According to Statistics Canada, university tuition averaged $6,191 in 2015. Given the hefty financial burden of this fundamental educational cost it comes as no surprise that whenever I tell people about my debt-free university experience they almost always assume that I was able to do so because I received a full ride scholarship.
In truth, I was offered a full ride scholarship to Trent University for a business program in my senior year of high school but I never took it.
I know, I know, I’m supposed to be a bright shining savings guru… how could I pass up over $24,000 worth of free courses, right? Well, like many 17 and 18 year old students I thought I had a better plan than I actually did.
I was all set to go to Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC). In all fairness, this was a pretty good plan if I had continued to study business. NSCC has a great articulation agreement with several local universities for business students, in which students complete a two-year college degree program at the former and then transfer their courses for the equivalent of two years of course work at the latter, ultimately completing two years of college and then two years of university (plus a few extra courses) in order to obtain a four year bachelor of business degree.
As I saw it, by going to school in my home province I was able to live with friends off-campus and save a whole bunch of money on rent and food. I would also be free from outrageous holiday flight expenses and the hassle of moving to another province. Additionally, if I needed money I would also be able to enter the workforce after my diploma and save for my degree. To be perfectly honest, I was also young and nervous about being too far away from home. Having easy access to a large support network of friends and family seemed like too good of a deal to pass up.
Anyway, I ended up forgoing the full ride scholarship at Trent and going to NSCC only to decide that I wasn’t happy pursuing a degree in business. I left the college after my first semester and enrolled in a bachelor of arts at Mount Saint Vincent University (MSVU) for fall of the following year, sans full ride entrance scholarship (entrance scholarships typically require university application to take place directly out of high school, a gap year may be permitted but scholarships often articulate that the applicant must not have attended another post-secondary institution).
At MSVU I was able to maintain a 4.0 GPA, and received several prizes and merit scholarships for my academic work and performance, but I never was able to receive full tuition coverage.
For a long time I was upset about missing out on a full ride scholarship; if I could go back in time now and choose my post-secondary schooling over again I wouldn’t change a thing. Going to NSCC enabled me to get a practical look at my career trajectory: I was quickly and easily able to determine that I had chosen an area of study that wasn’t a perfect fit, which I may not have been able to do in the abstract realm of university education. At MSVU I was able to work with engaging and intelligent faculty members, I was awarded many opportunities for employment and received a humbling amount of recognition for my work, I also met my long-term partner and made some wonderful friends and solid contacts who I never would have had the chance to get to know if I didn’t go to MSVU when I did.
The moral of this story is that sometimes in life you’re going to make mistakes that will cost you both time and money, but even a really big $24,000 mistake isn’t impossible to come back from if you continue to work hard and keep a positive frame of mind; there is more than one solution to most problems.