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RESP Basics

Post-Secondary Ready Checklist: Everything you need for school


Whether you’re a high school graduate venturing into the realm of post-secondary education or a returning student ready to tackle another academic year, being well-prepared is key to success.  

From essential school supplies to lifestyle adjustments considerations, we’ve broken down everything you’ll need to thrive academically and personally during your time at school at home, on-campus or abroad. 

Click the box that applies to you  to download a printable checklist with everything you’ll need for your new journey.

A Guide to Post-Secondary Education Expenses

Navigating the world of post-secondary education can be both an exciting and daunting experience, particularly when it comes to understanding and managing the associated expenses. Whether a prospective student, a parent, or a returning learner, an RESP in Canada can help alleviate some of the burden of post-secondary education expenses.

Your expenses can vary significantly depending on the institution, program, accommodation, and location of your post-secondary education. Many families open an RESP and invest up to the contribution limits to support their child’s higher education goals. This guide aims to demystify the financial aspects of post-secondary education, offering insights and practical advice to help you plan and budget effectively, ensuring you can focus on your studies and future career with confidence.

A Breakdown of Post-Secondary Education Expenses

Tuition Fees

Tuition and fees are often used interchangeably, but they refer to different aspects of the cost of education. Tuition typically covers the cost of instruction, while fees encompass additional charges for services and facilities provided by the institution. Common fees include registration, laboratory, technology, and health services fees. For example, students may encounter fees for campus amenities such as fitness centers, health clinics, and student government activities.

Cost Variations

The cost of tuition and fees can vary significantly depending on factors such as the type of institution (public vs. private), the program of study (engineering vs. liberal arts), and residency status (in-state vs. out-of-state or international). Public institutions often have lower tuition rates for in-state residents than out-of-state or international students. Additionally, professional programs such as law or medicine may have higher tuition rates than undergraduate programs.

Living Expenses

Beyond tuition and fees, students must also consider living expenses, which include housing, food, transportation, and other daily necessities. Housing costs can vary depending on whether students choose to live on-campus, off-campus, or at home with family. Food expenses can fluctuate based on dining options and personal dietary choices. Transportation costs may include public transit fares, fuel expenses, or parking fees, depending on the location and transportation methods available.

Additional Expenses

In addition to tuition, fees, and living expenses, students should budget for additional costs such as textbooks, course materials, technology requirements, and extracurricular activities. Textbooks and course materials can be a significant expense, particularly for courses that require specialized resources or frequent updates. Technology expenses may include purchasing a laptop, software, or internet access. Extracurricular activities like clubs, sports teams, and cultural events may also involve membership fees or participation costs. Planning for these additional expenses is essential to avoid financial strain during the academic year.

Our specialists tailor savings plans to ensure your child’s educational dreams become a reality.

Strategies to Manage Your Post-Secondary Education Costs

Managing costs effectively is a concern for students and their families. This section explores strategies to navigate the financial aspects of post-secondary education, focusing on scholarships and grants, student loans, saving and budgeting techniques, and alternative education options. By understanding and implementing these strategies, students can make informed decisions to minimize financial burdens and achieve their academic and career goals.

Scholarships and Grants

Scholarships and government grants are valuable sources of funding that do not require repayment, making them excellent options for reducing education costs. Scholarships are typically awarded based on academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, talent, or financial need. Grants are often need-based and provided by governments, institutions, or private organizations. Resources for finding scholarships and grants include college financial aid offices, online scholarship databases, community organizations, and professional associations.

Student Loans

While scholarships and grants can help cover some expenses, many students rely on student loans to finance their education. The government funds federal and provincial loans, while banks and other financial institutions offer private ones. Federal loans often have more favorable terms, such as fixed interest rates and flexible repayment options, than private loans. Practice responsible borrowing practices like understanding the loan terms and conditions, borrowing only the amount required, and exploring options for loan forgiveness or repayment assistance programs.

Saving and Budgeting

Saving for post-secondary education expenses requires careful planning and budgeting. Start by setting savings goals and establishing a dedicated savings account or investment vehicle. Consider automating contributions to your savings account to ensure consistent progress toward your goals. Budgeting strategies include tracking expenses, prioritizing needs over wants, and seeking out cost-saving opportunities, such as buying used textbooks or cooking meals at home. Utilize budgeting tools and apps to help monitor your spending and adjust your budget as needed.

Exploring Alternatives

Exploring alternative education options can help reduce costs while still achieving your academic and career goals. Community colleges often offer lower tuition rates and flexible scheduling options, making them an attractive choice for completing general education requirements or earning transferable credits.

Online learning platforms provide access to a wide range of courses and degree programs, allowing students to study from anywhere at their own pace. Work-study programs offer opportunities for students to gain valuable work experience while earning money to help cover educational expenses. Researching and considering these alternatives can help you make informed decisions about your educational path while managing costs effectively.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much will my post-secondary education cost in total?

The total cost of post-secondary education can vary widely depending on factors such as the type of institution, program of study, location, residency status, and personal lifestyle choices. On average, tuition and fees for a four-year degree program at a public institution can range from tens of thousands to over a hundred thousand dollars, while private institutions may have higher costs.

Additionally, students need to consider living expenses such as housing, food, transportation, and other miscellaneous costs like textbooks and supplies. Research the specific costs associated with your chosen institution and program and create a budget that accounts for all expenses to estimate the total cost of your post-secondary education.

What are the differences between scholarships and grants?

Scholarships and grants are both types of financial aid that do not require repayment, but there are some differences between them:

Award Criteria: Scholarships are typically awarded based on various criteria such as academic achievement, extracurricular involvement, talent (e.g., athletic or artistic ability), or specific demographics (e.g., ethnicity, gender, or military affiliation). Grants, on the other hand, are often need-based and awarded to students who demonstrate financial need.

Source of Funding: Scholarships are funded by various sources, including colleges and universities, private organizations, businesses, community groups, and foundations. Grants are often provided by governments (federal, provincial, or local), educational institutions, or private organizations.

Application Process: Both scholarships and grants usually require an application process, which may include submitting essays, transcripts, letters of recommendation, or financial information. However, the specific requirements and application procedures can vary depending on the scholarship or grant program.

Renewability: Some scholarships and grants may be renewable, meaning they can be received for multiple years of study if the beneficiary meets certain criteria, such as maintaining a minimum grade or demonstrating continued financial need. However, not all scholarships and grants are renewable, so review the terms and conditions of each award carefully.

Overall, scholarships and grants are valuable resources for students to help offset the cost of education. Understand their differences and explore all available options to maximize financial aid opportunities.

How do I qualify for financial aid or student loans?

In Canada, eligibility for financial aid and student loans depends on various factors, including your province or territory of residence, financial need, and enrollment status. Here’s a general overview of how to qualify for financial aid and student loans in Canada:

  1. Complete the Application Process: To be considered for most government-funded financial aid programs and student loans in Canada, you typically complete an application form. In most provinces and territories, this involves applying through the government student aid agency or department responsible for student financial assistance.
  2. Demonstrate Financial Need: Many financial aid programs and student loans in Canada are need-based. They are awarded to students who demonstrate financial need. Financial need is usually determined by factors such as your family’s income and financial situation.
  3. Meet Eligibility Criteria: In addition to demonstrating financial need, you’ll need to meet other eligibility criteria to qualify for financial aid and student loans. These criteria may include being a Canadian citizen, permanent resident, or protected person, enrolling in an eligible post-secondary program, maintaining satisfactory academic progress, and not defaulting on previous student loans.
  4. Apply Early: Deadlines for financial aid applications can vary depending on your province or territory, so apply early to ensure you don’t miss out on available funding. Some programs have limited funding, and applying early can improve your chances of receiving assistance.
  5. Explore Other Funding Sources: In addition to government-funded financial aid programs and student loans, there may be other sources of funding available to help cover the cost of your education, such as scholarships, grants, bursaries, and awards. It’s worth researching and applying for as many funding opportunities as possible to maximize your financial aid package.
  6. Understand Repayment Obligations: If you receive student loans, understand the terms and conditions of the loans, including the interest rate, repayment schedule, and options for repayment assistance or loan forgiveness. Ensure you know your obligations and plan to manage your student loan debt responsibly.

To get specific information about financial aid and student loan programs available in your province or territory, visit the website of the relevant government student aid agency or department. They can provide detailed information about eligibility requirements, application procedures, and available funding options.

Is it better to take out private or government student loans?

Student loans can help invest in your child’s education. When considering whether to take out private or federal student loans in Canada, there are several factors, including interest rates, repayment terms, borrower protections, and eligibility criteria.

Government Student Loans:

  • Interest Rates: Government loans in Canada typically have lower fixed interest rates than private loans. The government sets these rates, which may be lower than what private lenders offer.
  • Repayment Options: Federal and provincial student loans offer flexible repayment options, including income-driven repayment plans, which adjust your monthly payments based on your income and family size. You may also be eligible for loan forgiveness programs in certain circumstances.
  • Borrower Protections: Government student loans come with borrower protections such as loan forgiveness for permanent disability or death, and options for loan consolidation and repayment assistance if you experience financial hardship.
  • Grace Period: Federal student loans often have a grace period after graduation or leaving school. The grace period can provide financial relief as you transition into the workforce.

Private Student Loans:

  • Interest Rates: Private student loans may have variable or fixed interest rates, which can be higher than federal loan rates depending on your creditworthiness and the lender’s terms. However, you may qualify for competitive rates if you have excellent credit.
  • Repayment Options: Private student loans may offer fewer repayment options than federal loans. While some lenders may offer flexible repayment terms, such as interest-only payments while in school, they may not provide income-driven repayment plans or forgiveness options.
  • Borrower Protections: Private student loans typically offer fewer borrower protections compared to federal loans. You may not have access to options like loan forgiveness or repayment assistance if you experience financial hardship.
  • Eligibility Criteria: Private student loans often require a credit check and may require a cosigner if you have limited credit history or income. Federal student loans, on the other hand, are available to most students regardless of credit history or income.


Federal student loans in Canada generally offer more favorable terms, borrower protections, and repayment options than private loans. However, if you have excellent credit and are comfortable with the terms of a private lender, a private student loan may be a viable option. It’s essential to carefully compare the terms and conditions of both federal and private loans and consider your financial situation and future repayment ability before deciding.

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Written by Embark

Embark is Canada’s education savings and planning company. The organization aims to help families and students along their post-secondary journeys, giving them innovative tools and advice to take hold of their bright futures and succeed.