My Student Loan Debt Experience

I was once a college student wanting to get into my computer engineering career.  I lived with my family which I am thankful for but I had to pay for my education through borrowing from a government student loan.  Some things that helped me were putting down government savings bonds that I had during my child life to my first tuition; however, I had to apply for in Canada in the province of Ontario the Ontario Student Assistance Program.  I did not have to pay interest or pay it back while I was studying.  I am from an average middle class family but not enough to support the tuition fees I would end up when I finished my college studies.

Throughout my college years, I did have to contribute for the books that I needed, material for labs, food while I was at college, monthly transit passes for commuting to and back from home/college and clothing.  The rest of the expenses such as rent, food, were taken care of by my family. 

The first 2 years were tough for me as I relied on my OSAP loan and I did have to budget accordingly in order to not spend a lot of money.  After my second year of my 3 year college program I applied for a lab monitor position at my college.  This position was to help new and existing students with issues that they had at a large computer room used for either leisure or to do homework and projects.  This was my break as the income I was making helped me throughout my college years in the cost of tuition, books and materials; though, I still had to apply for a little bit of assistance from OSAP.

At first as a freshman, I did not know of tips and tricks from other students which I be-friended when it came to purchasing materials such as books.  I would buy new books and materials from the college book store.  I later found out that I can purchase used books from students that already took the course or shop around stores where it would be cheaper such as Indigo.  The same thing would go for the materials as I can go to electronic shops such as The Source to purchase wire cutters, pliers, cables, etc. for a cheaper price.  The less you spend, the more you will have with the loan you received that can be used for future tuition or if nearing the end of the college program, to pay off.

The program was 3 years; however, I had to take an extra year as there were course loads that I could not handle and was causing my grades to suffer.  Due to this, I did drop courses to keep my load balanced and my grades to improve.  When I was at my 4th year, I got a job in a telecommunications company called JDS Uniphase through a contract agency.  It was a job where I started as an assembler but because my college became part-time, I had a 6-month grace period before I would have to pay back my student loan which ended up between $15,000 to $18,000.  This is not bad due to my budgeting strategy, living with family and living below my means.  After I graduated from my program, I focused on my job at JDS Uniphase and gaining experience as well as the hard work for the company to hire me full-time with benefits.  I was still paying my OSAP loan until I applied for an Automation Technologist position and, thankfully, got the position.  It took me only 2 years before my student loan was payed off in full.

In these times, there is so much expense and not all who enter college or university fall in my situation.  One has to get a part-time job to pay their way through their living expenses and OSAP may not be enough.  Taking some of my strategies will help to reduce the expenses when it comes to tuition payments or purchasing materials for courses.  What I am an advocate of is living through a shared economy.  What I mean by this is to live in an apartment or rent a house with friends or colleagues.  This will drastically reduce the living expenses.  Other things to consider is where you are living.  The closer to amenities such as grocery stores, clothing stores, and even the college or university will also bring down the cost of living.  Think of commuting to college/university, carpooling if owning a vehicle and best of all, walk to college/university if it is nearby.  If in college/university in the mid years, look for opportunities to gain income either as a tutor, teacher’s assistance or even as a lab monitor like I did.  The important thing is to reduce the amount of student loan needed to pay for the duration of the college/university years and then to pay it back faster.  It is very important when in college/university to live below your means as once you graduate and find your career out there, it will pay off in the long term.

2 thoughts on “My Student Loan Debt Experience”

  1. Student loans are a scary business… one that traps a lot of people for a very long time.
    You give excellent advice that I wish everyone would listen to… especially the last bits about “Live below your means to pay it off as quickly as possible” and “Try to get through school as cheaply as possible” (summarizing).
    If you work hard (and it sounds like you did), I agree that you can get through school with little or no debt, even when you need to pay for pretty much everything yourself. (I’m a testimony to that as well.)
    The problem with so many young people is that they assume they need to have the BEST and the most expensive, and the most convenient everything, even when they can’t truly afford it… they don’t realise that they’ll be paying for it for years to come! School is valuable, but sometimes the financial lessons learned there are learned the hard way.

    1. Hi Marlaine,

      I agree that student loans are traps if the individual lets it to be. This is the reason why finance and budgeting should be taught to children in their youth. They should be told of the warning signs of debt, what is debt and strategies on how to, if possible, to avoid debt. These are changing times where debt is now common in society. This was never a problem in the past to the average household. I had to learn the hard way and luckily my family taught me about budgeting, saving, putting money into savings bonds for my future education. I also during my youth worked as a paperboy to contribute to my savings. With regards to post-education, it will entail costs regardless of the area of study. Some programs can take 3 years others 5 to 7 years if going for masters or doctorate degrees. Some individuals are lucky being that they have inheritance or parents that can help them finish their studies; however, for the majority that is not the case. It is the majority that have to be financially prepared and strategize on looking at their savings, looking at their level of spending, how much they will need if they have to borrow from a loan and then plan out a realistic payment plan to get out of the debt. Individuals should take advantage of government grants, bursaries, scholarships, programs that offer co-op to help them make income to avoid borrowing more and also asking faculty of potential part-time jobs while studying. Outside of college or university, find ways to save on food and shelter such as I mentioned being renting with fellow colleagues. The future trend will be a shared economy and living within the city and nearby amenities. If one cannot afford the BEST and expensive education, then they have to take that. Going to the BEST colleges and universities does not guarantee a job (I believe that is fictitious); it is the intellect and experience from the graduate. If you do not mind Marlaine, would you be able to share your education experience as a testimonial for others? I will put your name and provide me with your website to link to on your testimonial. Thank you kindly for your comment.

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