A post about finances could go (even) long(er), so for now I’ll just attach a point or two to each of this hydra’s many heads and come back to some of them in the future when there’s more space to expand. Here’s a list of things it might be good to keep in your mind at once:
- Making a budget
- Choosing a tuition payment method
- Cheap spots to eat & hang
- Funding: Tri-Council & OGS; Internal Awards & Funding; Private Scholarships
- Holding down a job
- Financial aid for rough patches
- Buying and selling “pre-loved” items
For those of you who are coming from the working world where it’s often customary to receive a paycheck once, maybe even twice, a month, it may be a bit alarming to find out that if you’re funded with a QGA by OGS or a Tri-Council Agency (SSHRC, CIHR, NSERC) budgeting on three payments a year is part of the test. If you TA or RA, you can usually count on that monthly fix. As Atif and Megan have already pointed out, there are a number of ways to squeeze a nickel ‘til it cries, and I’ll point out a few more here later. There are also ways to supplement your funding package.
Budget – Unsurprisingly, there’s an app for that. On this list of the top 6 best banking and budgeting apps for smart phones and tablets, #3 (called “Mint”) might be the most useful one for the lot of us. However, #2 (entitled “iAllowance”) ranks as the most adorable for those of you with little kids.
Tuition – I’m a huge fan of the Pre-authorized Payment Plan (PAPP) because I don’t have a lot of brain thinkings left over for organizational matters. It has, on occasion, failed to occur to me that just as the University pays me, I must also pay it. Not anymore, with the PAPP!
Fun & Food on the Cheap – I’m just going to defer here, because I have a feeling that Megan and Atif are going to tell you the score come September. Did you see the “get active” and “favourite dessert spots” posts? Those two know where it’s at, whatever “it” may be.
Scholarships, Awards, & Bursaries, oh my! – For a good overview, take a look at this SGS page. Assigned TA & RA positions usually form some part of grad students’ funding, but there are also sometimes advertised positions to which you can apply. And don’t forget to do an internet search for private scholarships for which you might be eligible based on criteria ranging from your place of birth to your research interests. Here, I’m going to focus on the big external ones whose deadlines tend to creep up on you. You can apply to a Tri-Council award and for an OGS concurrently, but if you’re successful at both, you’ll only be able to hold one. Typically, whatever you choose to hold will comprise the bulk of your funding package. You don’t just get to add it on top to your program’s base package. Also, remember that you can only apply for one of the Tri-Council awards in a year, so choose carefully if your research spans disciplinary boundaries, and make sure you develop a convincing argument for why you fit into the mandate of one research council and not another. Internal deadlines vary, so start putting your application together early and check with your department or program. When I say early, I mean now-ish. For most students, these applications aren’t optional. Many of us are required to at least try to seek external funding. You’re going to need referees to write you letters of support and get your statement of interest plenty edited.
A “Real World” Job – Fun fact: Full-time students are expected not to hold paid employment of more than 10 hours a week unrelated to their research. If this isn’t financially feasible for you (and often it’s not just “you,” it’s “you and your family”), you may wish to consider discussing whether part-time status is a possibility with your program.
Financial Aid for Rough Patches – Remember that in certain instances, if times get tough, Queen’s has options for short-term loans, emergency bursaries, and needs-based awards.
The Tried-and-Tested & the Already Loved – Not only can you buy used books, but consider selling old books on Amazon online (any kind of books, from graphic novels to The Idiot’s Guide to Saving for University). Chances are that you’re moving to Kingston from elsewhere or that you’ll be moving once you’ve finished your program. Use a site like Kijiji or hold/visit garage sales to help lighten your load and to benefit from other people’s spring cleaning, too. (I made a deal with myself that if I sold enough of the stuff that was overpopulating my basement, then I would by myself a Nespresso machine. I succeeded, and now I’m more organized and more productive in that way that only nursing a low level coffee addiction can make you.)
Every institution comes with its own jargon. Here’s a list of some acronyms to get us on the same page:
SGS: School of Graduate Studies.
TA: Teaching Assistantship. Your department or program may assign you one as part of your funding package, but you may also be able to apply for TA positions that are posted to everyone, including some that may be available in the summer term. They may involve leading tutorials or just marking.
RA: Research Assistantship. Your department or program may assign you one as part of your funding package, but you may also be able to apply for RA positions that are posted to everyone, including some that may be available in the summer term. The nature of the work can be as varied as the research interests and administrative needs of the professor for whom you’re working.
QGA – Queen’s Graduate Award. The internal funding many base packages are made of.
OGS – Ontario Graduate Scholarship. Apply here once the competition opens.
SSHRC – Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Apply here once the competition opens if your research fits within social sciences and humanities fields.
CIHR – Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Apply here once the competition opens if your research is about health.
NSERC – Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. Apply here once the competition opens if you’re working within the scientific disciplines.