The True Cost of Higher Education

Even though my daughter is barely one year old, I’m already looking ahead to her future, particularly when it comes to the rising costs of higher education. Just last week, I attended a short seminar on education savings plans and the kinds of government grants we may be eligible for receiving. With so many college and university students now back to school for another year, money matters once against bubble to the forefront.

Speaking for myself, I had the tremendously good fortune of graduating from university having never had to take out any student loans. There’s a good chance that I’m in the relative minority of people who emerged from school with no crushing student debt whatsoever. I count myself lucky, because I was able to live at home (which significantly reduced costs), earn a few scholarships and bursaries, and sock away as much cash as I could from my part-time jobs and co-op placements.

It took a lot of hard work and discipline to survive the “starving student” experience. I pinched pennies, clipped coupons, and took advantage of any deals I could find. I avoided “unnecessary” expenditures. Yes, kicking back with a few drinks on the weekends can sound like a good idea, and we all need that sense of release, but it can also become a very expensive habit. That’s a sobering thought.

That’s the thing. The rising cost of higher education has to do with much more than just tuition. By the time I graduated a decade ago, two semesters of classes would put me back about $4,000. Today, or so I’m told, a standard undergraduate course load at Simon Fraser University is closer to $6,000. And I’m sure it could be higher in other schools and in other programs. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

You’ve got (expensive) textbooks. You’ve got class supplies. You’ve got to pay for food, housing, transportation, clothing, technology, cell phone plans, Internet access… the list goes on and on. That’s why it really does pay to take a very close look at a comprehensive guide to saving money for college students, because it’s not just about paying for the classes themselves. It’s about figuring out how you can afford the entirety of the higher education experience, including the occasional beer at the pub.

The hope is that when you emerge several years later with that treasured piece of paper in hand, you’ll feel like you accomplished something. You’ll feel like you are better prepared to tackle the world at large, both on a personal and a professional basis. The actual hard facts you learn might not seem relevant to the real world, but in the context of the typical college or university experience, it’s more about learning how to think about the real world.

And money matters will always matter. After you’ve spent all that time trying to figure out scholarships, bursaries, grants, and income from part-time jobs, the hope is that you’ll be better prepared to tackle your “adult” budget upon graduation. And this planning starts well before you submit your first college application too.