How To Graduate Debt-Free In Canada From A Top Program

Your 9-Step Guide to Graduate Debt-Free – Video Edition

Got 30-minutes? Watch our 9-step guide to graduating debt-free from a top university in Canada below!

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If you prefer to read, check out our written version of the guide below! 👇

Your 9-Step Guide to Graduate Debt-Free – Written Edition

Making Money As A Student Starts With Your Mindset

Many students today believe that student debt is inevitable. But the truth is that there are resources and strategies that enable students to graduate debt-free. In this Playbook for today’s students to graduate debt-free, we are specifically addressing strategies for students who have a financial need. You can see the income ranges for that here. Why? Because there are more guaranteed opportunities for these students. Students above these thresholds can still graduate debt-free, but the strategies and playbook are different. We focus on these in our GrantMe Programs.

Why mindset?

Because it starts with setting a standard for yourself. You don’t have to go into debt to get a top notch education in Canada. But that doesn’t mean that it is easy. There is work to do. And many students just assume that student debt happens naturally. The truth is that it can be avoided when you know how to navigate the system correctly.

Step 1: Identify Your Gap

The first step to graduating debt-free is to identify the gap that you’ll need to fill with your funding strategy. Start by using our Student Budget Calculator to anticipate your costs for your degree. Once you have identified the gap, we’ll apply some strategies to close that gap until you have no gap between the cost of going to school in Canada and your money to pay for it. You can use our free student budget calculator to identify your gap.

Step 2: Consider A Lower Cost First School Without Sacrificing Prestige

Maybe you want to graduate from a top school like UBC, Queen’s, Western, U of T, Waterloo, McMaster, or McGill. But you don’t need to start there.

You can start at a local college for 2 years nearby that transfers to the larger school. For example, you can attend Langara University, then transfer into UBC in year 3 & 4.

Why would you do this?

  • The smaller school costs less.
  • There are big transfer scholarships
  • The courses often map perfectly from one school to the next
  • Sometimes the smaller school is closer to you – so you don’t need to move out or live on campus

Taking this step will reduce your gap by reducing the cost of your first 2 years

Step 3: Still Apply To Multiple Schools – And do this early

But didn’t you just say to go to a lower cost first school?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean you have to. For example, some of the higher ranked and more expensive schools may offer you an entrance scholarship. The cost of applying to multiple schools to see what you might get for an entrance award is lower than the cost of going to the wrong school. (A few hundred dollars vs tens of thousands)

So apply to multiple schools – even the ones that seem out of your budget. Maybe you get an entrance award. Or maybe you just get a confidence boost when you get in – because that means that when you go to transfer you’ll likely be accepted.

Step 3: Always Apply To Student Loans

If you have a combined family income of under the threshold found here, you should always take out a student loan – but you don’t have to spend it.

When you apply to student loans, you can take out the money, and put it in a high interest savings account or GIC (something very safe). But you don’t have to spend it.

So if the reason to take out a Student Loan isn’t to spend it, why do it?

  1. You’ll earn a tiny bit of interest from that Student Loan in your savings account or GIC.
  2. It unlocks grants and bursaries – two strategies that we’ll get into next.

If you don’t apply to these Student Loans, you don’t unlock those strategies. So that’s the main reason to do so.

Step 4: Calculate Your Full-Time Student Grant

Once you have taken out your student loan, because of your combined family income, you will have unlocked your Canada Full-Time Student Grant. This amount will be available to you each year so long as your family’s income doesn’t significantly increase. As a result, you’ll be able to predict how much you’ll receive each year in non-repayable grant money. This means that this is your money! For free! From the government! Take it and run…and by that I mean study your butt off.

You can now recalculate your gap (using our Student Budget Calculator) between the costs of school and how much money you have and that you’ll receive.

Step 5: Strategize Your Part-Time Student Grant

The Full-Time Student Grant was great. But now you need to strategize to maximize your Part-Time Student Grant. With this strategy, you take 1-2 courses in the spring/summer semester and apply for the grant. Again, you must apply for the loan, but you don’t need to accept it. This again unlocks a non-repayable grant (aka Free Money). If you take 3 or more courses, you become a Full-Time student again – which no longer makes you eligible. So make sure that you only take 1-2 courses.

Again, you can repeat this strategy each spring/summer. This will also reduce the amount of courses you’ll need to take during the year – so that will reduce your tuition costs and allow you to work more hours. So you can again recalculate your funding gap.

By this point, what might have been a $40,000 gap should basically be $0. (But check that with the Student Budget Calculator)

Step 6: Grind To Get Your (Big?) Bursary

We say “grind” because most people don’t want to do this step since it involves talking to someone in an office. But oddly, this could be your most lucrative step. It’s not guaranteed – but it could be big for you.

Once you have your student loan, you’ll have something called your unmet need. This is the government acknowledging and validating that you have a financial need that it won’t cover. But you can now take this your school. Often, your school will cover part of that amount of unmet need with a bursary.

Again, recalculate your gap. You’re likely banking money at this point. Either way, let’s keep going.

Step 7: Open an RESP to Access Government Grants and Matching Programs

Registered Education Savings Plans (RESPs) are designed to help Canadian residents save and pay for their children’s full- or part-time studies after high school. RESPs can unlock thousands of dollars in government benefits! Opening an RESP is the first step you need to take to access these funds you may be eligible for.

How do you open an RESP? First, find a financial institution that requires no minimum investment, charges low to no fees, and provides unlimited client support. To learn more, call your bank, visit a local branch, or explore digital options.

You must be 18 years olds to open your own RESP, and you will need your Social Insurance Number (SIN). If you are under 18, your parent will open an RESP and name you as the beneficiary. In this case, they will need both your Social Insurance Number, and their own. An RESP can stay open for 35 years if you decide to delay your studies – so there is no harm in opening one and keeping it open for awhile until you figure our your post-secondary education journey.

We did mention the thousands of dollars of government grants you can access by opening an RESP, right?

In addition to the free government money you can claim through the Canada Learning Bond, the Government offers even more incentives to help you pay for post-secondary education, like the Canada Educations Savings Grant (CESG). It doesn’t matter how much money your family makes. If you put money into an RESP, the government will also add some money to it. They’ll give you 20% of the money you put in each year, up to a maximum of $500 for each child ($1,000 if you didn’t use this benefit before). For a lifetime max of $7,200.

With the Additional Canada Educations Savings Grant (ACESG) You can get even more money, $50 to $100 per year, **from the Government if your family falls within the low to modest-income threshold (< $50,197 annually.)

More questions about what an RESP is, visit:

Ready to open your own RESP now? Click here!

Step 8: Accept Your Free Money From The Canada Learning Bond

Yep, that’s right! If you are from a modest-income family, you are guaranteed even more money from the Government from something called the Canada Learning Bond (CLB). CLB is a $500-$2000 government benefit added directly into an RESP to help you pay for post-secondary education. There is no minimum contribution required to claim this money. You got it – that means CLB is free money!

Nearly two-thirds of Canadian youth are eligible for at least one payment of CLB, but over 1.8 million students have yet to claim this money that is theirs.

We’ve partnered with Wealthsimple Foundation to make it easy for students to claim their CLB payments. Basically you go to this site, collect your information that you’ve already entered for our Student Loan, and then get more free money. As a kicker, you’ll be entered for the Wealthsimple Bursary – which will award up to $20,000 to a student who has applied to and received the Canada Learning Bond.

Step 9: Scholarships – Your Fun Money

Ok, now we get to the fun part. You’ve taken advantage of the money that is literally guaranteed to you. I know we had to do some work to get there, but it was worth it right? Ok, now let’s start applying to scholarships. By this point, you should have completely closed your gap. If you haven’t yet, please email us at so we can review your plan and tell you what went wrong. Assuming you have closed your gap, this next step will be your “fun” money. Maybe you can make your student experience better by having a few nights out. Maybe you can give back to your family. Maybe having some extra money in the bank gives you the flexibility to take more risks…maybe like starting a business (Side note: Our founder did this…which is why she didn’t go down a typical path and instead started GrantMe).

Ok, what’s the strategy for this?

Apply to 20 best fit scholarships per year and don’t stop.

Most student mess up this strategy by either:

  • Not applying
  • Stopping applying

Yes. It’s that simple. Since most student don’t apply, or quit applying, they don’t win scholarships. If you’ve had the discipline to get this far, I urge you to keep going. Find 20 scholarships to apply to and apply to them year after year. The key to scholarships is that it’s a numbers game. So long as you do the work, you’ll likely get the reward.

No, this isn’t guaranteed like grants – but all you need to invest is your time. And if you win scholarships, you can use the extra funds as your fun money!

Step 10: Get Used To Saying “I’m a student”

Ok, now you’ve got a plan to graduate debt-free. But there’s more. Everywhere there are student deals. Go and find them. Every store you go into, flash your student card and ask for a discount. Yes, every dollar counts. Don’t be afraid to be frugal – you’re a student after all. And yes, you’ll graduate debt-free, but continue to practice some frugality while you’ve got a great reason…”I’m a student!”

Ok, what next?

You’ve completed all of the steps here? Awesome! You’re probably well on your way to graduating debt-free. If you followed these steps, please send us a note at to share your success story – we’d love to hear it and share it with our community.

If you have a combined family income of over the financial need threshold, you probably realized that these strategies either won’t work, or don’t fully work for you. That’s what we’re here for. The strategies are a bit different for families above that threshold because the government doesn’t have the same support in place. That doesn’t mean that it’s still easy to graduate debt-free as a student. In fact, that’s where we can come in to help. We guarantee that by working with us you’ll at least see a return on your investment with GrantMe to help you on the journey to graduating debt-free from a top program. Please contact us if you’d like to work together on this plan.

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