One of the biggest worries for future university students is how they'll pay for everything. Between class tuition, school fees and living expenses, it takes some planning. The first step is getting a handle on the numbers and knowing where you can turn for help.

How much does it cost to go to university?

Every school has its own set of fees that cover things like your tuition, meal plans and residence costs (if you choose to live on campus). How much you pay also depends on other decisions — the biggest ones being where you live and the number of courses you take.

Full-time students will pay more than part-time students, with some schools charging per-course tuition fees while others charge a flat fee based on whether you’re there full-time or part-time.

Tip: Look into whether you can save money by going to a school that’s closer to home. For example, if you live in Nova Scotia and attend a university in the province, the government will provide you with a bursary of $128.30 per course to help you pay for school.

Learn more: Get a better idea of how much you’ll pay by checking out the Universities Canada page on tuition fees. (We cannot guarantee the accuracy of information on third-party websites.)

Also check your bank’s website to see if they offer tools that can help you figure out how much you’ll need to save to cover your costs.

How much more does it cost to live on campus?

How much you pay depends on the school you choose, because each one will have a different fee structure. If the school requires you to pay for a meal plan in order to live on campus, you could pay $8,000 or more per year on top of your class tuition fees.

How will I be able to afford to go to university?

If you won’t be paying for everything upfront, there are a few ways to get help covering the cost of university.

Student loan

A student loan is money you can apply to receive from the government. In Nova Scotia, a provincial student loan can cover your school fees and you won’t have to pay back the money until you graduate and earn enough income to pay it back (the amount you must earn is set by the government).

You apply for student loans in your province of residence — it doesn’t matter where you’re going to school. You can find specific information on your provincial government’s website or more general information on the federal government’s Student Financial Assistance website.

Student line of credit

If you can’t secure a student loan, you can ask your bank about a student line of credit. It’s important to know that lines of credit are different than loans when it comes to how much money you get, what the interest rate is and how soon you’ll have to start paying it back.

Scholarships and bursaries

There are also scholarships and bursaries, a different type of financial help given out by schools and other organizations. You usually have to apply for them, but they can also be awarded based on your academic performance or financial need. These are different from loans and lines of credit because you do not have to pay back the money you receive.

How the payment process works

Money from scholarships and bursaries awarded by schools is usually applied directly to your school fees. Money from student loans is treated more like cash — after the university takes the payment for your fees, any leftover money is deposited in your bank account. It’s your job to make sure it lasts until the next term.

What’s the difference between a scholarship and a bursary?

Scholarship

Scholarships are given to students who achieve high grades — an average of 80% or higher. To qualify for some scholarships, you might have to fill out an application, sit down for an interview and/or submit a reference letter.

Scholarship awards usually take two forms: The first is a one-time payment, sometimes referred to as an entrance scholarship. The second type gives you a set amount of money each year you’re in school as long as you maintain a certain grade point average (GPA). Make sure to check the fine print so you know all the terms of your scholarship.

Bursary

Bursaries are different than scholarships because they are focused on your financial need. For example, if you can only afford to pay a portion of your school costs, you can apply for a bursary and the school might help you cover the rest. Some schools also have a special type of bursary, called a scholar-bursary, that also considers your grades.

How do student loans work?

Getting a student loan from the government is one of the most common ways to pay for university.

When you apply for a student loan, the government will look at things like your family income, your ability to contribute financially and how much your education will cost. Applications are usually not too complicated, but how long you’ll have to wait for an answer can vary. Applying is free and having a student loan can be start building your credit history.

In Nova Scotia, you don’t have to pay back your student loan until after you graduate and have a job that pays you a certain amount of money — the government decides what amount you must earn before you’re required to start payments. When you start repaying your loan, you will be expected to make monthly payments until the balance you owe is zero.

What is a meal plan? Do I need one if I live on campus?

Meal plans are a way for students who live on campus to make sure they always have access to food. For most meal plans, you pay a fee at the start of the school year for a set number of meals you can cash in at cafeterias and restaurants on campus. If you live on campus, you’ll usually have to choose one of the meal plans offered by your school. The biggest benefit of meal plans is they make it easier to budget your money.