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Managing your money at university: A guide for international students


One of the great things about choosing a Canadian university as an international student is the great value you get.
In other words, you’re assured top quality education (no matter which university you choose – as they are all public institutions), at some of the most competitive international student rates in the world. Particularly when compared to other popular destinations, such as the US or UK, Canadian universities typically weigh in at a fraction of the cost.

For example, why spend almost US$ 57,000 (all academic and living costs included) to study computer science for a year at the University of Southern California, when you can do the same undergraduate course at the highly regarded University of Guelph in Ontario, for less than US$ 25,000 (again, all academic and living costs included)? Or, for those considering a degree in business, compare these yearly program and living costs: US$ 39,837 at Ohio State University versus US $20,045 at Saint Mary’s University, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. And for those pursuing Master’s degrees, the costs are similarly low.

So that’s the good financial news when it comes to studying in Canada. But once you’ve made the decision that a Canadian education is indeed for you, then comes the practical budgeting part. Especially if you’ve never lived away from home before, or if you’re an upper year student moving out of a full-service residence for the first time, it’s a good idea to map out a monthly and/or yearly budget. This can be used for families (helping to plan for how much money they will need to save/provide) and for individual students, to help create weekly and monthly spending limits.

To do this, you’ll first want to calculate all of your program costs. This includes tuition fees (along with any insurance, health care and incidental fees that are/are not included), in addition to any books and school supplies you will need for your program. If you have been awarded any bursaries or scholarships for your studies, then congratulations! You can deduct that amount from this section.
Secondly, you’ll want to map out your yearly living allowance. If living on-campus, the school will provide you with a full residence package, making it easy to calculate the overall cost (this information is typically found right on the university website). If living off-campus, however, you’ll need to be sure to take into account all the extras that can come up: rent per person (cost usually goes down depending on how many people share an apartment or house); electricity; water; gas; furniture; household appliances, etc.

Another good idea, whether you’re living on or off-campus, is to separate your necessary costs (accommodation, campus meal plan or self-catering, grocery costs, laundry, telephone, transportation to/from classes) from any funds that you have available to go toward luxury or nonessential living costs, such as eating out at restaurants, visiting nearby cities, going to watch movies, etc. This way you know how much you have to spend on fun things, without accidentally overdoing it and being left short when it comes time to pay rent (a scary prospect).

Another thing you’ll want to consider when making your budget is whether you plan to apply for student jobs – working either part-time during your studies or full-time during a summer break. If you decide you do want to work, however, keep your income expectations realistic.

As University of Windsor’s International Student Advisor, Enrique Chacon, explains, it’s foolish for students to think they will be able to pay their whole tuition by working during the year.
“The hourly pay for on-campus jobs (at Windsor) is $10.50 per hour,” Enrique says. “Off campus the wages will vary between $9 and $10. But international students can only work 20 hours per week during the semester. So working to the maximum allowed hours students will make around $200 per week minus taxes, so realistically around $170. Only during academic breaks can they work full time.

“Immigration Canada’s number one requirement is proof of the student’s funding for the duration of their studies in Canada. On-campus employment cannot be guaranteed, and even for those students who find work, making an optimistic $2,720 during the semester does not get close to paying the average $9,000 tuition fee per semester.”

In other words – don’t plan on being able to pay your whole way, and make sure that, job or no job, you can prove to visa officials that you have sufficient funding to cover your entire university degree.
Finally, for some more specific money-saving tips, give a little consideration to the following:

• Check out what grants and bursaries may be available to you – either as a new student, or for upcoming years. Apply early!

• If opening a bank account, sign on with the bank that offers the best interest rates and long-term benefits (many even have special student or youth packages you can compare).

• Make the most of any student deals available to you. This includes immediately getting in line for your free ISIC card (International Student Identity Card), which gives discounts not only on-campus and in Canada, but also around the world.

• Get to know the library as soon as possible. Between the library and any used textbook section at the campus bookstore, this can save you plenty of money on mandatory reading materials! Also, for any school books you do buy – you can always try to sell them afterward to students for next year’s classes; either through the bookstore or directly, through campus poster boards, etc.

• Keep an eye out for the best mobile phone package. Also, stock up on cheap international calling cards. Available at most convenience stores, these can save you huge amounts on making overseas calls. As can Skype – which is, of course, free!

• And finally, for ongoing savings support, once you have a better idea of ‘daily Canada living costs,’ try drawing up a weekly budget - and force yourself to stick to it!
– DRWEN KIDD

• ARWEN KIDD currently serves as Communications Director for the Canadian University Application Centre and its parent organization, Higher-Edge. A Canadian university graduate herself, Arwen has spent most of the past five years working and travelling overseas. Among her credits are various documentary film and photo journalism projects in Eastern Europe, Australia and West Africa. Arwen is currently based in Liberia.

Posted: Jul 1, 2011

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