Ottawa·The Big Owe

How 5 Ottawans are dealing with crushing student debt

The average Canadian university graduate finishes school with more than $26,000 in student debt. CBC Ottawa talked to five post-secondary students about what they owe, and how it's affecting their lives.

'Almost half my pay each month goes to loan repayment alone'

According to Statistics Canada, the average Canadian university graduate finishes school with more than $26,000 in student debt. CBC Ottawa talked to five post-secondary students about what they owe, and how it's affecting their lives.

Editor's note: the answers have been condensed for length and clarity.

Godwin Scott, 22

  • Fourth-year mechanical engineering student at Carleton University.
  • Approximately $70,000 in debt.

International students have it a little bit more difficult — I would say, actually, way more difficult — because our interest rates are really high in India. So paying back my loans [involves] around an 11 or 12 per cent interest rate.

The average wage for an Indian person would be around $8,000 Cdn yearly. So considering the fees here are $30,000 a year, it's like four times the normal wage of an Indian person just to pay the [tuition].

It's a decision I've made. The Indian economy has so many engineers, the competition is really high. So unless you're really, really good at it, or you have some special connections, you are still unlikely to find a job.

Amy Kishek, 29

  • Graduated in 2015, with a law degree from University of Ottawa. 
  • Graduated with approximately $150,000 of debt.

Almost half my pay each month goes to loan repayment alone.

I did undergrad while working full time and graduated without debt. But once I started working toward my master's and my law degree, it became impossible to work during the school year. My debt load is pretty high but it's not uncommon. Many of my peers do take out $100,000 lines of credit. That's what they give you when you start law school.

Today I live with a roommate, I still live in the same apartment, and I don't foresee that changing. When I even think about getting a one-bedroom apartment, or to save to purchase [a home], it doesn't really seem to be on my radar, and I don't know what my credit score would turn up. 

I think it is important for people looking at advanced degrees to know what comes with that. I don't think I fully understood the extent that the path I am on would cost me.

Lauren Paulson, 24

  • Holds a Bachelor degree in animal biology from University of Guelph.  Currently a second-year medical radiation technology student at Algonquin College.
  • Expects to graduate with approximately $50,000 of debt.

I regret sometimes that I went away and got a degree in a program that I'm not using. Obviously that is a huge factor in my debt. I try to look at it as a life experience. Do I maybe wish sometimes I had left university after one or two years, instead of the full five? Yes, because I would've saved money.

I worry about the money I owe today because it's overwhelming. I'm in my mid-20s, and I want to think about having a house, having a steady income, a steady lifestyle. And I feel like that's still very far off for me. When I sit down and think about what's going to happen in the future, I don't have anything mapped out. And I think that's because of how much debt I have.

Jay Ramasubramanayam, 31

  • Third-year PhD student in law and legal studies at Carleton University.
  • Approximately $12,500 in debt.

I'm working at the Graduate Students' Association now, and I've constantly had to find opportunities that would supplement my income. Without [that work] I would not be even able to pay rent.

With a PhD student, there's a lot more at stake in terms of where your career is heading. There is very little wiggle room — especially if I have my eyes set on a career in academia, I need to consistently publish. I should probably be doing more publications. I should be researching a lot more. I should be focusing on my thesis work.

If I were to think three years into the future, when I'm actually in the academic job market, this is going to hurt me a lot. 

Troy Curtis, 21

  • Fourth-year humanities student at Carleton University.
  • Approximately $15,000 in debt.

My first two years, luckily enough, were paid for by my parents. But after I moved out, I've been paying for the last two years of my school. And because I wasn't able to make enough money in one summer, I've had to take out a credit line and apply for OSAP [Ontario Student Assistance Program].

There are a lot of ventures I want to take on to broaden my CV, to gain experience to show future employers. But it's difficult to do that when I have to spend most of my day-to-day life, figuring out how I can pay for rent, for food and for tuition payments.

It definitely makes me worried, for at least the first two years coming out of university, what I'm going to do for a job — if I'm just going to have to settle for working retail, something just to pay the bills week to week. 

Photos by Trevor Pritchard/Ashley Burke


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