What are my financial aid options as an international student in Canada?
Financial aid is a big part of the post-secondary education picture across Canada.
In fact, financial assistance plays such a prominent role in post-secondary education that Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) releases a report detailing the efforts and results of the Canada Student Financial Assistance (CFSA) program every year.
In the 2020-2021 version of the annual report, ESDC detailed that “approximately 542,000 students benefited from $3.2 billion in non-repayable Canada Student Grants, and 576,000 students [took advantage] of $4.0 billion in student loans.”
Of note is that these grants were well-distributed across Canada, where all 10 participating provinces and territories — excluding Quebec, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut — received grants valued at a total of at least $1.6 million.
Still, despite the nationwide prevalence of financial aid for Canadian post-secondary students, one misconception continually threatens to hinder the educational journey for many students in this country.
Am I eligible for financial aid as an international student in Canada?
In 2021, Canada hosted “621,565 international students at all levels of study”, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education (CBIE).
Among many in this group, there is a misunderstanding group that international students do not have financial aid options available to them while studying in Canada. However, this is far from reality.
Although they may not have the same financial aid options available to them as domestic students do, international students still have scholarships, bursaries, and loans that can assist them with the costs of studying in Canada.
Note: The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials (CICIC) is a council that represents federal and provincial/territorial governments in Canada. It is considered an authoritative hub that international students can use to find their financial aid options. This CICIC page is a good starting point for Canadian international students.
The following is a breakdown of some financial aid options for international students in Canada.
What are my financial aid options as an international student?
Generally, financial aid options for international students fall into three distinct categories: scholarships/grants, bursaries, and loans. In many of these situations, financial aid offerings will be specific to the school at which a student applies for their studies, each with different application processes, procedures, and requirements specific to the available financial assistance options.
Scholarships and Grants
This type of financial aid is given to post-secondary students based on their academic and/or extracurricular achievements. Offered by the schools themselves, governments or other organizations, scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid by the recipient.
A few examples of scholarship opportunities specific to international students include the Lester B. Pearson International Scholarship program offered at Ontario’s University of Toronto and the Karen McKellin International Leader of Tomorrow Award offered at the University of British Columbia.
This type of financial aid is provided to post-secondary students based on their financial need. In other words, students that meet certain thresholds for economic need — based on different factors such as personal income or parental income, among others — may receive financial support from their schools that they do not need to repay. In many cases, bursary applicants will need to undergo assessments to verify a level of financial need that warrants the receipt of this type of financial assistance.
Loans, as the name implies, are a type of financial assistance that necessitates the recipient to eventually pay back the money based on the terms outlined in the loan agreement. Often, these loan agreements will involve a specific interest rate and repayment schedule, which all recipients must remain aware of to avoid accumulating unnecessary debt.
Note: International students may be required to seek out private loans with banks due to eligibility requirements imposed by the Canadian government both at the provincial and federal levels. Financial assistance from a bank may take the form of a loan, a line of credit or other medium and they may also come with special student-specific interest rates that make repayment easier for international students.
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