Designation 101 for Students & Parents

As long as it's a "real" school, I'm fine, right?

Even among designated programs, not all diplomas are created equal. Do your research. Will that program give you the earning potential to repay your student loans? How many students graduate? How many grads get a job in their field? Does your future employer recognize this diploma?

What is Designation?

Schools are evaluated to be sure they meet the criteria for student assistance programs and whether they are a good or poor return on investment for students. Certain kinds of programs are never eligible for designation, but most typical programs ARE (or can become) designated. Students can only use government student loans to attend designated programs at designated schools, but even designated programs may not give you the outcome you are expecting. .

Why should I care about designation anyway?

For an academic program to be designated, the program is measured on three types of performance criteria:

  1. Whether students of that program repay or default on their student loans

  2. Whether the school performs well in administration and student support services

  3. How well students succeed in terms of completing the program and finding employment, or withdrawing from the program before completing it.

Programs/schools that perform well in these areas are considered to be a worthwhile investment for students, because they support higher levels of student success both during school and after graduation. On the other hand, programs/schools that don’t perform well in these areas might not be such a good investment of your time and money.


How can I make sure my school has a good track record, and improve my own chances of success?

Once a school has been designated, the student loan repayment rates for that school are monitored and reviewed annually. The rate at which students of that program can successfully repay their student loans is a powerful indicator of student success after graduation.

If a program/school has a low student loan repayment rate, this often indicates poor levels of employment or low income after graduation.

If a program or school has a high student loan repayment rate, this often indicates high levels of employment or high income after graduation.

Before you apply, check the Repayment Risk Zone rating of a school that you are considering attending to see whether it’s a good investment of your time and money.

Schools are assigned one of three risk zones based on their students’ repayment performance as calculated by the Federal repayment rate indicator.

The repayment risk zones are as follows


    Repayment Risk Zones


    85.2% or more of students who attend this school repay their student loans
    60.0% to 85.2% repay their student loans
     Less than 60% repay their student loans

To find out about the Repayment Risk Zone of a designated school/program, find it on the website.


Is my school designated? If not, how do I get it on the Designation list?

Is your school designated?  Once a school has been designated, it is added to the Master Designation List (MDL). The MDL lists all designated schools in Canada and includes many international schools that Canadian students have attended in recent years.

Is my program designated? It is important to understand that the designation of a school does not mean that all programs offered by that school are eligible for student assistance funding. To find out whether your program is designated, check the Master Designation List (MDL), call us, or submit an application for student assistance funding to Nova Scotia Student Assistance. We’ll assess your program details and let you know if your program is designated.

How do I get my International school/program on the list? Nova Scotia Student Assistance will work with you and your school to decide whether or not it meets the criteria for designation. There is no cost to you, but you should start this process as early in the Application process as you can so your funding isn’t delayed. Evaluating the school could take some time, especially if there is a language barrier in communicating with school. Contact us to get this process started.

Can I appeal a Designation status? If your Canadian school or program is not designated, you cannot appeal that decision. We do not grant exemptions to Designation policy for individual students.

Ineligible Programs

Some programs are not considered for designation. These include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Programs that are less than 12 weeks in length
  • Adult basic education
  • Upgrading
  • Literacy training
  • High school equivalency (GED)
  • College/university preparatory programs
  • English as a second language (ESL)
  • Pre-training programs
  • Any requirements for professional licensing or accreditation after the completion of a degree, certificate or diploma
  • Life skills programs
  • Hobby, self-interest and self-development programs