Getting financial aid…

Q. How long does it take to get my government student loan?

A. It usually takes about 4 to 6 weeks for your application to be processed if you go the paper route. Online applications often get processed more quickly. Typically, you first get mailed a notice of the sum 'awarded' to you as a loan amount.

Remember, the loan amount part of your 'award' is a debt they expect you to repay, with interest. Only the 'grant' part of your award is yours to keep. (See 'government aid I don't need to pay back' below)

Q. Can I appeal the loan amount I was granted? It's not enough.

A. Most provinces and territories have a 'loan reassessment' process. Ask someone at your financial aid office what to do – preferably early in your school term. You can also directly contact your provincial or territorial student financial assistance office to ask how you can appeal.

Sometimes an error is caused by something as minor as an online application form glitch. However, the appeal process could take another 4 to 6 weeks to resolve in a reassessment. In the meantime, ask your school financial aid advisor how you should handle your shortfall.  

Q. I was told they gave me too much money and now them want some back. But I'm still in school!

These are called "over-awards". However, you can also appeal student loan over-awards. If you lose your appeal, you will have to find the money to pay back what they request. The last thing you want is to lose your 'good standing' with government student loans.

Still, you should protect yourself by asking one of your school financial aid adviisors to walk you through the appeal process. And - if you lose your appeal - ask for advice on how to manage school bills while you repay the over-award amount.

Q. How can I apply for government aid I don't need to pay back?

A. To obtain government grants amd other non-repayable government aid, you must apply for a Canada Student Loan. Higher-income students who don't financially qualify for government loans won't have access to these grants. The grants are just meant to increase access for students who might otherwise not be able to pay for higher education. 

Across Canada, this government aid used to include the Canada Access Grant for Students from Low-income Families, the Canada Millennium Bursary and the Canada Study Grant for Students with Dependants. Now, these and other Millennium Foundation programs have been replaced by two levels of Canada Student Grants.

As of fall 2009, Canada Study Grants are given to everyone who qualifies based on income (or family income if you apply as a minor). Middle-income students get $100 month. Low-income students get $250 month. This is all free - no need to repay it.

There are also Canada Study Grants for students considered eligible under specific situations:  part-time students or people with dependents or disabilities. 

Any other government grants (plus student loans) that come from your province or territory, are also normally triggered by your Canada Student Loans application. That means you would normally not need to apply for them separately. However, government rules are so variable in Canada - and they keep changing - so always check this with a financial aid officer at the school you plan to attend.

Q. How can  I apply for grants, bursaries and scholarships from non-government sources? 

 There are thousands of scholarships and bursaries across Canada, so leave plenty of time to sift through the offerings and apply.

Some schools will automatically put you in the running for many bursaries and scholarships when you apply for a Canada Student loan. But the usual process is to apply on your own. Ask your financial aid advisor how it works in the school you'll attend.

Make sure you have the complete list for your school, because it may have awards not shown on centralized student awards lists and websites.

Pay attention to the deadlines for applying, and make sure your application form is complete, including any signatures or dates required. 

See Useful links for student awards links.

Q. Can I get government student loans if I study abroad?

A. Yes, if it is a recognized post-secondary institution, referred to as a Designated Institution. You can find that out through your campus financial aid office or provincial/territorial student financial aid office. If it's Designated, you can get the loan application forms through your campus financial aid office. You can also apply online, and this could be faster.

Be sure to leave yourself extra time to apply. You don't want to be in a foreign country still trying to deal with your loan application.

Q. Should I get a private student loan?

A. People sometimes turn to private student loans when they can't get enough (or any) government student loans. Normally, private loans are lines of credit. This means that you get access to a certain sum of money and you can dip into that as needed until it's gone.

Private student loans may be tempting, but unless your own private student loan comes from friends or family rather than the bank, they're only advisable if you or your family has a fairly high income. Here's why:

Private student loans normally require a co-signer or collateral. This would put your family's assets (or your own) on the line.

Even when their interest rate is lower than a government student loan, private student loans cost more in the end. That's because you have to pay interest costs all through school on private loans. Government loans are interest-free during school and between school terms.

Finally, private student loans don't come with loan repayment aid programs such as interest relief.

Q. I fell into default with an old student loan, so now I'm paying a collections agency even though I'm also back in school. It's also hard trying to study and work long hours because of no student loans. Is there some way I can get another student loan?

A. After some students fall into default, they go back on their own dime. Usually they have to go part time, which of course takes more years. There may be a way out for you, but it'll require both paperwork and a fair amount of money.

Even if you're in default, the federal and some provincial governments will allow you a new one if you complete ‘reinstatement' process to put your loan back into good standing.

Default reinstatements have been a growing issue, so governments are now starting to give more information about ways of doing this. For example, BC has an information guide/application form in Application Forms. Watch for more to come on this topic on Debt 101.