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How I worked my way through university

Written by Robin Taub

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Many young Canadians are told that post-secondary education is their ticket to better career prospects and more economic opportunities. But with the average undergraduate degree in Canada costing upwards of $30,000[i], including tuition, books, and fees, and an additional $50,000 when you factor in the costs of attending school out-of-town, Canadian youth are graduating with an average student loan debt of over $28,000.[ii] The path to prosperity may seem daunting, but through hard work, careful planning and discipline, it can become a reality.

The plan

Corey Barss, 25, grew up in Bradford, Ontario, 55 km north of Toronto. While in high school, he decided that he wanted to go to Ryerson University in Toronto to study marketing and international business and be “close to the action," as Corey describes it. He also knew that he'd have to take care of all the costs.

He figured that tuition and books would run about $8,000 a year. Corey planned to live in residence for the first year “to have the full university experience of going out on his own," which would cost about $1,400 a month for an apartment-style unit and a small meal plan. Additional meals would be extra. How could he afford to pay for all of this? Without any scholarships or bursaries, Corey's plan was to work through high school and save the money he needed for his first year of residence and living expenses. He would apply for student loans (OSAP in Ontario), but only to cover the cost of yearly tuition and books. He would work near full-time while continuing to study full-time, to cover the cost of living in an apartment in downtown Toronto, once he moved out of residence for years 2, 3 and 4.

Making ends meet

Name a job, and Corey has probably done it: line cook, manual labour, marketing intern, administrative assistant, event caterer, security guard, and retail salesperson. But the main gig that allowed Corey to work near full-time throughout university was as a cook and server at the Ryerson campus pub, Ram in the Rye. Corey worked about 30-40 hours a week, a combination of evening shifts and full days on Saturdays, on top of his full course load. The pub mostly hired students and was very flexible about scheduling shifts around his classes.

After moving out of residence, Corey found an apartment in downtown Toronto, one of the most expensive Canadian cities to live in. Renting a bigger place with several roommates, making all of his own meals, walking and using public transit were some of the ways he was able to get by.

Debt repayment

Corey graduated in 2012 with approximately $30,000 in student loan debt. He set out to pay it off quickly, using the same drive, work ethic, and self-discipline that allowed him to work his way through school. Corey went straight from a paid internship to a full-time job and used the difference in income to start paying down his student loan. “I found my own personal minimum payment and I increased it over time as my salary went up," he explains. “Even when I started working full-time after graduation, I continued to work up to 12 hours a week at the Ram in the Rye and used that extra money to pay down my debt."

Life after debt

By November 2015, only 3 years after graduating from Ryerson, Corey was debt free. He now focuses on building his career as a software application consultant. With no debt to service, he is now saving towards new goals, like buying a home. "I turned the money I was using to pay down my debt into an automatic savings deposit," says Corey. “It's about balancing freedom to enjoy my money and having a goal-focused savings plan."

[i] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/150909/dq150909b-eng.htm and http://www.macleans.ca/education/university/study-cost-of-university-to-rise-13-per-cent-over-four-years/

[ii] http://cfs-fcee.ca/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2015/03/Report-Impact-of-Student-Debt-2015-Final.pdf


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