Two students talking to each other
Diane Written by Diane (she/her), student

Have you ever thought about how to pay for your education, only to stumble upon lists of words that you practically need an undergrad in business to understand? Don’t stress! Here are some common financial terms and easy definitions to help get you started.

Some of these words might sound familiar no matter which institution you attend, and others are specific to Waterloo. Make sure you check with the institution you ultimately choose because they all have their own ways of doing things.

What’s tuition?

This is the money you pay to actually go to school. It covers your class enrolment but doesn’t include things like textbooks, living expenses, or campus services.
It is based on the number of courses you’re taking in a term, as well as what program you're studying.

At Waterloo, we pay tuition one term at a time, not the entire year.

What are fees?

These are all the non-tuition costs that cover campus services like transit, health plans, and academic supports.

There are three different types of fees. Compulsory fees are mandatory. Optional fees give you the choice between opting in or out. And voluntary fees are a donation, usually to your faculty.


Female student making a payment online.

What’s the difference between grants, loans, and bursaries?


I don’t know about you, but if someone offered me free money, I wouldn’t turn it down. Think of a grant as a gift for just being you! You don’t have to pay it back and you don’t really have to do anything extraordinary to get it, usually you just have to apply.


More free money? Heck, yes!  Much like grants, bursaries are a type of financial aid that you don’t have to pay back. The difference though, is a bursary is usually based on financial need and requires an application. Learn more on our bursaries page.


A loan is money you borrow and have to pay back later. You can get loans from your bank, from family and friends, and even from the government through OSAP (more on that in the next section).

While it can be exciting to see all the money from your loan in your bank account, it’s important to remember that you have to pay it back, plus interest. Interest is a percentage of the original loan that you pay back on top of the loan as a way of making up for the time you had the money. It’s worth doing your research because different loans offer different interest rates and the lower the interest rate, the less money you owe when your loan is due.


Person using a laptop and cell phone.

What is OSAP?

The Ontario Student Assistance Program, more commonly known as OSAP, is the way that the government will help finance your education. They give out both grants and loans, based on your income, your family, and your education. Although you can be eligible for both grants and loans, you can choose to just take the grants if you'd like. If you’re not from Ontario, you can check out what programs your provincial or territorial government has to offer too. You can also learn more on the official OSAP FAQ page.

What are scholarships? And, do I have to pay them back?

It can feel so good to have someone recognize all the things you’re great at – and scholarships are a way of doing this… with money. They are awards given out based on academic or extracurricular achievement. They don’t have to be paid back, although you may need to write a thank-you note to the donor or funding organization.

Scholarships aren’t just limited to paying for your tuition and fees. When I applied to Waterloo, I was awarded a scholarship that included an International Experience Award and I was able to use that to help pay for my exchange to France last year.

There are lots of great places to look for scholarships. The time it takes to fill out an application is worth it once you get the cheque.


A Registered Education Savings Plan or RESP is a special savings account for people to save for a child’s post-secondary education. The money put in earns interest over time plus the government adds some grants too. This means that once you prove your enrollment, you can withdraw the grants and interest to pay your fees. Talk to your family to see what kind of money they might have saved for you.

No matter what questions a student might have, or where they are in the university process, Student Awards and Financial Aid as well as Student Financial Services at the University of Waterloo are here to help!

Sarah L., Student Awards and Financial Aid Assistant

What does “fees arranged” mean?

This status will show up on your account in Waterloo's online student information system once you’ve shown the University how and when you’ll pay your fees. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve sent your money, it just means that you have a plan. You can become “fees arranged” by paying all your fees or by submitting a promissory note online. Learn more about paying your fees on the fees arranged page.

What’s a promissory note?

Try to imagine how you would give an IOU to a university. That’s exactly what a promissory note is. It’s your way to become fees arranged without actually arranging your fees. With a promissory note, you can leave a balance owing on your student account, so long as it is equal to the amount of financial aid you will to receive from things like OSAP or scholarships and bursaries. For additional information, check out our page on promissory notes.

University of Waterloo tuition

Now that you have the vocabulary you need to understand your finance options, head over to the University of Waterloo tuition page for incoming undergraduate students. The sooner you know your costs, the sooner you can start to save.


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