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.

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