Thursday, 5 June 2014

How to Get Answers When You Don’t Know What Questions to Ask


Have you ever been so confused by something that you didn’t even know how to explain what you were confused about? That’s how I felt when I applied for a student loan.

In the fall of 2010 I was accepted into the BA in Professional Communication program at RRU. I knew I was going to have to borrow money to go to school and with over 8 months before my program started I figured I had lots of time to figure out the whole student loan thing.

According to my mom, when she was in university (in the 70’s) she got student loans through the bank, so I thought it would be the same for me. I made an appointment at my bank and said I wanted to take out a student loan. The advisor looked at me, blinked a few times and said “Oh we don’t handle student loans. You get those through the government.”

This was the first of many confusing moments. I had next to no experience with borrowing money and didn’t understand how government student loans worked. I found myself unsure about seemingly simple things (does my money come in the mail?) but didn’t know where to go for help. The few times I did call the government seeking information I either contacted the wrong department or, when I finally did get through, felt embarrassed by how little I knew. I stuttered through many a phone call with the National Student Loan Service Centre, trying to get answers when I really didn’t know what questions to ask.

Now that I work in the Financial Aid & Awards office at Royal Roads, I help students every day to navigate the loan system. I’ve come to realize that I was not alone in my confusion with the student loan process. There is much to know about student loans, and I can’t begin to list it all here, but these are some of the main things I wish I had known when I was a student applying for my first loan…

Federal or Provincial? Where does my student loan come from?

You apply for funding through your province of residence*; however the funding you receive will usually consist of a mix of provincial and federal funding. When you apply for funding you only need to submit one application and the government will determine what portion of your loan is federal and what portion is provincial.

Some provinces, like BC, have integrated student loan programs. This simply means that the federal and provincial portions of your loan have one administrator – the National Student Loan Service Centre – making them easier to manage. For example, when your loan enters repayment you deal directly with the NSLSC and make one monthly payment that covers both the federal and provincial portions of your loan. (In the old days of student loans you could end up making payments to two or 3 different lenders at a time!)

You can find out what kind of loan program your province offers here.

*To be considered a resident you must have lived in the province for at least 12 consecutive months, excluding time in full-time post-secondary studies.

What about grants? How do I apply?

You will automatically be assessed for grants when you apply for a student loan. (More information on federal and provincial grants here.)

If you are a student with a permanent disability, your disability status must be approved by the government in order to access certain grants. Contact Accessibility Services for more information.

When do I get my money and how?

Your student loan will be deposited directly to your bank account. You can request a cheque if you want, but keep in mind that your funds will take longer to arrive.

You will generally receive your funding in two disbursements: one at the start of your student loan study period and one about halfway through. The first disbursement is usually the larger of the two.

TIP: Disbursement dates can be found on the Notice of Assessment from your loan provider. If you're waiting on your loan disbursement in order to pay tuition you can request a tuition deferral.

When do I have to pay back my loan and how does it work?

Interest begins to accrue on your loan the day after your student loan study period ends*. You are not required to make payments for six months, although you can if you want to get a head start!

About 45 days before your loan enters repayment you will receive a letter from the National Student Loan Service Centre outlining the details of your repayment. Check out the CanLearn website for more information on student loan repayment.

TIP: Make sure your address is up to date with the NSLSC so that you don’t miss important information about your loan. Create an account at to update your contact information quickly.

*Your student loan study period end date might be different than your program end date. In this case, you may need to submit some extra paperwork to the government in order to keep your loan from collecting interest or entering repayment while you are in school. Contact Financial Aid & Awards for more information and assistance.

Who do I contact if I have questions?

If you have questions about your student loan application, contact your provincial loan provider.

If your loan is approved and you have questions about your funding disbursement or repayment, contact the National Student Loan Service Centre.


Contact the RRU Financial Aid & Awards office for any questions related to student loans or other funding.

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