’d like to add? Feel free to comment below or tweet me @yorkustudents. And know this is only the beginning – more tips and details will be on their way to you soon.


Megan is a third-year Psychology student. Follow her on her journey of self-development as she explores and ventures through campus.

See other posts by Megan

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