A person putting money into a piggy bank

NaomiWritten by Naomi (she/her), student

What does university actually cost?

So, you’ve heard you should start saving up for university, but you have no idea why or what for. Let’s run through all the costs of an undergraduate degree so you can be better prepared for how much university costs. 

First things first: application fees

Yup, that’s right — there are fees in place before you get into the school of your choice. Application costs are typically the first expenses you’ll run into on your university journey, and they exist to help cover the costs universities incur while reviewing applications, attending university fairs, etc.

For Canadian students applying for schools in Ontario through the Ontario Universities’ Application Centre (OUAC), application fees are $156 for your initial three program choices, with an additional $50 for each program after that. For international students, there’s an additional service fee of $10.

The cost of tuition

Tuition is the next significant expense that comes with a university degree (and probably the culprit of the “save up” reminder you keep getting). This is essentially the price you pay for learning in a higher-educational environment and earning a quality degree.

Students from Ontario attending Waterloo have tuition ranging from $9,000 to $18,000* per year, and then costs for international students are higher, with annual tuition ranging from $48,000 to $71,000*. As a publicly funded university, Waterloo receives government funding for each domestic student enrolled to offset some of the costs of their university education. This government support does not apply to international students.

Then there are co-op fees too; the $756** fee that all students in co-op programs are required to pay several times throughout their degree.
*Each program at Waterloo has its own unique cost and fees vary each year. You can check out the first-year tuition fees page to see estimates for how much you’d be paying in your future program of choice.

**The co-op fee is reviewed annually and subject to change.

A student making an online payment

Don't forget the necessities

Let’s go over the additional expenses you might not have thought about — after all, living expenses for two academic terms at Waterloo are expected to be between $19,000 and $24,000.

On-campus housing costs

To start off, you need somewhere to live! If you plan to move away from home for university, then you’ll need to look for housing. Living on campus in first year is a popular choice for ease and proximity, and residence fees at Waterloo range from approximately $6,373 to $8,481 a term, depending on the kind of room you choose. Meal plans can add an estimated additional $5,850 to $6,650 as well, depending on which plan you choose to go with.

Off-campus housing options

There’s always the option of off-campus housing if you find it better suits your needs and preferences. Off-campus housing prices in Waterloo range from $650 to $1,833 per month depending on the size, location, type of housing, length of contract, and amenities or furniture included.

Personal expenses

Let’s not forget about these other costs either — laundry, clothing, phone bills, internet, personal care, outings — depending on your lifestyle, this could average $4,000 for the year.

A cup of coffee next to a stack of textbooks


Textbooks are another fee to keep in mind, with most programs estimating $2,476 for the whole year. You can explore options like buying used textbooks through Facebook or Instagram to potentially save on these costs.

Your new best friend: budget planning

Feeling overwhelmed? Our budget calculator is a handy resource you’ll probably want to check out. This tool will help you crunch the specifics of how much you’ll be paying based on your program and exact living choices, so that you know what to expect when those fees are all due.


Why does university cost so much?

As you now know, the cost of a quality degree isn’t cheap — between tuition, living expenses, books, and other costs, university starts to add up. If your original question was “Wait, what? I have to pay that much to learn?”, then your next question is probably “Why do I have to pay that much to learn?”

Supporting the academic workforce

As much as my English professor genuinely enjoys teaching students, the reality is that no one in academia is here for free, no matter how passionate they truly are. Reason #1 for university expenses is that these institutions employ a substantial number of highly educated professionals, and not just professors. Researchers, administrators, support staff — paying competitive salaries to these individuals is often a significant cost for universities, which contributes to the cost of tuition.

Students working on a robot

Innovation has a price tag too

What? Waterloo has facilities where you can play with lasers, make machines, and print things in 3D?! Okay, that’s a bit of an understatement for all the remarkable research and technology that exists at Waterloo (and has probably earned the school the title of “Canadian Research University of the Year” for 15 years in a row). Reason #2, though, is that maintaining these top-tier facilities and technology costs a lot of money too. Yes, Waterloo’s highly-ranked programs and world-class research puts the school on the map year after year — but they also require a lot of funding to continue producing the top talent and quality work that they do. In return, this funding contributes to further technological advancements and knowledge cultivation; a valuable cycle, but a pricey one.

Does university matter?

University is beneficial for a number of reasons: the invaluable experience, the expertise you gain in your chosen field, and the promising long-term rewards. However, whether university matters or not depends on what you want to do in the future. While not every career path demands a post-secondary education, it's worth noting that an undergrad degree unlocks numerous opportunities because of how it sets you up for future success.

Is university worth it?

For me, university is a self-investment — I’m putting the time and money in now because I know it’ll pay off in a few years. After all, it’s not a myth that higher education equals higher earnings; university sets you up for a sturdy income and stable future.

“I think it’s worth it for sure; it opens new opportunities and challenges you to keep learning. For me, getting a degree and co-op experience are the first steps in preparing myself to excel in the workforce.”

Grace (she/her), Sociology student

Of course, there’s always Waterloo’s added bonus of co-op — real, paid work experience in your area of interest — a cherry on top that comes with pursuing a university education at Waterloo. Personally, co-op has been one of the biggest perks of getting my degree, and my experiences have been invaluable.
Getting the chance to obtain hands-on experience in your field while expanding your learning is definitely worth it! Waterloo has the top graduate employment rate in all of Canada. Plus, within six months of graduating from a co-op program, 96% of students find jobs relevant to the skills they gained at Waterloo, compared to 79% of Ontario graduates. It’s nice to know you could be earning $50,000 to $70,000+ in your early 20s, depending on your degree.

How can I pay for university?

So, how exactly can you fund your education? There are several ways to pay for your degree both before you begin your studies and throughout your undergraduate journey.

Coins in a jar

Save, save, save

Not to sound like a broken record, but this really is step one to paying for university. Plus, high school is a great time to kickstart those financial preparations!

Check out our ultimate guide to financing your education →

Co-op for the win

Yes, I said “paid” work experience earlier. Waterloo students can earn between $9,000 to $16,000 during their first work term alone, and there are four to six work terms per program!

Discover if co-op is right for you →


Financial aid and scholarships

Make sure you look into scholarship and financial aid options, because they’re incredibly helpful. Don’t forget about the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) either, which offers grants and loans to Ontario student who meet the eligibility.

Learn more about how to find and apply to scholarships →

Work a part-time job

I love working during school because it means I don’t have to dip into my savings while I’m on my study terms. Whether you work a job on or off-campus, part-time jobs can help contribute to covering tuition fees, textbooks, and everyday living expenses.

Explore part-time job options on campus →


University is an investment that can pay off immensely in the long run, and scholarships, co-op programs, and part-time jobs are only some of the ways you can help fund your education.

Discover more tips for paying for university →


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