Stay at home or go away to school?

August 22, 2013

By Sheryl Smolkin


There are many pros and cons to weigh if you are still debating whether to attend college or university in your home town or go away to school. A crowded, messy dorm room and doing your own laundry for the first time may seem like a small price to pay for your independence.

However, the real cost of leaving home prematurely could be a huge debt that takes years to pay off. A March 2013 report from BMO’s Wealth Institute says that tuition and other costs for a four-year university degree now can cost more than $60,000. Due to tuition inflation, this amount could rise to more than $140,000 for a child born in 2013.

Of course, if there is no college or university in your hometown or you are interested in a program that is not offered locally, staying at home may not be an option. Regardless of what your decision is, here are some ideas for students who want to trim their expenses to avoid leaving school with a huge debt.

  1. Scholarships: Apply for scholarships or bursaries. The selection criteria are not always based solely on high grades. You can find out what scholarships are available from the school you plan to attend and websites like and
  2. Accommodations: To get the true “college” experience you may want to live in residence on campus for at least the first year. However, it may be less expensive to share an apartment with one or more roommates and prepare your own food. If grandma or another close relative lives in the town where you plan to study, consider asking if you can board for a nominal amount.
  3. Trade services for a room: One single Mom I know is training to be a midwife, so she is frequently on call at night and on weekends. Her tenant gets free rent for helping her with child care outside of normal daycare hours. Similarly, an elderly homeowner may be willing to offer free or cheap accommodation if you agree to help out with yard work, shovelling snow and buying groceries.
  4. Get a job: Get a part-time job and a summer job to defray current expenses and save money for the next semester’s tuition. Some schools have work/study programs and offer students on-campus work. While it would be nice to get work in the field you are training for, take what you can get and don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty.
  5. Take a reduced course load: If you take fewer courses over a longer period, it may be easier to balance school and a part-time job. Also, your annual tuition expenses will be lower.
  6. Choose a co-op program: Co-op programs typically require that students work in a relevant business or industry for several semesters a year. Co-op terms are generally unpaid, but employers participating in these programs frequently hire successful students for paid summer work and jobs after graduation.
  7. Enroll in online courses: The Centre for Distance Education offers distance education for Saskatchewan residents. You can get distance degrees including undergraduate programs and a highly rated Executive MBA from Alberta’s Athabasca University. Many of these courses can be applied towards your degree or a diploma at another institution, reducing the time it takes to complete your program.
  8. Check your employee benefits: If you are planning to go back to school part-time, check your employee benefits. Many enlightened employers will pay all or part of tuition once you satisfactorily complete the program. Generally, but not always, the course must relate to skills needed to do your job.
  9. Join the military: Enroll in the Canadian Armed Forces through the Regular Force Officer Training Plan (ROTP) and you will receive free university tuition, books and academic equipment in addition to a salary with benefits. You can attend the Royal Military College or an approved Canadian university. Finally, you will have a guaranteed job upon graduation.

    In return for having your university education paid for, you will have to serve between 36 and 48 months, calculated on the basis of two months’ service for each month of subsidized education.

  10. Live frugally: A student loan, the proceeds of your summer earnings and an allowance from your parents (if you are lucky) will have to last for the whole term. Figure out what you can afford to spend and stick to your budget. If you have a credit card, don’t use it unless you can afford to pay it off every month. Remember that the credit rating you generate now will follow you into the workforce and can affect your ability to buy a home or a car in future.

Do you have tips for students deciding whether to go away to school or study at a local college? Share your tips with us at and your name will be entered in a quarterly draw for a gift card. And remember to put a dollar in the retirement savings jar every time you use one of our money-saving ideas.

If you would like to send us other money saving ideas, here are the themes for the next three weeks:

29-Aug College/University Credit card options for your college kid
05-Sept College/University What kinds of insurance does your child need?
12-Sept Kid’s allowance How much and what your children have to do to get an allowance?
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