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How To Pay for Your University or College Education Without Student Loans

Carolyn is a political science student and wished she had this information before taking on student debt


If it were possible to go back in time and stop myself from applying for a student loan, I would in a heartbeat. My family did not make much money and all I had was $900 in bonds for my education at the time, but I still wouldn't have signed up for a loan to pay for my university education if I'd have known what I do now about student loans.

A student loan is a terrible thing to be stuck with for up to 15 years of your life in some cases. It's a heavy ball and chain to have to lug around with you everywhere you go. Bankruptcy won't save you from it, only death. It's a commitment more serious than marriage. You can't divorce your student loans. You can't run from them either. You're stuck with them no matter what.

Happily, there are a few alternatives to paying for your education so that you can still obtain your university or college education, and you won't have a huge amount of debt hanging over your head when you're finished either.

Take a Year Off

Aside from taking a nice little break after 12 straight years of school, taking a year off from going to university or college is a great way to save money for school.

Of course, this works best if your parents will allow you to continue living at home rent free (or as close to rent free as possible).

The important thing to remember during your year off is to keep in mind the whole reason you decided to work in the first place, to save for school. Try not to get sidetracked into buying the latest gizmos and gadgets or Call of Duty games, because if you do, all you will have is a lot of stuff and very little money to put towards your education.

What Kind of Job Will Your Education Get You?

In other words, what do you want to be when you grow up? Why do you want to go to school? Does the career you are interested in require a college or university degree?

The best thing you can do for yourself, years before you graduate is try to figure out what you want to do with your life. Is there openings in the field you are looking to get into, or are the job prospects few and far between? If you really love archeology, but the job demand for a paleontologist isn't there, perhaps you should reconsider your career choice.

Are you wanting a Bachelor's Degree in Literature because you like reading? Find out what kind of job you can get with that degree and what the pay is first. You may want to make that your minor and switch to a different major instead.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a firm believer in having a job that you love. But the reality is you can't live on love. It's far better to research the career path you want to take and what is required to achieve that before you jump into any college or university program blindly. This may save you time and money. There is nothing more frustrating than realizing mid-way through your degree that you really don't want to be an interior designer or a lawyer only to have to start all over again or end up stuck with a degree you don't like and will never use.


Attend a College or University Close to Home

The biggest expense aside from tuition is rent and food.  If you are able to attend a college or university close to home, you can save thousands of dollars on rent and food.

The average cost of living in a dorm with a meal plan included at most Universities in Canada is about $10,000 for 8 months, never mind a full year.  The cost of renting is close to that figure as well.

You need to ask yourself if it matters that you attend the best arts university in Canada, or will an arts degree from the U of Winnipeg for example, be good enough to get you a job?  In some cases, choosing which university you attend can make a difference for your career, in most cases, it doesn't.  Be sure to research if what you want for a career depends upon the university or college you attend.

Co-op or Work Study Programs

This is what they call the best of both worlds. Not only do you receive a great education but you also get placed in a job based on what you are studying and earn money while studying.

Be sure to research what the requisites are for any co-op program.  Carleton University for example, stipulates that you be enrolled in the Honours degree program and have a certain CGPA (8.0 or higher) and you must be registered as a full time student.

Work study programs are offered to students with financial need.  These are often jobs on campus and may or may not be related to the area in which you are studying.  This type of program is usually offered through your college or university financial aid office.

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Scholarships and Bursaries

Some scholarships can completely pay for your university or college education. Even if they don't, scholarships and bursaries can really help pay for the cost of your education. There are many scholarships that are awarded based on criteria other than academic performance.

Here are two excellent websites for scholarships in Canada:


Scholarships Canada

For scholarships in the US:

National Scholarship Research Service

College Board Scholarship Search

The financial aid office at your university or college will have application forms for bursaries. You must fill these out on your own because you are not automatically registered for them. They are awarded based on economic need.


Free University Education Plus Salary with the Canadian Armed Forces

According to the Canadian Forces official website:

For free university education:

Enroll in the Canadian Forces through the Regular Force Officer Training Plan (ROTP) and you will receive free university tuition, books and academic equipment in addition to a salary with benefits. You can attend the Royal Military College or an approved Canadian university. Finally, you will have a guaranteed job upon graduation.

In return for having your university education paid for, you will have to serve between 36 and 48 months, calculated on the basis of two months' service for each month of subsidized education.

For free college education:

Enrol in the Canadian Forces through the Non-Commissioned Member Subsidized Education Plan (NCM SEP), and you will receive free college tuition, books and academic equipment in addition to a salary with benefits. Finally, you will have a guaranteed job upon graduation.

In return for having your college education paid for, you will have to serve a number of years calculated on the basis of two months' service for each month of subsidized education. For example, if you receive paid college education over the course of 4 semesters, you will have to serve in the military for at least 32 months upon completing the program (each semester is four months long).

Not all degrees are paid for by the Forces, they have to be approved by the forces and are usually areas such as engineering and so forth. This is still a great option if you are interested in joining the forces and don't have the funds available for a college or university education.

© 2011 Carolyn Dahl


Carolyn Dahl (author) from Ottawa, Ontario on March 11, 2013:

Thank you Tom! I just wish I hadn't accumulated so much student debt myself, but hopefully this info will help others!

Tom Schumacher from Huntington Beach, CA on March 10, 2013:

I totally advocate living at home while attending college. Take on a part-time job to pay-down or pay-off tuition costs as they are incurred. And scholarships and bursaries definitely help. Useful information. Voted up!

Carolyn Dahl (author) from Ottawa, Ontario on February 08, 2013:

Spongyollama, sometimes you have no choice but to take out student loans and although it's a pain in the butt to pay back, depending on the job you get when you graduate, it can be worth it.

Jake Ed from Canada on February 08, 2013:

Quite interesting. Too bad I've already gone down the student loan road :(

At least I've gotten a massive sum in scholarships to make it not quite so bad and I really can't regret it thanks to all of the opportunities it's given me.

articleshome on November 27, 2012:

Very interesting and helpful article, especially for those, who don't know about these programs.

Drstabile on June 17, 2012:

I often wish I had taken some time off before attending college. This is good advice, and hopefully people will gain something from this insight. Voted up and useful.

Rusty C. Adore on January 22, 2011:

If I could send a letter to my past self and tell her NOT to apply for student loans I would! They are such a problem. I don't know if I will ever see my way out from under them.

Carolyn Dahl (author) from Ottawa, Ontario on January 07, 2011:

Thanks for the positive feedback rich, I wish I had taken a year off before heading to university, it would have saved me money and time!

rich_hayles on January 07, 2011:

Brilliant hub, this would be a fantastic guide for any student looking to go to Uni or college.

I completely agree with you. I would much rather have taken a year out and earnt money than to collect a crazy debt every year for 3 years during my time at university.

Currently in the UK opportunities for graduates (in my experience over the last few years) are decreasing. I firmly believe that an apprenticeship is a much better option at this stage as you learn while you earn. I also think a year in work benefits you in your time at college as you have far more life skills that can be applied to your learning. The students that excelled on my course took this route and all praised it.

Look forward to your future work.

Carolyn Dahl (author) from Ottawa, Ontario on January 05, 2011:

A lot of this comes from my own experience, unfortunately and so if I can educate others on their options, so much the better.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on January 05, 2011:

This is all EXCELLENT advice, and I hope a lot of readers heed it! So often, we steam right ahead into college without really thinking about what we're trying to get - and that's ridiculous, considering the types of financial risks one may be taking! Thanks so much for writing this Hub.

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