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Start your student loan search now

By Carla Hindman, Director of Financial Education, Visa Canada

If you've got a high school student, your household is probably knee-deep in activities – and expenses. Not to elevate your stress level, but this is probably a good time for you and your kid to start investigating how you're going to finance university – even if it's still a couple years away.

In Canada, students who want to apply for Canada Student Loans need to start by applying for a provincial or territorial student loan. Government loans are offered interest-free while the applicant is studying.

The application process can vary from province to province – for example, some provinces and territories do not participate in the Canada Student Loans program, but instead offer their own financial assistance programs. If the province or territory does participate in the Canada Student Loan program, its provincial applicants are automatically considered for the federal program.

Deadlines vary, too, which is why it's smart to start exploring what's available long before you actually need the loan. Navigating it all can be overwhelming, but your province or territory's website is a good place to start, or visit

In addition to government loans, many other types of aid are available to help cover costs at colleges and universities, community colleges, and trade, career or technical schools, for example:

  • Scholarships or grants: Thousands of free scholarships and grants are awarded each year – and they don't need to be paid back! Criteria can be widely varied but usually involves financial need, academic achievement, athletic skill or any special abilities that may also be considered. Visit for some good information about Canada student grants.
  • In addition to schools and governments, there are many other administrators of scholarships and grants, such as trade unions, companies, corporations, interest groups and individuals. Start searching online to find these opportunities; for example, check out to search thousands of available grants. Apply for as many as you can qualify for – it takes some work, but it may pay off.
  • Private loans may be offered by banks and other lenders to bridge the gap between government loans and actual education costs. They aren't government-guaranteed or subsidized and typically carry higher interest rates, although you can borrow greater amounts. Details and rates vary widely.
  • Private parent loans may be offered by banks and other lenders, usually at higher interest rates. is a great place to start out to help you understand the different types of grants/loans, calculators and many other tools.

Bottom line: Better start boning up on university financing now to avoid panic around deadline day.

This article is intended to provide general information and should not be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.

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