One of the biggest matters of concern for incoming students — and even upper-year students — is applying to the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP). With the recommended deadline to apply fast approaching, we hope that with this guide you will have a better idea of what OSAP is, what is required in applying, when you will get your funding and much more.
There are also some screenshots included, so if you haven’t applied yet, this post will paint a better picture for you in regard to what you can expect.
First things first . . .
What is OSAP?
The Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) is provincial funding for colleges and universities. It consists of bursaries, scholarships and grants that do not have to be paid back, with the majority of the money being a loan. This loan will build up until you graduate, including interest (accumulated for the Ontario portion but not the federal portion) and payment fees. You then have six months to find a job and start making your payments. Recent changes to the program could, under certain circumstances, even make you eligible for free tuition.
Am I eligible for OSAP?
The main eligibility requirement for OSAP is that you are an Ontario resident who is either a Canadian citizen, permanent resident or a protected person. However, you can meet all these requirements and still not be eligible due to other factors, such as your family’s or your own income; whether you are married, independent, or a dependent; your academic progress and course load; and so on. OSAP has a great page called How to get OSAP that you can refer to.
For Canadian citizens who are not Ontario residents, please consult your respective provincial programs for funding options.
Is there an easy way to check if I’m eligible and get an idea of how much funding I could get?
Yes, absolutely! It is always recommended that students fill out the aid estimator each year before they apply. This estimator not only gives you an idea of whether or not you are eligible for funding, it also calculates how much funding you could potentially receive. This estimator makes planning for the remaining amount of tuition and/or living expenses that much easier!
What will I need to complete my application?
To complete the application, make sure you have the following:
- The name of the school you are attending
- Your program of study, year level and start and end date of the session (ex. September to April during the regular school year)
- An estimate or record of your income and the income of anyone who might be supporting you (e.g. your parents, spouse, etc.)
- The current worth of your car or any other assets
- Your OAN (OSAP Access Number)
If you are a first-time applicant you will also have to fill out a special form, the Master Student Financial Assistant Agreement (MSFAA).
By when should I apply?
You should try your hardest to get your online application finished by June 30 and get the remaining paperwork finished as soon as possible. This ensures that your OSAP will be processed for the start of school and that you will receive your funding by, or very close to, the start of classes. You will also be eligible to have your interest waived on your student account from YorkU in case your OSAP comes in late and you can’t pay tuition right away.
Now if you can’t make this date, that’s OK. Just keep in mind that it generally takes six to eight weeks for the application to be processed and that it is based in a first-come, first-serve process. You will still get your funding, but you won’t be eligible for the interest to be waived. This could mean that you would be receiving your funding closer to the end of September or even into the later fall months.
Why am I getting so much/little OSAP?
Again, it’s really based on the factors of your application. For example, if your parents make a certain amount and you haven’t been out of high school for four years, OSAP expects them to chip in for your education, even if they might not. You can certainly try to appeal this decision, but it is known to be a difficult and lengthy process. If you are still receiving OSAP, it’s probably to help you with living expenses! You can use this toward rent, food or anything you like. If you would feel more comfortable with less funding, you can immediately pay back OSAP to reduce how much you owe at the end. Neither option is better than the other or the most correct; do what works best for you.
OK, so I applied; what now?
Once you’ve applied, you essentially just have to wait. By July or early August, you should be able to log back into the application to get your more accurate funding estimate, which should reveal when your OSAP will be released. You should receive an email from OSAP when this update has occurred, so make sure you log back in at least once a month to make sure OSAP doesn’t need any additional information from you.
My income (or my parents’/spouse’s) has changed . . . what do I do now?
If your income changes (or that of anyone supporting you) before or after your OSAP has been distributed, you will need to notify them. Failing to notify them ASAP can put you in bad standing, meaning you will not be eligible to receive OSAP in the future. York has numerous OSAP forms available. Don’t worry if such a change in income happens to you, because it does happen all the time. Just try to complete the form in a timely manner and then drop it off to the Bennett Centre (drop boxes are on the first floor; you can also mail the form). If your income decreased you will likely be eligible for more funding, and if your income increased — especially if it did so significantly — you might lose funding. In the latter case it’s smart to hold on to your OSAP, because you will need to pay it back.
Should I send OSAP directly to York or hold on to it?
This depends entirely on you. Sending it to York can be a good way of making sure that your tuition is paid off early as a priority. However, many of us have living expenses to take care of with the help of OSAP. In this case, if your funding gets sent to York, you are out of luck. However, if you get the funding directly, you can hold onto the entire amount and pay your tuition monthly in chunks. You just have to ensure that your tuition is paid by the time you need to enrol in your next set of courses, otherwise you will be blocked until your balance is cleared.
I’m worried about how much I’m going to owe and how I’ll ever manage to pay it back
Join the queue! We have expensive education and it sure adds up fast. OSAP has a repayment calculator that you can use to estimate how much you owe and will need to pay back over the length of time of your choosing (to a max of 15 years). Beyond that, they also offer aid relief — they can calculate a new payment for you based on your debt, family income and family size. This means that if your job doesn’t pay very much or you have a child, you won’t have to pay back as much. You can learn more about these scenarios on OSAP’s Pay Back OSAP page.
Also keep in mind that you aren’t actually paying back OSAP. You will be paying your loan to the National Students Loan Services Centre (NSLSC). It is recommended that you create an account on their CanLearn website where you can keep track of how much you owe and make payments at any time. Just make sure you write down your account info, because it’s a bit of a pain to get it again if you lose it (it takes about two weeks).
Why do some people spend their OSAP on x and not tuition or books?
For some people, OSAP is their only income. Just like other people, OSAP users still need to buy food, clothes, other items and, yes, even make it a fun night every now and then. I personally choose not to judge how people use their OSAP, because I’ve been in a position where I have had to use it for everything. I think that’s the way it should be — it is my debt after all. Why would someone else worry about it? Students deserve a decent quality of life and if they have a bit of extra OSAP and use it for personal things, then why not? So yes, you can absolutely use your OSAP for more than just tuition or books just try to make conscientious decisions before you do so. If you think you will regret how you are spending it, then don’t. Or make it so you only use it for something once a month :).
Is there anything else I should know about OSAP?
Just be aware of the time it takes to get OSAP. It’s unlikely that you will actually receive it on the first day of classes, so if you want all your books by then, you might want to save and set aside some money. Remember, the date on your OSAP application is not when you receive your OSAP; it’s when they release it. From that point it generally takes seven to nine business days, but it could be more. I recommend providing your banking info, because it’s faster for them to direct-deposit than to mail you a cheque.
Don’t forget that your education is an investment, and while it is certainly disconcerting that most of us will have such high debt coming out of school, these experiences are going to help develop you as a person and provide you with better opportunities. It’ll work out in the long term :).
York also has a useful OSAP website that you might want to check out for more information.
Also, if you aren’t eligible for OSAP or it doesn’t cover your tuition and living expenses — don’t panic. The following articles will help:
Thinking Ahead: Steps to YorkU (step 5)
Have a question about the OSAP process? Feel free to leave a question below or tweet @YorkUStudents with the #YUBLOG.
Note: This post was originally posted on June 3, 2014. It has been adjusted multiple times to reflect current information, the last time on March 29, 2017.