If you’re like most medical students, you’ll need to borrow to complete your studies. In 2020, the median debt for Canadian medical school graduates was $100,000 — with 41% saying they owed $120,000 or more.1
To help cover these costs, governments in Canada offer student grants and student loans. Both the Government of Canada and provincial/territorial governments have their own student grant and loan programs.
If you’re thinking about borrowing to finance the cost of your med school education, it’s important to understand how these student grants and loans work. That way, you can make informed borrowing decisions as you put your finances in place.
Federal government student grants and loans
Canada Student Grants and Loans are available in most provinces, and in one of the three territories.
What are Canada Student Grants?
Canada Student Grants are available to students from low- and middle-income families who are enrolled in a part-time or full-time undergraduate program, including med school, at a designated post-secondary institution.
What are Canada Student Loans?
Canada Student Loans are available for full-time study at designated schools, including some post-secondary institutions outside Canada, to students who meet the eligibility criteria. Beginning November 1, 2019, these loans will be interest-free until six months after you’ve finished full-time school, at which time repayments will start.
Provincial and territorial government student grants and loans
In addition to Canada Student Grants and Loans, there are student financial aid programs operated by all provinces and territories.
In some jurisdictions, provincial or territorial programs are integrated with Canada Student Grants and Loans, meaning students may receive a single loan that covers financial aid from both levels of government. In other jurisdictions, provincial or territorial student aid is provided alongside federal aid programs, meaning students may receive two loans (one federal, and one provincial or territorial).
Here’s a look at how the programs work in each province or territory:
- In Ontario, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Canada and the provincial government work together to provide integrated student grants and loans.
- In Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada Student Grants and Loans are available alongside provincial student aid.
- In Yukon, only Canada Student Grants and Loans and territorial grants are available.
- In Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and Quebec, Canada Student Grants and Loans are not available, as these governments operate their own student aid programs.
Understanding student grants and loans
How much can you get?
Government student grants and loans usually have both annual limits, based on the academic year, and lifetime limits. How much you’ll receive depends on several factors, including your province or territory of residence, your family income, whether you have dependants, the tuition fees for your program of study, and whether you have a disability.
How do you apply?
Depending on your province or territory of residence (usually your “permanent residence,” but the rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction), you may apply for grants and loans through a single application covering aid programs from the federal government and the province or territory where you live, or you may need to make separate applications to the two levels of government. Most applications can be made online.
How and when do you need to repay borrowed funds?
Grants do not require repayment, while student loans are interest-free during your studies and during a specified “grace period” after completion. Family physicians and residents in family medicine who practise in remote and underserved areas may be eligible for repayment assistance, which reduces the balance they owe on Canada Student Loans.
Some provinces also offer repayment assistance programs. In 2016–2017, family physicians received $1.4 million and family medicine residents received $3.98 million in federal repayment assistance.2 If you think you may be eligible for repayment assistance, check with your loan office after your studies have been completed.
The bottom line
Although many med school students will require financial support that goes beyond government student grants and loans, government financial aid for post-secondary education can be an important source of financial support for med school. As you’re preparing for your med school education, you may want to ensure that you understand how student grant and loan funding works before applying.
For personalized advice on financing your journey through medical school, speak with your MD Advisor*.
* MD Advisor refers to an MD Management Limited Financial Consultant or Investment Advisor (in Quebec), or an MD Private Investment Counsel Portfolio Manager.
1 Includes non-student loan debt. See The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, Graduation Questionnaire National Report 2020, at https://afmc.ca.
2 Employment and Social Development Canada, Canada Student Loans Program Statistical Review 2016 to 2017, at www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/programs/canada-student-loans-grants/reports/cslp-statistical-2016-2017.html.