Applying for a student loan in Canada is insanely difficult

Ontario has a 94-step process

Summer is in full swing, and the musty hallways and crowded classrooms of Canada’s campuses are probably a long way from students’ minds at the moment. But tuition bills are about to arrive in the mail and students intending to apply for financial aid need to start now, because the system is ridiculously complex according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA).

“It’s Complicated: An Interprovincial Comparison of Student Financial Aid” suggests that the average student in Ontario has to go through some 94 steps to be eligible for student aid, compared to just 18 in Nunuvat or 17 in the Northwest Territories:

Chart showing the complexity of student aid eligibility by province according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Matthew Halliday outlined the challenges that most student face managing their money for the first time:

It seems very, very basic, but if someone has never dealt with their own finances before, even the simplest transactions and financial concepts, from bill payments to interest accumulation, can be flummoxing. It happens every year with incoming students, says Janet Peddigrew, a BMO district vice-president for Midwestern Ontario (and mother of a soon-to-be university student.) There are a significant number of those who are simply financially unprepared, and who don’t take advantage of the financial planning available at their local bank.

READ: Student savings are easier than you think »

But most provincial aid programs are so frustratingly convoluted even savvy students would have a hard time navigating them, according to the CCPA:

This is not to say that understanding these systems is a matter of simple financial literacy. Even with the amount of time and analysis given to this report, the surface of understanding student financial aid eligibility in Canada has merely been scratched; it is much less likely that a student could deconstruct and accurately navigate a system that is so exceedingly complex.

Students’ own contributions make up anywhere from a few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the individual, family, program and province. Earning that cash has never been harder: an interactive project from the CCPA earlier this year shows that students have to work almost twice as long to pay their tuition as they would have in 1972, and young employees are the most likely to be paid minimum wage.

With the workforce shrinking and not enough students enrolling in science, math and tech, this latest revelation of barriers to millennials’ education and skills development doesn’t look promising for anyone hoping that Gen-Y will help Canada navigate the modern economy.