The Burden Of A Student

Last modified on October 12th, 2013

While many people advocate going to school and getting an education, the reality is that education costs are more expensive than most people realize. Canada thankfully provides reasonably priced educations compared to the rest of the world, but it is far from free.

Given that I grew up in Chilliwack, and that I had to move out to Vancouver to attend UBC, I spent approximately $11,000 per 8-month period, which included housing on the UBC campus along with a university food program (which tasted fairly similar to prison food, I imagine). Of those costs, approximately $3,000 went towards tuition, $1,000 for books, and the rest towards accommodation, clothes and food.

Given that the average engineering summer job back then paid around $2,000 per month, it was essentially impossible to pay for a full year of school by financing it with the money you made during the summers, at least in my case.

Thankfully I did fairly well in high-school, and both UBC and SFU offered me full entrance scholarships. Had that not been the case, I would have ended up going to the local college in Chilliwack, which is now known as the University/College of the Fraser Valley (UCFV).

Because UBC offered me slightly more money, and most of my friends were heading out that way, I ultimately decided to attend UBC and enrolled in the Engineering Physics program. The first thing you learn in engineering school is how to hate arts students, not because they are taking arts classes (although, the ratio of girls to guys in those programs is fairly appealing), but more so because they have such a lighter course-load than engineers. A standard term in engineering consists of either seven or eight full time courses. UBC considers a full-time student to have five courses, and a part time student to have three. So engineers are pushed to take two or three extra courses per term compared to most other programs on campus. All told, I completed around 217 course credits during my bachelor’s degree. By comparison, a standard science or arts degree requires only 120 for the degree.

Even though I received a $14,000 entrance scholarship (which basically covered my tuition for four years), I was forced to finance the rest of my education with various student loans. All told, I walked out of my bachelors program with around $30,000 in debt, and began the struggle most students have after university — repayment.

One of the things they claim is a big benefit of student loans is that you have a six month grace period after ending school before you have to start making payments. That’s very true, but the part they leave out is that they start charging you interest on the full amount the moment you walk out the door. After my six month grace period expired, the loan people tacked on another $2,000 onto my principal to take into account the interest during that period. Thanks a bunch.

At that point, I worked for a few years and did my best to make payments on it, but given that I was a poor student with no car or any other belongings, I ended up spending a lot of my income just bringing myself up to adult standards (buying furniture, clothing, etc).

Two years later, I enrolled in the master’s program out at UBC, mostly as an excuse to move back home from Ottawa. Despite having a master’s degree on my wall, I would probably say that the master’s program was pretty much a waste of my time. I had very little interaction with other students, and many of the professors and supervisors didn’t really have any time for me, so I basically just learned the material on my own, and self-guided my own research. Two years into the program I found myself another $10,000 in debt and strapped for cash. I had a job offer from a local Vancouver company placed in front of me, so I moved into part-time status at UBC, and went back to work.

And here I am today. I completed my master’s degree (despite being part time), around November of 2006. Since graduating, I’ve reduced the $40,000 debt I had down to somewhere near the $15,000 mark, and also purchased a 2006 Mazda 3 Sport in the process (or most of it at least). I’ve grown quite tired of hauling around a big student loan, and decided last month to bear down and finally get rid of it.

I figure I could probably get rid of the whole amount sometime around March of next year, if I watch my expenses and don’t do any crazy travel for the next little while. So I’m probably going to periodically blog about my progress, just to keep myself motivated. I might modify my theme to show how close I am to paying it off, just for yucks.

There will come a day, sometime hopefully in the next six months or so, when I will be debt free. It will be the first time in about ten years, and it will obviously be a good feeling. I’ll take a photo the day I pay them all off and post it on my blog, because it will be a rather large milestone in my life.

13 responses to “The Burden Of A Student”

  1. Tyler says:

    Good for you for wanting to get rid of the trailing debt! A lot of students declare bankruptcy to get rid of their debt and they had to put in place that law where you could not declare it on your student loan any more or something.

    My sister was at about $120k and now about $60k I think in debt but she’s slowly working at it. She went to UBC for 4 yrs or so, got her BA in English Lit. What she does now is no where related to English Lit but she’s happy with what she does not.

  2. Rosie says:

    When you get rid of your debt, it will feel so good! Good luck!!

  3. Duane Storey says:

    $120k for a BA in English Lit? That must have been one hell of a bar bill!

  4. Eva says:

    Looking at the big picture, yes, a university education in Canada is much cheaper than other places in the world. I did my time at a large, private university in Boston (no, not MIT, I couldn’t get in). Anyway, yearly tuition alone was about $12-13K/year for me (I commuted from home). I took applied for whatever scholarships I could. I took on work-study jobs and applied for student loans. I usually had enough student loans to cover at least half the tuition. After all was said and done, I think it took me a total of 10 years to pay off all my student loans.

    For the heck of it, I checked out the university web page to see what tuition was like now. Here’s what I found for the 2008-2009 Acedemic year:
    Tuition $ 36,540
    Room $ 7,420
    Board $ 3,998
    Fees $ 510
    Total Billed Expenses $ 48,468


  5. Dale says:

    oh you will dude. I told you X-mas.

    You are behind taking at least $3000 in BNC funds 🙂

  6. Tania says:

    Good luck, Duane.

    Debt-free … I wish. :S
    I guess a girl can dream.

  7. Dan says:

    You teach a good lesson here.

  8. Phaedra says:

    I had no idea that they starting charging interest on the 6 month grace period. I thought a grace period meant exactly what it says – a grace period. My payments start Jan 1st/09. $38,000. Super stoked. Congrats on almost having yours paid off!

  9. Tawcan says:

    It’s too bad they changed the bankruptcy policies…

    Yeah Fizz was one heck of a program. I took 8 courses per term for a full year. Almost went psycho after that. A friend of mine took 9… not sure how he managed to pass every course.

  10. Duane Storey says:

    Bankruptcy is a necessary evil for some people these days. But I obviously don’t agree with students who would simply declare it to get rid of a loan they voluntarily took out. That just ends up eating tax payer dollars, and hurting other students.

  11. Beth says:

    I know your pain. 11 years of post-secondary, 3 degrees & $70,000 of student loan debt. I still live like a student (basement apartment, no car, etc.), and it will still take me 10 years to pay them off!

    I’m also surprised by a $120K debt in 4 years. I thought the max per year was in the range of $15-20K?

  12. tylor says:

    Some good pointers here (especially about grace periods), I’m only about $10k down right now and in year 3.5… my biggest savior was taking co-op 🙂

  13. Sarah-Renee says:

    It’s quite the predicament we get placed in. My little sister just started University two weeks ago and we’ve pushed for her to get an education above what I received. It’s a tough choice. If I could do it over again knowing what I know now, I still don’t think I would know what to do. Thousands in student loans only to end up with a job that pays less than what I make now, without any degree higher than an associate’s? Personal satisfaction aside that’s hard to swallow.
    Good for you Duane in working hard to get it all paid off! I hope you reach your goal!

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