With September just around the corner, many post-secondary students are planning for one of their biggest yearly expenses: tuition. And while most students spend their summers saving up, COVID-19-related lockdowns have impacted the ability for many to earn income.

“There’s no two ways around it: The cost of a post-secondary education is high. For some, it’s a real challenge to make ends meet while attending college or university,” Robyn Thompson, personal finance expert and president of Castlemark Wealth Management Inc., told BNN Bloomberg in an email.

“Students can expect to pay a total of about $60,000 for an average four-year post-secondary education program, including tuition, books, board and lodging, and living expenses. It’s more than double that for professional degrees like law, medicine, dentistry, and engineering.”

With that daunting first tuition instalment due for many Canadian students in early September – on top of many other school-related expenses – Thompson said there’s a number of ways to help lessen the financial burden.

“First, apply for every available bursary, scholarship, or grant that you can find related to your area of study. Consult with your high school guidance counsellors or your prospective university or college,” she said.

“Many grants and bursaries are available in niche areas that go un-awarded simply because no one applies for them, but you’ll have to do your research.”

Thompson said the Canada Student Grant, for example, is available to low and middle-income students who are in school full-time.

Thompson added students should be looking into federal scholarships and provincial financial assistance programs such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP).

Another resource that students can tap into is the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB), which was created by the federal government to provide financial support for students who do not qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or Employment Insurance (EI).

Applications for the CESB must be submitted before Sept. 30.

Jordan Damiani, senior wealth advisor at Meridian Credit Union, underscored the importance of finding a part-time job during the school year as another way to help with school-related costs.

“My best advice is to always ensure you’re working part-time through post-secondary education – and at a minimum, during the summer,” he said in an email.

“Bringing in an income can, at least in-part, reduce the required borrowing, and leave an individual with little or potentially no debt when graduating.”

Jessica Moorhouse, financial counsellor and personal finance blogger, suggested students look online for remote part-time jobs that allow them to work around their school schedules.

“One place to start looking for work is the Government of Canada website, as well as the job boards at your school,” Moorhouse wrote in an email.

She suggested job sites such as remoters.net, FlexJobs, Indeed and NODESK to help students find part-time work.

Damiani recommends students start regularly putting away any money they earn.

“Assuming an individual is able to work part-time through the year, I would recommend setting up a separate savings account, and setting up an automatic transfer that matches your pay schedule,” he said.

“Psychologically, this account would be ‘off-limits,’ and specifically be used to save for tuition. This method makes it much easier to have funds available for tuition, which is always a large up-front lump sum.”

Even though many students may be stressed about the upcoming tuition deadline and other school-related expenses, Moorhouse said it’s important to remember that the current circumstances are temporary and that COVID-19 pandemic has put most other Canadians in a difficult financial position as well.

“It’s hard to give advice about how to navigate this weird time for students because nothing like this has happened before, but it’s important to remember that this is temporary,” she said.

“Things will get better. And if you can overcome this, it will only make you stronger in the future.”