Unless you have the kind of generous parents who can afford to drop tens of thousands of dollars on your education, it looks like you’re going to be stuck paying for your own education. Don’t sweat it. Having to pay for things yourself builds character.


Most people pay for their post-secondary using a combination of factors. Many will work during the summer months. Some will be able to hit up scholarships. And others will have a sugar daddy, willing to give them cash in exchange for, uh, companionship.

That last method isn’t recommended, especially if you’re a dude.

The process is mostly the same in the United States, but slightly different enough to warrant a blog post. Here are four significant differences with student loans between the two nations.

Related: the case against going to college

Total indebtedness

College is crazy expensive in the United States versus Canada. Especially when you compare elite schools down south to equivalent institutions up here.

Take McGill, one of Canada’s top schools. A student from Quebec will only pay $2,328 per year in tuition. Someone from one of Canada’s other provinces will pay $7,227 annually, while international students will pay between $15,000 and $40,000. Each will also have to pay an additional $1,000 for books.

Compare that to Brown, which is one of America’s top schools. Tuition for the 2017-18 school year is $52,231. How anyone affords that is beyond me.

What ends up happening is U.S. students end up much deeper in debt than their Canadian peers. The average Canadian ends up with approximately $25,000 in student debt after their university degree is completed. The average American student will owe more than $37,000.


Both Canadian and American student loans are administered by their respective governments. But Canadian borrowers will likely deal with their provincial government rather than the feds.

Here’s how the Canadian system works. The federal government comes up with a certain number of guidelines. Each individual province decides whether they’ll follow these rules or tweak them to their own liking. Quebec, naturally, has its own set of rules. So does Ontario and Alberta.

In the United States, loans are handled exclusively by the federal government through the Federal Student Aid program.

Working with banks 

In the United States, many student loans are issued by the federal government itself. These loans are called Stafford and Perkins loans, and are directly subsidized by the U.S. government. These loans are capped at approximately $10,000 per year for each student.

This isn’t enough for the average borrower, so many turn to private student loans. The largest player in this part of the market is Sallie Mae, which specializes in student debt. Sallie Mae has approximately $150 billion in student loans outstanding. In addition, many banks offer private student loans.

In Canada, most student loans are done directly with the government. Students can borrow up to the cost of their tuition each year from the feds, plus a top-up for books and other incidentals. If a borrower needs more, they can then hit up a private bank for more cash. Banks tend to market their loans to people who need more than the average loan – like doctors.

Loan forgiveness

For the most part, whether you live in Canada or the United States, you have to pay back your student loans. Bankruptcy won’t get rid of them, either.

There are loan forgiveness programs in both Canada and the United States. In the U.S., you must first get a job with the government or an approved not-for-profit organization. Then, after you’ve already made 120 qualifying monthly payments, you can apply to have your remaining student loan balance forgiven.

It’s a little different in Canada. Doctors and nurses who work in remote communities can apply to have their student loans forgiven. There are also several provincial programs that will forgive a portion of someone’s student loans (via tax credits) if they live and work in a province for a certain amount of time.

The bottom line

Essentially, both Canada and the United States have very similar systems designed to encourage as many people to attend school as possible. There are only small differences between the two. For more information about Canadian student loans, consult a student loan expert.

Tell everyone, yo!