November is Financial Literacy Month

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Financial Literacy Month, promoted by The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada. 2020 is also a challenging time for many Canadians who may be struggling financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, I am featuring guest blogger Devon Turcotte to present her unique approach to saving money on post-secondary education through transfer credits. You can read Devon’s bio following her article below.

Post-secondary education is expensive, and quite honestly, you can’t know everything before you begin your studies. But there are ways to mitigate the risk, and one is to take a good look at all the post-secondary pathways and how they intersect.

A unique approach to saving money on post-secondary education

college kids

As a career coach, I talk to a lot of regretful people. These include parents who don’t want their kids to repeat the career mistakes they made, high school students who have no idea what to do after high school, and youth who have withdrawn from post-secondary studies, either by choice or by force. To be fair, you wouldn’t see a career professional if things were humming along the way you intended, so I see a lot more career regret than the average person. And what I’ve noticed is that the core issue is almost always the same: “I don’t think I chose the right fit for me and now I’ve spent all this money and I don’t know what to do.”

The university ideal

There is a long-standing assumption that “everyone” goes to university. It was there in my high school, it was in many of the high schools I’ve presented in and it is a common belief held by many of the youth I’ve worked with over the years. And it’s completely false. According to the 2016 census, 28.5 percent of Canadians aged 25 to 64 have a “Bachelor’s degree or higher.” That’s definitely not everybody.

The accompanying assumption is that practically every job out there requires a university degree. But if that were the case, the thousands of college programs in Ontario that are steered by industry input would not exist. The apprenticeship pathway to the trades would not exist. Among the 30,000 job titles available in Canada, the number of jobs that actually require a university degree to perform the functions of the job is quite low.

Post-secondary costs

In Ontario, average university tuition per year is approximately $6500 ($26,000 for a four-year program). Average college tuition is $2400 ($4800 for a two-year program, $3600 for a three-year program). Neither of those rates include ancillary fees or additional project fees, living expenses, transportation, or books and supplies. Tuition rates for some specialized programs are considerably higher. And in the apprenticeship pathway, students are paid to be trained in the workplace, and then pay nominal fees (an average of $400 per session) to attend in-class training for a small portion of the year.

I constantly advise clients to look at all their options when it comes to post-secondary education. No, you can’t become a veterinarian by apprenticing to be a carpenter. But for many students, there are ways to build a fruitful career by starting with a less expensive education route, and committing to lifelong learning through multiple sources to maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace.

Transfer agreements

If you visit university websites these days, you’ll notice that there is almost always a section on admissions information for “transfer students.” Credit transfer opportunities and articulation agreements are not well known, and it’s no surprise. They weren’t that widespread as recently as 10 years ago. In a way, their existence is a response to a demographical problem: Canada’s birth rate, which has been steadily declining for years. Elementary and high schools built from the 1960s to the 1980s to accommodate Baby Boomers and then the “boom echo” generation (better known as Millennials) are now closing.

This effect has also rippled into post-secondary institutions. As a way to keep enrolment numbers up, many institutions find potential students among those who are already studying at other institutions. For the student who jumps on these opportunities, they can achieve a diploma and a degree usually within five years, and at a lower cost than paying for tuition for two full programs at two separate schools.

Available transfer options

Not all options are available for all programs at all schools, and new agreements are constantly being signed, but this is a general guide on what types of transfers exist. In many cases, students must maintain a minimum grade-point average in their first program to be eligible for admission into the second program they choose.

  • Advanced diploma to degree: three years at college, plus two years at university ($7200 + $13,000 = $20,200 in tuition fees for 5 years)
  • Diploma to degree, “2 plus 2”: two years at college, plus two years at university. Some university courses are typically embedded into the second year of the college program ($4800 + $13,000 = $17,800 in tuition fees for 4 years)
  • Diploma to degree, advanced standing: many universities will admit students to year two of a degree program if they have already completed a two-year diploma at a recognized college ($4800 + $19,500 = $24,300).
  • Diploma to degree, bridge: students complete a two-year diploma program, then a one-semester “bridge” program, and then the final two years of the degree program ($4800 + $3250 + $13,000 = $21,050)
  • Graduate certificate in place of a graduate degree: all colleges in Ontario, as well as some universities, offer market-targeted certificate programs to help university grads develop industry-specific skills to cap off their degree programs. Average tuition is $3600 for these one-year programs, compared to an average of more than $14,000 for a Master’s degree program.

Looking long term

Historically, research has noted that university graduates, on average, make more money in their lifetimes than non-degree holders. A more recent analysis by Stats Canada indicates that degrees granted from community colleges yielded a 12% higher return in salary within two years of graduation, though university degree holders had a faster earnings growth between two and five years after graduation. The researcher attributed this largely to the subject matter studied in these college degree programs, which included business, public administration and health.

I grew up in a family of trades people who often pulled in six-figure annual salaries. I know technicians in areas of health, engineering and robotics who make significantly more money than I do, as I glance at the Master’s degree on my wall. In this modern age of the side hustle, it is much easier to tap into multiple income sources, and many youth are much more attuned to thinking this way than their parents are. Your kids can create innovative and financially sound careers from any number of directions.

All that said, it should be questioned how far you can excel in any job if you are purely looking at an earnings perspective and not truly doing any deep skill development or relationship-building to propel your career further.

Actual normal

The one thing we should all agree on is this: changing your mind about your career direction is completely normal. Given the age at which students must make decisions about post-secondary education and careers, it should be expected that changes are inevitable. I think the best thing we can know as parents is that there is almost always another way.

BIO: Devon Turcotte is working to change career conversations through careerified, a career and education coaching practice based in the GTA. Prior to starting her business, Devon worked with a number of teens, parents and educators through the Career Development and Student Recruitment offices at Durham College, and as a Liaison Officer at Skills Ontario. Visit for more information.

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