What your guidance councillor isn’t telling you: 7 Questions to consider before you accept a university offer of admission

Accepting or rejecting an offer from a university could be one of the defining moments in your life. What city and school you end up in has long lasting implications: your personal and professional network, your field of work, and what part of the country you settle down in are all heavily informed by your choice of post-secondary school and program.

The choice you make under pressure from parents and guidance counselors could be what leads you to meeting your spouse, finding your true calling, being buried in mountains of debt, or falling in love with a new city.

Unappealing as it may be to consider, how much a program will cost (and how much your living expenses will put you into the hole) should be thought out carefully. Can you afford over $1000 every month to rent a studio apartment in Vancouver or Toronto? Will your chosen field (if that is the field you end up in) pay you enough at entry level to pay off the debt amassed from living in one of the most expensive cities in Canada? With Canadian debt levels at an all-time high, and interest rates at a historic low, carrying a large amount of debt may seem normal and unavoidable – and it may be in some cases, but if you can plan for your college or university days not to amass student debts, your future self will thank you.

  • Will you be able to find part time work? Will you want to, or need to? Consider the job market in the area, as well as the availability of campus jobs. Will you qualify for a campus job? Some schools have requirements that you be receiving assistance to be eligible to work on campus. If you are considering a school in Quebec, is your French strong enough to be considered employable in the area?
  • What is the cost of an apartment there? What does residence cost? Do you know how much you need to budget on accommodations? Will you be able to sublet your apartment over summer? Research apartment listings near the schools you are considering to get a sense of how much you will be spending monthly. Compare apartment prices with residence costs across the country with this interactive infographic.
  • Do you have the option of commuting to a good school from a family home? If you can walk, drive, bus, or bike to one of your options, consider what you would save by staying with your family versus living on your own. Maybe you will decide it is not worth the savings, but go into the decision fully informed, after carefully weighing the option and running the numbers.
  • Do you expect to travel home for every school break or holiday? Do you know what the average cost is to go from the location of your school to your family home? Is the distance small enough that you can get sale bus tickets, or would you need to fly or take the train? Can you afford it? If not, will family members help you cover the costs, or are you willing to go into debt to travel home?
  • Are you taking out a student loan? Will you be borrowing from family? What will the repayment terms be? What is your interest rate? How much will you be paying off after school is finished, and how much of that will be interest? Use an interest rate calculator and get a sense of what your finances will look like after graduation.
  • Will the program you are considering actually help you find a job? Will the school you attend impress employers in your field? Will the school and program be a good investment in your future? How much are you likely to make if you are fortunate enough to find entry level work in your chosen field? If you have no idea how much money you might be making, check out sites like Glassdoor or job listings in your area.
  • Are internships required by the program? Will they be paid? If not, can you afford to spend a large portion of your summer doing unpaid work? Will an internship be worth it for your long term career? If not, is there an option for a program that does not require unpaid internships?
  • Do you actually want to go there? Are you being influenced by parents, friends, a partner, or a teacher? Think seriously about whether you would be considering the option seriously if others in your life were not vocally in support of it, and whether these people have your best interests (or their own) at heart. You are the one that will have to live with your choice, and the people who influence you now may not be someone who will continue to be a large part of your life, even if you heed their advice.

With so many programs to choose from, and so much pressure to decide quickly, making the choice can be overwhelming. Almost no one has their entire life plan figured out in their senior year of high school, and those that do will likely revise it heavily in the future. If you have yet to figure out your path, don’t fret, but be sure to go into your choice with your eyes wide open.

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