As the unemployment rate among students continues to surge to new highs, university and college students are becoming increasingly concerned about their finances, a recent RBC poll conducted by Ipsos Reid shows.

The survey of 1,200 students in mid-June found that a growing number of students are concerned about whether they have enough money to get through the school year. In particular, 43% of new college and university students and 35% of returning students feel that they can only stretch their spending money as far as the Christmas break. Half of all post-secondary students expect their money to run out before the school year ends.

Since the survey was conducted, new data indicates that the financial circumstances have likely worsened for students in Canada. In early August, Statistics Canada reported that the unemployment rate for students aged 15 to 24 soared to 20.9% in July, representing a 5 percentage point increase from June, and a sharp 7.1 percentage point increase from July 2008. This was the highest July unemployment rate for these students since comparable data became available in 1977.

Amid such a challenging economic environment, two-thirds of returning students plan to be more cautious with spending this school year.

“With the student unemployment rate at an all-time high, managing your finances responsibly and planning ahead becomes even more important,” said Kavita Joshi, director of student banking at RBC.

During the last year, when money was tight, students said they cut back on essentials and incidentals: 61% spent less on food; 57% spent less on alcohol; 23% didn’t buy all the books they needed; and 11% paid their tuition late.

The June poll found that almost eight in 10 post-secondary students plan to work part-time while in school, with almost half of those indicating they need to work to pay the bills.

“Working to make ends meet is an additional challenge for students, with at least three-quarters concerned that working will affect their grades and two-thirds believing that worrying about money will have a negative impact on their studies,” said Joshi.

The poll indicated that almost half of returning post-secondary students like being responsible for their own finances. But of the respondents, 37% said they find that managing their finances while in school is harder than they expected.

Joshi encourages students to explore all financial options including work, bursaries, loans and scholarships, and to seek advice from experts like financial counsellors on campus.