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How I Paid for My University Degree

Telfer students studying in a study room in the Learning Crossroads (CRX)

Sonya Gankina

by Sonya Gankina Website ›

4th-year BCom student

Paying for university… what comes to mind? Maybe it’s your parents who generously support you, or maybe it’s OSAP payments, or even a bank loan. Generally, the associations are not particularly positive. For me, they happen to be. 

When it comes to university education, parents and students are often concerned about the cost. University is more expensive than college and students graduating high school often wonder if the benefits are worth it. As a fourth-year graduating student from the Telfer School of Management, today I am here to tell you that you can afford it all on your own, even without OSAP, and what benefits come of it.

Working Part-Time

So, here is what I did. When I had just turned seventeen and was in Grade 11, I started Young waitress taking orders in cafeworking at McDonald’s in my hometown. I would work afternoons after school, Saturday mornings and sometimes overnight, working about 15 hours a week. Honestly, it was really fun to be around many of my high school friends who also worked there, and I got free food. It also taught me how to deal with any kind of customer; those that yelled at me for not having drink trays and ketchup packets, and also those that were really sweet and patiently waited for their fresh pot of coffee. I actually wrote an entire blog post about working at McDonald’s and how it prepared me for the real world here. I definitely would recommend it to any student in high school. I even worked there when I moved to Ottawa for school and also in the summer after my first year, working full-time when I lived at home. Working at McDonald’s both part-time through high school and university, then full-time during the summer allowed me to save up enough money to pay for the first two years of my university education. 

Getting Scholarships

To this day, I haven’t applied for OSAP. Starting from first-year, I started applying for scholarships as well as working. I got good grades because I wanted more scholarships and because I care about school (and have a crippling fear of failure), and I got involved since I heard it’s a good thing to do. I was one of the founding members of the Women in Management Network, a Career Centre ambassador, and then the Business Dinner Project Manager on TECDE (The Entrepreneurs’ Club). Both good grades and involvement in the school are great for receiving scholarships. I would get a couple per school year, which would cover most of the semester, and were immensely helpful. It’s easy to apply on uOzone and although they take a while to be reviewed, it’s very worth it. There are also many scholarships in the community that take a bit more research to find and complete since some require essays, but committing a week of time for scholarships and for them to pay off with thousands of dollars is a very good investment. I am a business student, so you can trust me!

Overhead view of hands working on a laptopInvesting

Okay, so you know how I said I didn’t get OSAP and all of that. In my fourth year, I *accidentally* got them to pay my tuition because I forgot to check the “don’t need a loan” box on my grant application and they automatically paid for it. Since I had the money in my bank account for that semester already, I invested it into a Guaranteed Investment Certificate (GIC) with my bank and once I receive that money at the end of the year and pay off OSAP, at least I will have made interest too. I am not saying you should do this, but that’s what I did to remedy my situation since there was no way to cancel the OSAP payment of my tuition immediately. Remember to check that box if you don’t want the loan! Do apply for the grant though.

Why I Pay for University Myself

If your parents are willing to pay for your tuition, that’s great. But I actually found it extremely rewarding to pay for my own education because it made me appreciate it more. When I considered skipping class (and obviously never have…), I always thought about how much that class was costing me. It motivated me to keep going even when school got really tough because I know I am investing in my future (hopefully). It’s also nice to be independent and know I don’t have any real debt. So my only real advice to you is to work. I know it’s basic and obvious, but honestly, it’s really the only thing you can do, especially if you are on your own. And if you are worried about working part-time while studying, let me tell you, it’s totally possible. I wouldn’t even know what to do with my time if I was studying full-time and not working. Obviously, everyone has different learning styles and you might need the extra time, that’s understandable. I found it better for my time management to be busy, work, and study so I had clear windows when I would have to get things done, and less opportunity for procrastination (still do it though). Plus living on your own and being independent is kind of cool. You can eat cake for dinner and no one can tell you otherwise!

How Do I Pay for University?

In conclusion, I paid for my entire university education through working part- and full-time, receiving scholarships, and investing. It made me a better person and continues to do so. I learned how to balance a lot of things on my plate, get good grades, and still find time for relaxing, having fun, and having a social life. If I can do it, you can absolutely do it too. 

Instagram: @sonyagankina