From the Editor: Students deserve better student loan programs, my experience with OSAP

Art by Kristen Frier

Art by Kristen Frier

Students face many barriers while attending post-secondary. These barriers can vary between students, but according to a survey from Cengage Group the cost of living and tuition are the biggest barriers students face while attending post-secondary school. 

In Canada, and many other countries, if you don’t have the money to go to school there are loan programs designed to help pay for your studies and living costs. Since I lived in Ontario before attending Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2019, I use the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) to help pay for my tuition. 

However, in the past year, I’ve faced many challenges with OSAP such as submitting academic progress documents like transcripts and a letter by me explaining my academic goals, hours-long waits to talk to a representative, receive funding, and being left in the dark about the status of my application. 

This semester in particular I waited almost three months for OSAP to approve my application, and I’m not the only one

I submitted my application online on Sept. 7, and was asked to submit academic progress documents to show I’m still doing well in my studies. This means they usually want the transcript from the last semester in full-time studies, a letter explaining academic goals or the circumstances why you’re not doing well, and a letter from an academic advisor if necessary. 

Since fall 2021, I have been asked to show these documents every semester. I think this is due to the fact that I started at KPU taking five classes, then four, and then three, and wanted to make sure I was still doing well. However, I have been taking three classes for the past year and have consistently proven to have high grades, but OSAP still asks each semester. 

Regardless, after submitting those documents it usually takes a couple weeks to get approved. After I submitted the documents, my online application said the wait time would be six to eight weeks, which was later changed to eight to 10 weeks without a warning. I rely on OSAP to help pay for my tuition, rent, bills, and other living expenses. 

I felt the added pressure of meeting KPU’s tuition deadline, which was Sept. 22. Usually a fee deferral is granted in this situation and is Oct. 31, but only when you are approved for funding. If the tuition is not paid on time, a student pays late fees and can interfere with registration the next semester. 

After I found out there would be a delay, I called OSAP to see what was happening. The first time I called, I waited over three hours and they closed their office before I could speak with them. 

The other times I got to talk to a representative on the phone they hung up on me halfway through the conversation, told me wrong information, or couldn’t tell me if there was an update on my application. One representative said they were backlogged and that all applications would take awhile to process. I also asked if they could unflag my account due to consistently showing high grades for the past year, but they said that they couldn’t. 

I understand there’s only so much the representative on the phone can do, but I had no idea when I would actually receive my OSAP funding as many people were waiting longer than the expected time frame. 

Students deserve better student loan programs, as I was left in the dark this semester about when my application would be approved. This puts a huge strain on students financially, like myself as I was worried how I would pay for my tuition and living expenses. Luckily I did receive unexpected scholarships this semester to cover my tuition, but there are other students who may not have that same opportunity. 

If I didn’t receive those scholarships, I really don’t know what I would have done. I also work two jobs while in school, but taking more hours to work full-time while also doing full-time studies is unrealistic, as it shouldn’t have taken that long to approve my application. 

The long wait to approve applications creates a barrier for students who depend on loans like OSAP and can lead them to take on extra jobs and not put their focus on their studies, take out another loan, or even drop out. 

My application was eventually approved on Nov. 22 and received my loan last week, just as the fall semester was ending. In the future, as I continue my studies, I’m worried about this happening again. These programs should be there to help you, not increase student stress.