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Mama told me to shop around, and here's why...

Just like it pays to shop around for a home or a car or another big ticket item, it pays to “shop around” for the best deal on a university degree.

But Janet, I hear you saying, you make it sound as though a university degree is something you purchase like a consumer would buy a product.

Well, although it’s not quite the same, there are similarities.

We know a university degree is an expensive investment. It is a big ticket item, costing in the ballpark of $24,000 (low end) to $80,000 (higher end), and although you don’t purchase it per se, you are paying for it at one institution or another.

So doesn’t it make sense to look for something that will give you the best return on your investment?

Of course there are a lot of considerations when deciding what degree program to take and where to take it, but let’s just look at one aspect of it: comparing similar degrees at one university versus another, apples to apples if you will.

How can you get the better value?

Here are some things to look for:

Co-op – Does the university offer the program your son or daughter is considering as a co-op? If so, this is possibly the best way to get a good return on your investment. Co-op allows your student to get on-the-job experience, make professional contacts in their field of interest, and get paid for their work (co-op placements generally offer wages well above a regular part-time job). In many programs, students take 3 co-op placements of 4 months each, which gives them one full year of work experience when they graduate! So shop around – some universities offer co-op in a program where others don't.

And in case you need more convincing about the benefits of co-op read the following stats from this study:

  • University co-op students report lower mean debt amounts than their peers ($19,000 compared to $23,000), and are also significantly less likely to report carrying above-average debt loads

  • Two years after graduation, university graduates who completed a co-op program on average earned $8,000 a year more than graduates who did not participate in co-op

  • 69% of co-op graduates believe their experience was instrumental in finding employment following graduation

Experiential learning or internship – Does the program offer an experiential learning component or an internship? These are usually not set-up as a paid work placement, but some amount of hands-on work is still beneficial, even if it’s not paid. It might mean field work collecting data ,or working on a research or communications project for a non-profit organization.

Opportunities to work with professors – Working on projects with professors is another way to get hands-on experience, and it’s a great way to snag a reference if you need one for a job or for an application to a professional program like Law, Physiotherapy, Medicine, etc. For example, the Dalhousie Integrated Science program has research projects and field trips with professors built into it.

And there are other, less direct advantages – If you are planning to apply for professional school after completing an undergraduate degree, then there can be some advantage to attending a certain university for your undergrad. Not because any institution is given preference on an admission application, but because the institution offers prep courses that others don’t. For example, Dalhousie offers prep sessions (non-credit) to help students prepare for the interview process for Dentistry and Pharmacy. I don’t know of any other “feeder” universities that offer anything similar. Also, students can volunteer to be a “patient” who Dalhousie Medical School candidates assess for health issues, allowing you to get an inside view to the medical school interview process. (Note: this opportunity is open to anyone 18 years or over, not just Dal students.)

These are just a few of the ways to get the most bang from your post-secondary buck. What are the unique features of the programs you're considering?

Comparison shopping can pay off; a little bit of extra research time may be worth a lot of saved time and money for you and your student.

Looking for help preparing for scholarships for university? Contact me to discuss my services. It's what I love to do!

Happy shopping!

About the author

Janet MacDonald is a Scholarship Coach with mycampusGPS Education Consulting. She is a former Canadian university admissions officer. For seven years, she was the coordinator of a scholarship program at a major Canadian university. Janet has helped her student clients win hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships.

You can find her online at, and on LinkedIn.

Learn more about Janet MacDonald by visiting the About Page.

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