Benefits of Post-Secondary Education

Introduction: Post-secondary education and its benefits


Post-secondary education (PSE) is formal education beyond the high school level, including university and college degrees and diplomas, and apprenticeship certificates. Completing PSE requires time, money, and hard work. What will you get out of it in the end? Here are three types of potential benefits:               




As described below, higher levels of education is associated with financial benefits such as higher annual income, higher lifetime earnings, and lower unemployment risk. However, other factors such as gender, career, and individual ability are also important predictors. See this 2016 article from the Globe and Mail regarding the unequal returns of a university degree (based on data from Statistics Canada).


Higher annual income:


♦ A report from the Educational Policy Institute (based on data from a 2003 survey) found that Canadians significantly underestimate the annual earnings of university graduates. Respondents estimated the average annual income of university graduates to be about $5,000 more than high school graduates, compared to the actual difference of $27,000 in 2001. A more recent report of perceptions has not been released.


♦ Statistics Canada reported that high-income Canadians are more likely to have completed higher levels of education based on data from the 2011 National Household Survey.



Source: Statistics Canada, National Household Survey, 2011


Higher lifetime earnings:

Universities Canada states that, on average, university graduates' income doubles within 13 years of graduation (based on a report b the Education Policy Research Initiative, 2014).



Lower unemployment risk

In today’s economy, most new jobs require skilled workers with some type of education or training.  Therefore, if you have post-secondary education you are likely to have more job options and will be less likely to experience unemployment. Have a look at newer reports and information about the need for university, college and trades graduates in Canada on the Universities Canada website.


Unemployment based on Education

Source: Statistics Canada, Education Indicators in Canada: Report of the Pan-Canadian Education Indicators Program, May 2013.

Other financial benefits

Individuals with post-secondary education tend to have higher savings and assets, greater increase in income over time, and higher income in retirement (Knowledge First Financial).



Education can help you get the career you want. If you are already in the workforce, investing in further education and training can allow you to improve your skills, advance in your career, or potentially change your career path.


See What type of education is right for me? (below) for information on researching careers and PSE programs.





Health benefits:

Education is one of many factors that is correlated with better health. Studies have found that individuals with post-secondary education are less likely to smoke, have lower rates of obesity, and are more likely to lead healthier and longer lives. Parents with post-secondary education may pass on these positive health behaviours to their children.


Social benefits:

People with post-secondary education are more likely to be involved in their community through volunteering and political engagement.


♦ Higher education is related to lower crime rates and health care costs.


♦ Children of post-secondary educated parents are more likely to pursue post-secondary education themselves.



Overall benefits:

Students build their knowledge and skills in post-secondary education, which are assets in both professional and personal areas of life.


♦ People with more education are more likely to report high life satisfaction.


Source: The Value of a Degree: Education, Employment and Earnings in Canada

Should I take a break between high school and post-secondary education?


There can be both advantages and disadvantages to taking time off before entering PSE:


♦ Taking time off school can be beneficial to figure out what type of education and career you want to pursue. It can also allow you to gain work experience, earn money, travel, and volunteer (The Globe and Mail).

♦ However, taking time off may decrease the likelihood that you will ever return to school.

♦ See the 2008 Maclean’s article on the pros and cons of being a "gapper".


If you do take time off, think about your finances and make a budget to estimate how much money you will have when/if you decide to enrol in PSE.

What type of education is right for me?

Universities, colleges, and trade schools offer very different types of programs for students with different aptitudes and goals.



Learn about the educational requirements, job prospects, working conditions, and income of several careers that interest you.


Visit a career services office. Career services are offered by high schools and PSE institutions. They offer resources in their office, and often on their website, for students to research different career options. Students can talk to a career counselor and participate in career-related workshops.


♦ Services at post-secondary institutions are usually available to accepted students before they begin their studies and for several months after their studies are completed.


Meet with professionals. Your post-secondary institution’s career services may include opportunities to meet with someone in a career that interests you (called information interviews). You can ask them questions and find out if it is the right job for you. Visit your career services office or check their website for more information (a small fee may apply).


Use the internet. You can find information regarding which careers suit your interests and personality, the job prospects of different professions, job requirements and more.


Explore Careers: The Government of Canada website allows you to explore careers by occupation, educational program, wage, outlook, skills and knowledge.


The database includes information on what graduates think about their degrees and their current jobs, and how many jobs are available in different occupations by region.


OCCinfo: A resource offered by the Alberta Learning Information Service that provides profiles on over 500 occupations including duties, working conditions, valuable personal characteristics, and educational requirements. You can search by job title, interest, subject, industry and more. Much of the information is applicable to all Canadians.


School Finder: Search for career profiles by category or find out what careers are on the rise in Canada.


Regional labour force information: Many regions provide labour force information online, which may include salaries, skill shortages and future demand for occupations. Not all regions offer the same resources, choose your province or territory below to see what type of information the government provides:


Across Canada         Alberta         British Columbia          Manitoba         New Brunswick        Newfoundland  & Labrador  

Northwest Territories           Nova Scotia               Ontario               Quebec               Saskatchewan                 Yukon



Compare programs by considering the cost, opportunities for funding, quality of education, career prospects, and your personal interests. You can keep track of your research using this downloadable spreadsheet.


Program cost: Visit program websites to find out tuition and ancillary or additional fees (student union fees, technology and library fees, health/dental fees, etc. combined can be several hundred dollars per year). If you cannot find the information online, contact program support staff and ask for this information. Find out more about calculating school expenses here.


Extra living costs: Different programs may result in different living arrangements. calculated that living away from home costs Canadian university students an average of $11,000 more per year and Canadian college students an average of $9,500 more per year. Living in residence can be more expensive than finding your own accommodations, but may have other benefits (e.g., social opportunities, being on campus, 8-month contracts). Find out more about calculating living expenses here.


Funding opportunities: Some institutions and programs offer much more financial aid than others. Visit financial aid and program websites to find out about funding opportunities. Learn more about scholarships, bursaries, and grants


Quality of education: Talk to people in the field, such as educators and practitioners you meet through networking and informational interviews. You can also review program websites for information on the activities and accomplishments of instructors, competitiveness of the program, and even the accomplishments of program alumni.


Career prospects and personal interests: What careers will be available to you? Do the educational program and career prospects suit your interests and strengths? See Research Careers (above). 

What can I do with an Arts degree?


Arts degrees can be very different from one another. There are a large number of disciplines that are considered to be “Arts”, including topics in the humanities (e.g., English) and social sciences (e.g., Economics). Therefore, it is very difficult to make generalizations about the job prospects for Arts graduates.


Employers across different fields are seeking skills that are learned in an Arts programs:


A 2010 survey of BC employers found that the top skills employers looked for in new hires were speaking/listening, judgment/decision-making, teamwork, problem-solving, writing, and critical thinking.


A 2013 survey of business and non-profit leaders found that employers value critical thinking, communication skills, and problem solving skills more than a candidate’s choice of undergraduate major. Additionally, 74% of respondents said they would recommend a liberal arts education for success in today’s economy.


An article through the University of British Columbia discusses Arts degree myths, what employers are seeking, and how to create employable Arts students.


For some careers, there are educational requirements beyond a Bachelor of Arts degree. Many professional and graduate programs accept students who have graduated from a wide variety of undergraduate disciplines.

What are the benefits of becoming an apprentice?


Practical training: Your expertise in a trade is a highly practical skill that you can use in the workforce and personal life (such as renovating your home).


♦ Apprentices typically spend the majority of their education and training in the workplace.


Red Seal: When you receive Red Seal certification (available for dozens of different trades), tradespeople can practice across Canada without having to obtain individual provincial certifications.


♦ Find out more about the trade programs available.


Funding: You are eligible for government funding to cover the costs of tuition, travel and other expenses and you can potentially receive income through Employment Insurance during your in-school training. Find out more about scholarships, bursaries and grants.


Opportunities for advancement: Tradespeople can attain supervisory and management positions and even run their own businesses.


Find out more at, including links to each provincial/territorial Apprenticeship website.

What are private career colleges?

Students can attend privately owned institutions which offer a variety of programs, including vocational training. Make sure the college is registered or licensed in your province/territory, which ensures they meet the necessary requirements to be recognized as an education institution. The Canadian Information Centre for International Credentials provides links to databases for private career colleges by region.   


Programs at private career colleges tend to be shorter than other post-secondary programs and tuition can be higher than many college and university programs. Government loans are available for many private career college programs. If you think you might want to apply for a government loan, make sure you program qualifies by contacting your regional student aid office. Learn more about government loans here.


The Government of Ontario provides a checklist and other information for students thinking of applying to a private career college (includes useful tips for many Canadians).

Information for international students


The costs and benefits of post-secondary education can be an even more complex topic for students coming from other countries to study in Canada. Here are some resources that can help you learn about the costs and benefits and make decisions about your education:


♦ The Council of Ministers of Education website has information about educational programs in Canada, the cost of studying, working after graduation and more.


Study in Canada is a government resource with information about applying to study in Canada, extending your study permit, and working while you study. is a resource for international students to find information on post-secondary programs, health insurance, living in Canada and more.


Visit the international centre at your post-secondary institution for more information. They may also have information on their website.