British Columbia·Pomp and Pressure

Financial pressures, fear of debt add more layers of stress to incoming post-secondary students

Rising tuition costs and expensive housing in major cities can create financial stress for would-be post-secondary students — and some feel that student loans aren't the answer.

Some are opting out of student loans as a way to address costs, but have to make other sacrifices as a result

Some new post-secondary students are viewing the millennial generation as a cautionary tale and are avoiding taking out student loans. (WAYHOME studio/Shutterstock)

High school students in B.C. are feeling plenty of pressure when it comes to transitioning to post-secondary, but it's not just about making the grade — the rising cost of tuition and high cost of living in cities add financial stress to the mix.

And for many new students, the traditional way people have tackled these costs — through student loans — is less appealing than before.

Victoria student Helena Marie Hill, for example, says she's trying to avoid taking out student loans as much as possible. 

"We are a generation that has grown up watching our older siblings, watching the millennial generation coming out of university with a tremendous amount of student debt," Hill said.

"We're terrified that if we come out of university with debt we're never going to be able to live in the cities we grew up in."

A 2017 Ipsos poll found that more than 75 per cent of Canadian graduates under the age of 40 regret taking on student debt.

According to Statistics Canada, the average university graduate finishes school more than $26,000 in the red. 

Making sacrifices

But students who don't want to take out loans have to make other sacrifices.

Hill says she'll be going to the University of Victoria in part because it's in the city where she lives and she can save money by staying with her family.

"[Going out of province] is just not financially an option for students who didn't get $40,000 in scholarships," she said. 

Financial pressures also mean some students feel limited in their academic choices.

Although Vancouver student Ember Dickson is interested in arts, she specifically chose biomedical engineering for more practical reasons. 

"If I went into engineering right away, I'd also be able to make enough money to go into arts perhaps later on because I'd be already set up and I'd be able to, you know, take courses later on at a film school," Dickson said. 

Dickson said she knows a lot of students who are taking a gap year because they need to work for a while so they can afford to go to post-secondary at all.

'Stepping stone for the future'

Personal finance specialist Mark Ting says avoiding debt, while tough, is a good foundation for the future. 

"If you develop those skills when you're 17 or 18 that's a stepping stone for the future. You'll be much better at planning for other bigger purchases. And the fact that you have less debt going forward in life it just makes things easier," Ting said. 

He said it's important families start thinking about the financial costs of post-secondary education as soon as possible, and take advantage of other options like RESPs, government matching grants, and scholarships.


This story is part of a series call Pomp and Pressure, which examines the stresses and choices high school students in B.C. are facing when it comes to post-secondary education. It airs Sept. 3-6 on CBC Radio One's The Early Edition and On The Coast, with features on CBC Vancouver News at 6 and cbc.ca/bc.

With files from Rachel Sanders, On The Coast

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