Taking Notes: Eye on Education – Attending AU On Student Loans & 3 Years or 4

This column focuses on a wide range of issues affecting post-secondary students. Students are encouraged to submit suggestions and educational topics they are concerned about, or personal experiences with courses or university situations they feel other students should know about. If suggest a topic or a course alert for Taking Notes, contact djabbour@ausu.org

Attending AU On Student Loans

Are you an AU student on student loan, or are you planning to apply for a student loan? If so, there are some important things you should be aware of.

To be considered full time, students don’t necessarily have to be carrying a full course load of 15 credits per semester. You are considered full time if you successfully complete at least nine credits a semester (four months), or the equivalent of 60% of the full course load. Taking only three courses a semester can make full time studies more manageable, and you are still eligible for full-time funding. For graduate students a single graduate course per semester may qualify you for full time status (depending on the faculty).

What about course extensions? Undergrad students on student loan are expected by student finance to complete their courses in four months. However, you will receive one free extension at AU, giving you the equivalent of 6 months to complete the course. Extensions to a course are not considered when determining a full course load. Students on loan can still request course extensions, but they need to ensure that these extensions will not put them into the maximum course limit.

As a full time student, getting courses done on time can be challenging, and Athabasca University monitors the progress of funded students. If you are making no progress at all in your courses, you run the risk of having your student funding discontinued. If you find yourself heading for trouble – ask for help before it’s too late. The registrar’s office can advise you and connect you with counselling services if needed. AUSU also provides peer support through the study buddy program, mentor program, online forums, and coffee/study groups. For information go to: http://www.ausu.org

Funding for full time students is not available in every province, and different provincial funding agencies may have variations in their policies. AU’s registrar’s office tries to be as flexible as possible with funded full time students, but they do have to conform to provincial legislation, so make sure you are aware of the policies in your province.

AU’s registrar’s department has prepared a comprehensive information sheet that goes out with every student loan funding letter. It can be accessed at: http://www.athabascau.ca/html/depts/registry/forms/pdf/funded.doc

3 Years or Four

What is the difference between a three-year bachelor degree and a four-year bachelor degree? Well, for one, it’s a difference between a total tuition a little over $16,000 or more than $22,000 (based on current AU per course cost of $541).

But does that extra year really make a difference? Well, it depends on what your goals in life are. University people will tell you that a four-year degree is always preferable because it allows you to get into graduate programs. This is generally true, although students should closely research their program of choice to ensure what the admission requirements are. At AU, the Executive MBA does not even require a completed undergrad degree.

What about employers? Do they differentiate? Not necessarily. A BA is a BA, regardless of how long it took or how much it cost. An undergraduate degree at three years is just as valid as a four year degree for many, if not most, employment opportunities.

Of course, there are specializations, and these are sometimes the best way to go. University certificates and diplomas that can be achieved in one or two years are often excellent ways to beef up one’s resume and improve career prospects without spending excessive time, money and energy.

The choice of how many years really depends on where you want to go in the future. If you want to continue on with your education and are in pursuit of a Master’s degree, a PhD, or a professional designation – then a four year undergrad degree may be required. If you just want to improve your job prospects, get better credentials, or just say you have a university degree – then three years or less is plenty.

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