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An open letter to high school students

Dear high school students,

Congrats on graduating! :) Be proud of yourself and all that you have accomplished so far. It must feel good to be done with school, right? After all those final exams, essays, and assignments, you’re now enjoying the freedom of summer. But for those of you moving onto post-secondary school, there’s a lot to think about. Your parents have probably tried to talk to you about “your future,” but since it’s hard to listen to parents sometimes, maybe this letter from me might help instead.

Since I was the older sister, and one of the oldest cousins in my family, I didn’t have many people to get advice from. I made a lot of mistakes over the years, and I had to learn the hard way. But now that I’m closing in on 30 (or the first anniversary of my 29th birthday), hopefully I can offer you the words of wisdom I wish I had been given when I was your age.

Start saving

We all know that we should be putting some of the money we earn – whether it’s through a part-time job or gifted money – into a savings account. But it’s not just something adults do – it’s something we all need to be doing as soon as we start to buy things on our own.

You don’t need to make big bucks to open up a savings account – just start small. If you only think you can save $10 from each pay cheque, that’s okay. Putting that money into the bank is the smartest thing you can do for yourself. While it might not seem like much, you’re developing the habit of saving money, and that’s what’s really important.

Think ahead in life – past university

What will you do with your degree? How will you earn a living and pay back your student loans?

So many of my friends went to University for degrees in subjects that they were interested in – not degrees that they could cultivate into work after they graduated. It’s great to be passionate about what you’re studying, but you have to be realistic. Have a plan of attack.

Whatever it is you’re majoring in – understand what kind of jobs you can get from those degrees, and make sure it’s what you want to be doing when you graduate. If you’re a communication major, what are you going to do with that degree? Sure, it’s a fun topic to learn about every day, but how will you make money with that degree? What kind of job can you get, and will you be able to make the sort of money you will need to pay back your loans, and live the life you want for yourself?

I know it’s hard to think about right now, but you really need to be smart about an education that will likely put you tens of thousands of dollars into debt. Remember – education is only an investment if you can develop a career out of it.

Understand how student loans work

If you are applying for student loans, once you are approved, you might notice that the value of your loans will usually far exceed the cost of your tuition. Free money, right!? Wrong. Student loans are not free money. You will eventually have to pay it back (and yes, you will be charged interest on the loan), so be smart with how you spend that leftover money. I blew through my student loan money every semester, ended up having to take out a line of credit, maxed out my credit card, and then had to fix the mess I had created once I graduated. Don’t make the same mistakes as me.

Be careful with credit cards

Those free t-shirts and frisbees that credit card companies try to offer students sure are tempting, aren’t they? I fell for one when I was a student. I received a free t-shirt right away, and a few months later, I received a maxed out credit card bill in the mail. That card sat maxed out for years. YEARS. So that free t-shirt ended up being totally worth it, right?

A credit card can help you start to build a credit history – which you will need for many things later on in life. But it will only be a benefit if you use your credit card responsibly. Being reckless and keeping a balance on your card, missing payments, and getting into consumer debt will only make your life more difficult and stressful. Make a budget, and don’t buy things that you cannot afford to pay off immediately.

Work while you go to school

Having a part-time job while you go to school is a smart idea for most students. Not only will you have to take out less student loans, but you could potentially graduate with little to no student debt at all. If you’re worried about a part-time job being too hard while taking full-time classes, there is no law that says your post-secondary education must take 4 years. If taking a little longer means you won’t have to borrow any money, then do it.

The extra year or two it might take to finish your degree will be worth it when you graduate debt-free, and your peers are saddled with student loan debt for the next decade. Nothing feels better than landing your first “real world” job, and knowing all of that money belongs to you – and not the government.

Consider community colleges

Try not to dismiss community colleges. A lot of them offer great hands-on programs not offered at universities. After going to a university for 2 years, I ended up going to a community college instead. The program at college provided me with a much more hands-on education. Instead of sitting in a lecture hall, I gained real-world experience working and learning beside industry professionals, and I truly believe my community college education is what sets me apart from other people in my field.

Plus, not only is a community college much, much cheaper than a university, but many of the courses will transfer into a university degree program. Some colleges work in partnership with local universities, where you can do your first 2 years before transferring to do your last 2 years at the university.

I wish you the best of luck in your studies come September, or whenever you decide to go to post-secondary school. Study hard, don’t take anything for granted, and have fun. :)

Sincerely,

K.

P.S. yes, that really is a picture of me from my high school graduation celebration!

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What advice do you have for today’s high school students?

 

Why Quebec students need to stop striking

I wanted to keep quiet about the 13-week student strike that’s happening in Quebec right now, but it’s just getting out of hand. For those that know me, or have been reading my blog for a while now, you probably know that for the most part, I am against student strikes. Especially this one, where they are striking over rising tuition fees.

While I respect the students for standing up for what they believe in, we really do need to put this whole thing into perspective. The tuition increases (which are extremely reasonable) are inevitable, and to think otherwise is just plain foolish.

Here are a few reasons why I think Quebec students need to stop striking:

Quebec students already have the lowest post-secondary tuition fees in the country

Universities in Quebec are heavily subsidized by the government. And as a result, Quebec students enjoy the lowest post secondary tuition in Canada.

Check out this graphic from QuebecTuitionFees.com for an example of University of Montreal tuition fees compared with schools across North America:

According to Statistics Canada, the average undergrad tuition fees for full-time B.C. students in 2012 is $4,852 per academic year, and $6,640 in Ontario. Compare that to the graphic above, and that’s a huge difference!

As a result of Quebec’s already subsidized tuition rate, Quebecers pay the highest tax rates in Canada. Quebec also receives the most money from the federal government in equalization payments – at $8.5 billion each year. Meaning my tax dollars are going to support Quebec’s subsidized tuition rates. And how do they show their gratitude? By smashing store windows, setting cars on fire, and creating major delays in the subway system – causing havoc for the thousands of tax-paying workers who are paying for the students’ education. And now the students are trying to get more? Come on.

The increases are minimal and fair

The proposed tuition fee increase is $1,625 per student, spread over seven years. That’s $232 a year. This is what the students are striking over?

What does $232 per year actually mean to these students? It’s a few less dinners out every semester, or a few cases of beer not purchased. It’s not a life-altering amount. Yeah, it sucks to have to pay more, but that’s life. Prices increase over time. And in the end, even with that increase over seven years, their tuition will still be much cheaper than anywhere else in Canada.

Here’s a thought: if these students put in just a fraction of the time and effort they’ve put into protesting into a part-time job over the last 13 weeks, they would have easily made enough money to cover the entire tuition increase by now. Just sayin.

They claim they are protesting on behalf of future post-secondary students

In 2016-17, tuition fees in Quebec will still be lower than the Canadian average in 2009-10. Think about that.

Striking students claim they are protesting on behalf of the high school students that will not be able to attend university because of these increases. But the majority of them WILL be able to afford the $232 per year increase. Plus, the government has promised to increase bursaries and financial aid for poor and middle-class students by an additional $39 million – thereby offsetting the tuition increases for those who cannot afford them. Still, it doesn’t seem to be good enough.

Tuition increases are inevitable

With everything costing more these days, it’s no surprise that tuition fees will also increase. In the real world, that’s what happens. Maybe education is too expensive, but the last time I checked, you have a choice. Nobody is forcing you to get a degree. True, an education might make you more employable and it might create a better future for you, but it’s not guaranteed, and that is a decision that you get to make on your own. Remember that education is a privilege, not a right.

Students that have a desire for higher education will find a way to pay for tuition. Apply for scholarships, grants, bursaries – that’s what they’re there for. The Quebec government has made sure there are plenty out there for those that qualify. Get a part-time job. Take on some student loan debt if you have to. Millions of students have done it before.

These Quebec students want more than what is fair, and they don’t want to make any sacrifices either. But in the real world, we all have to make sacrifices. It’s a part of life. With the increase in groceries, gas, housing, etc. that we are facing every day. we are all making sacrifices. And we aren’t pouting or throwing temper tantrums every time something doesn’t go our way.

These students reek of self-entitlement, and they truly have no idea how good they have it compared to everyone else in North America. If I were then, I’d stop complaining, stop breaking things, stop rioting, stop trying to intimidate people, and just get back to class. Before more tuition and more tax dollars are wasted. Seriously.

 

Breakdown of an average student’s budget

A quick post today. I found this infographic while surfing the internet a few days ago:

Did any of the numbers shock you?

According to this data, 66% of students receive a mean monthly amount of $312 from home. Seriously? I think during my 5 years of post-secondary education, I received a few care packages (of mostly food) from my mom, but all of them combined probably didn’t equal $312. And I never received cold, hard cash. I wish.

When I lived in Michigan for University, I had to live off of the money I made during the summers when I was home (I wasn’t allowed to get a part-time job because I was an ‘international’ student-athlete, and there was some rule against it). True, I had a full athletic scholarship, but I earned that myself.

When I went to college in my hometown, I worked 2 part-time jobs in order to afford to feed myself. Although to be fair, I did live at home. I didn’t pay rent, but I did pay for everything else like school, books, equipment, groceries, gas, cell phone, etc. I struggled a fair bit (hence the $20,000 worth of debt when I graduated), but my parents never offered to give or lend me money, and I never asked.

Some of the stats shown are from a 2006 survey, so they’re a little outdated, but that’s also the year I graduated from college. They surveyed 1,200 students from 100 different schools nationwide (USA). It didn’t say whether the students were living on their own, or with their parents, which I assume would make a huge difference if we saw that split.

Was there anything from this infographic that you found surprising?

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