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Managing Finances as an International Student

How I Made $120,000 as an International Student

Written by Toygar Yildirim in April 2022

Hello soon-to-be Gryphons! I am here with a blog that goes into detail on the finances of obtaining a degree from the University of Guelph – it might feel repetitive, but this is an important topic that I know is on your mind. What I’ll be highlighting in this blog post are my own personal experiences. Your experience of course, may be different from mine, so please take that into account. Following the suggestions, I will share below how I have earned over $100,000 towards my studies. As proof, I am sharing real-life costs with you – numbers I have been plotting in an Excel document since I started my degree at the University of Guelph.

Starting with your expenses, the biggest one will be your tuition followed by your living expenses. Rounding numbers, let’s consider the tuition to be $35,000 per year, multiplied by the 4 years you will be here, that amounts to $140,000. Now, here are the ways I saved & made money, in point form, from largest to smallest:

  • CO-OP: The biggest way to make this money back is by applying for co-op, which will grant you between 3-5 paid, full-time work semesters. If you applied for co-op but didn’t get in, do not worry; you can still apply for co-op in your first year if you maintain a good GPA. I am currently completing my 5th co-op term, considered extra and not required. Over the course of 5 terms, I have made close to $51,000 in addition to gaining incredible experience.
  • PART-TIME WORK: If you work part-time during your classes, you will make a decent chunk of your living costs. This number was a little less than $17,000 for me (4 years). Consider I’ve only worked 5 out of the 8 semesters. If I had worked during my first three semesters, this number would’ve been closer to $25,000. I also worked 20 hours every week which was the limit of my study permit.
  • OVERLOADING IN COURSES: The maximum number of courses students are advised to take is 5. Students taking 6 courses however are billed the same as 5 making the 6th course, in essence free. To take 6 courses, there are certain academic requirements relating to your GPA and previous course history. Taking a 6th course for free has allowed me to save a little over $21,000 in 5 years and as an added benefit, I will be graduating a semester early.
  • TAX RETURNS: If you have made income in Canada, it is obligatory that you do a tax return, but did you know you can do your taxes even if you don’t make any income? Simply by paying my tuition, I got over $1,000 from the Government of Canada. If you work part-time for 20 hours like I did, you can expect around $2,500. If you are in co-op and have worked full-time for a semester, this number goes up to $3,500. To put it into perspective, I have received a little over $12,000 from the government in 4 years. If taxes sound confusing to you, there is plenty of help around campus which I’ve used from time to time to maximize my returns.
  • SCHOLARSHIPS & BURSARIES: If you have a GPA of over 80% and apply to available scholarships, my experience has been a steady income of $1,000 every semester. There are also scholarships that are experience-based if you attend intramurals or community help activities, which I have not been eligible to apply for. I wanted to make this point as it’s not all about grades when it comes to these but expect most of them to have at least a 70% GPA minimum. I am not including the entrance scholarship I got which was $8,500.
  • RESIDENCE: If you want to stay at the University residence, this will cost you more than if you were to stay off-campus. I can’t pass without saying the residence is an incredible experience and if you can afford it, definitely go for it (and be guaranteed a spot as an international student in first year!). If you want to save additional funds, staying off-campus will save you a little less than $4,000.
  • PERSONAL EXPENSES: As you can imagine, there are thousands of different ways to save money from personal expenses. Small things such as meal-prepping (cooking big meals and putting them in containers to bring to school and heat up, rather than buying food every day) saved me a lot of money. For me, personal expenses amounted to a little over $40,000. To give perspective, I rented from a brand-new townhouse for three years before moving to my own apartment in addition to paying for car insurance. Your personal expenses might be below or above mine, I just wanted to share so you have an average.
  • TEXTBOOKS: An expense that you might not expect is the textbook costs for your courses. Unfortunately, this is a big burden on all students but there is an incredibly simple solution. Our University library has almost all the textbooks you might need, which you can rent at 4-hour timeframes completely FREE. I’ve done this since I noticed the library offered these services and have not bought a textbook since. It also forced me to be at the library which in return forced me to study. A win-win situation for everyone!

So in total, over the course of 4 academic years, your tuition will be around $140,000 and let’s add that to my personal expenses of $40,000, it makes up for $180,000 in 5 years (You won’t be paying for tuition during your co-op terms so tuition is 4 academic years but in reality my degree will last me 5 years.)

Let’s add up the income I have accumulated from co-op and part-time work, comes to about $76,000. If you work more than me, this number will go up even more! Add the tax returns of $12,000 and the scholarships of $8,000, that makes the total $96,000. This is only from working 20 hours during school which is incredibly doable. If you want to work a little harder and overload on courses, you will save an additional $21,000 – add that to the number above and that is about $117,000. If you skip residence, that is a total of $121,000. This makes the difference between your expenses and income less than $40,000 over the course of 5 years. So, if you follow these suggestions, your semesterly cost can be less than $4,000!

One important thing with this plan is that your co-op semester won’t start until the summer of your second year meaning you won’t be able to take advantage of that income until then. I didn’t work the summer after my first year which is an empty semester for everyone, if you choose to work, that is even more additional funds.

I hope this was helpful!

Toygar at a Porsche Cars Event

Where's Toygar now?

Toygar graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Marketing Management. Since then, he has landed his dream job at Porsche Cars Canada, Ltd. in digital sales. 

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