By the time I was my senior year of high school, all I wanted to do was go to college. I wanted the independence, the freedom, the adventure of being alone. I wanted to meet new people, face new challenges and grow up.
But I come from a middle-middle family. We're first-generation immigrants, and although my parents overworked, they didn't have much savings. I also had three older siblings who were already studying.
All of this resulted in a limited financial situation where I could not afford post-secondary studies without help.
I remember sitting on my bed with my fingers shaking, my laptop on my lap and handing in my application for school.
I kept thinking, "If I'm accepted, how am I going to pay the tuition?" For my books? For my apartment and my food?”
I was afraid that all my dreams would be taken from me because I would not be able to raise the money to make them come true.
Luckily, I was eligible for financial support from OSAP. And if you're reading this and you live in Ontario and want to go to high school, chances are you are too.
What is OSAP?
OSAP (Ontario Student Assistance Program) is a grant program funded in partnership between the federal government and the Ontario government.
It is similar to other programs offered in different provinces such asManitoba Student Aid, orStudentAid BC.
It is designed to help Ontario students cover themselvessomethe cost of attending college or university.
It's not meant to cover everything. But it goes a long way in relieving some of the financial burden associated with tuition, books, and other expenses.
It can also be combined with other grant, scholarship or financial assistance programs offered through various sources.
For me, OSAP funding became a gateway to higher education.
Who can apply for OSAP?
OSAP is open to Ontario residents who are Canadian citizens, permanent residents or protected persons and attend an OSAP-approved program and school.
You can use OSAP funding to attend college or university anywhere in the world as long as the institution you wish to attend is accredited in Ontario for student loan purposes - although as an international student you are not eligible for OSAP.
In my case, OSAP also helped me pay my tuition fees while I was doing a semester abroad.
How to apply for OSAP?
Once you have created an account on the OSAP website, you can begin your application process.
You must complete at least 60% of the total course load to be considered a full-time student (or 40% if you are a student with a disability). But how many courses that means depends on your school.
For example, at the University of Toronto, a 100% full course load is equivalent to five credits. So, for full-time status, you must enroll for at least three credits (or 60% of five) during the school year (which is split into two trimesters, fall and winter). Everything else is considered part-time.
At the UofT, year-round courses correspond to one credit point and half-year courses to half a credit point. That is, if all your courses are only one semester, you must enroll in at least six courses (worth 0.5 credits x 6 = 3) during the year to retain your full-time status. You can split these classes between terms. For example, you could enroll in two courses one semester and four the next semester, or three and three as long as you complete the three credits required to maintain your full-time status by the end of the year.
If you take fewer than three courses in your first semester at UofT, you will receive a notification from OSAP warning you that you are under the guidelines for full-time study and that your second installment will not be released unless: They enroll in sufficient classes in the second semester.
Most schools have guidelines that will teach you how many courses to take, and advisors at your school can also guide you through the process.
If you do not plan to attend post-secondary college full-time, you can apply to OSAP as a part-time student. The process is the same, but the funding is reduced accordingly.
You can also apply for OSAP for certain micro-credential programs. These are short programs that can be completed within a limited number of hours or weeks.
Before you apply you can use thisToolto get a quick estimate of your potential funding.
Application to OSAP
Next you need to fill in your basic information. This includes your name, SIN number, date of birth, Ontario Education Number (OEN) and a series of questions that determine your status and eligibility.
Then you must complete a small informational session (with quizzes) where you will learn all about OSAP, your roles and responsibilities as an OSAP recipient, and basic financial information to help you manage your OSAPloan.
The rest of the application is lengthy and may take a while, but most of the questions are pretty simple:
They will ask you anything about the program you want to join.
If you're less than six years out of high school, they'll ask how much your parents make (which must match what was reported to the CRA).
You will be asked if you are married, single or cohabiting, and if you have children or dependents.
You will be asked how much income you have and how much you have saved, how much you have received in scholarships or other grants, whether you are on welfare, etc.
All of this information is critical in determining your financial needs and how much money you can get in both grants and loans.
It's a lot of information so it can feel a little overwhelming, but it's important that you take your time and provide accurate information.
If you don't do this, the estimated amount of funding may be a far cry from what you actually receive and your application could stall or be rejected, or you may owe back much more money than you originally anticipated.
Application for OSAP completed, now what?
Once you have completed your application, OSAP will give you an estimate of how much money you are entitled to.
Your actual funding amount will not be confirmed until you have submitted all of your receipts and your school confirms your enrollment.
You can see the status of your application in your account.
Just look out for outstanding notifications and documents, because your application will only be processed further once everything has been submitted.
As soon as you have submitted your documents, OSAP will review them and assess your personal financial situation. It calculates financial need by considering your education costs minus your financial contributions.
Your funding of loans and grants is based on that need.
How much money will OSAP give you?
OSAP grants grant amounts up to a weekly maximum depending on where you go to school.
For the 2022-23 school year, the Ontario Student Assistance Program offers the following maximum levels of assistance (grant and loan combined):
$410 per week for single students;
$705 per week for students who are married or single parents; And
$210 per week if attending a private post-secondary school outside of Ontario or a post-secondary school outside of Canada.
When do I get my money?
For most students, OSAP releases financial aid in two installments (once all your paperwork is submitted and your application is complete).
The first payment is usually made at the beginning of the course. The second takes place at the beginning of the second semester.
OSAP will first pay your school directly for tuition and other mandatory fees with your funding. Any remaining balance will be transferred directly to your bank account.
What if OSAP doesn't give you enough money?
Sometimes, even with OSAP funding, you need more financial support.
If you feel that your OSAP funding is insufficient to cover the cost of attending your program, contact your school's student financial services through the Student Financial Aid Office.
They can better inform you about the Student Access Guarantee, a partnership program between the Ontario Department of Education and post-secondary schools that can help you find other sources of funding, including scholarships, bursaries, student awards, and work-study programs.
Loans vs Grants
When you apply for OSAP funding, you are automatically considered for both loans and grants.
Scholarships usually make up the smaller part of your financial support, but do not go into debt with this type of support.
You generally don't have to pay back any money you receive as a scholarship—unless the scholarship is converted into a loan because you don't maintain your full-time student status throughout the year, or you receive undeclared earnings.
Loans, on the other hand, have to be repaid. The portion funded by Ontario is beginning to growInterestthe moment you leave school.
As long as you're in school, you can keep your loans interest-free even if you don't apply for OSAP every year. All you have to do is register on the OSAP website and confirm that you are still enrolled in full-time or part-time studies.
You can choose not to receive the grant portion of your funding until after your OSAP application has been fully approved.
If you get both financing options, you start accumulating debt for each year that you get OSAP loans. The repayment period begins six months after graduation or leaving school.
You can use thiscalculatorto estimate how much you will have to pay monthly to pay off your debt.
Once you graduate or leave school, you must begin paying back the loan portion of your funding.
As with any other type of loan, timely payments are important. A good repayment history will help you build and build yourCredit. A bad one will lower your credit score and affect your ability to get other loans in the future.
Your repayment information is all compiled by theNational Service Center for Student Loans,not OSAP. You need to log in to review your loan details - including how much you owe, when your payment period starts, and your interest rate.
NSLSC's portal allows you to customize how much you pay monthly and set up automatic payments.
You can also extend your repayment period up to 14.5 years (which decreases your monthly payments) or shorten your repayment period (which increases it but means you pay off your loan faster).
And you can also make additional payments to pay off the principal of your loan faster.
If you cannot afford the payments immediately, you can delay the start of your repayment period by requesting a deferral, but interest will accrue on your loan once your studies are complete.
You can also apply for repayment assistance through the National Student Loan Service Centre.