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Work and Save Money to Pay for School

You may be able to pay for some or all of your post-secondary education with money you have saved or that you earn while studying.

When figuring out how to pay for school, start by looking at how much money you, or your family, already have saved. Then, think about how you can earn money during your studies to cover costs.

If you can’t cover all your costs with savings and earnings, consider:

Savings

Savings are any money you or your family can set aside. The more you save, the less you need to borrow or earn. Consider saving money you get as gifts or by working, earning allowance, or winning a prize.

The following bank accounts can help you save money to pay for school:

Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP)

An RESP is a savings account that your parents, guardians, or other family members can use to save money for your post-secondary education. If you’re under 18 and don't have an RESP, talk to your family about setting one up. An RESP:

  • Allows savings to grow tax-free until you take the money out for school
    • As a student you likely won’t be earning a lot of money, so you'll pay little to no tax when you use the RESP money.
  • May qualify for extra government grants through the Canada Education Savings Grant and the Canada Learning Bond

Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA)

If you earn money by working or through scholarships or gifts, consider storing it in a TFSA until you need it. The money you save in this account is tax-free, even when it’s withdrawn.

Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP)

You may be able to withdraw up to $10,000 per year from your RRSP through the Lifelong Learning Plan to pay for school. You don’t pay taxes on the money you take out. To be eligible you must be a Canadian resident attending school full time, although some part-time exceptions apply.

Working

Working your way through school may mean getting a job or a summer position. Whatever the case, it pays to work smart.

Balancing work

Working while attending school can help you cover some living expenses. You’ll need to decide how many hours of work you can manage—while allowing enough time for your studies.

During the school year, flexibility makes or breaks a job. You need to make money, but you also need to study to keep your marks up.

Find the balance that will work for you:

  • Talk to your student advisor about how intense your study load will be. Don’t sign up for more hours of work than you can reasonably manage.
  • Look for work on or near campus to reduce travel time. Restaurants and pubs are obvious choices and allow you to earn tips. You might also look for work in campus services, such as in art facilities, the bookstore, or parking. These jobs often pay above-minimum wage and may allow for studying during slow periods.
  • Save time and money by finding a job that lets you dress like a student. You won’t have to rush home to change for a shift or spend your money on outfits just for work.
  • Make sure your employer will be flexible about your class and exam schedules. Plan weeks ahead and book time off for exam preparation.
  • Depending on the nature of your work, you may occasionally be able to study on the job. Ask your prospective employer if that is ever acceptable.
  • Self-employment provides flexibility. Set your own schedule by offering tutoring, house-sitting, pet sitting, child-care, or cleaning services.

Summer jobs

Working during the summer or between semesters allows you to save money to cover costs for your next term.

Before you apply for a summer job, think about what’s most important to you. Are you hoping to gain targeted work experience to enhance your resumé? Or is it really just about making as much money as you can to pay for the next school year?

Here are some points to consider:

  • If the job you take offers more money than goal-related experience, close the gap by volunteering in your field of interest.
  • Be aware of the downside of weather-dependent work (golf courses, landscaping, house painting, construction, etc.). Will you miss out on earnings if it rains? Will good wages and overtime hours make up for any weather-related losses?
  • If you’re working away from home (at a camp or on a road crew, for example), be aware of how much of your housing, food, and transportation costs will be covered.
  • Overtime pay really adds up. Sign up for as much as you can safely do.
  • Do your best to make a good impression on the job. If you work hard and secure a glowing reference, you’ll have a jump start on landing work for the next summer.
  • You’re working hard and getting a regular paycheque. It’s okay to treat yourself once in a while, but remember to save, too. Those savings are key to realizing your dream.

Explore alis to get help looking for work. You can:

Already have a job?

Some employers will pay for courses related to your work or allow you time off to attend classes. Discuss these options with your supervisor.

Lost your job?

If you’re eligible for employment insurance, you may be able to take training or return to school while receiving benefits.

Earn while you learn

These post-secondary programs let you earn money and receive an education at the same time:

Co-operative (co-op) programs 

Co-op education programs alternate study terms with paid work terms related to your academic field. Co-op programs let you:

  • Earn money to help pay for school
  • Gain work experience
  • Make industry contacts
  • Gain an edge on post-grad employment. Many employers use co-op positions as trial periods that can lead to a full-time job when you graduate.

Explore co-op programs in Alberta.

Apprenticeship programs

Apprenticeships combine on-the-job work experience with technical training at a polytechnic institute. This means 80% of your learning is on the job while you’re getting paid.

You may qualify for financial assistance during your technical training (the time spent in a classroom).

Learn more about apprenticeship programs.

Applied degree programs

Some post-secondary institutions offer applied degree programs so you can earn money while you learn.

For more information, type "applied" into the OCCinfo post-secondary programs search bar.

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