Seven steps to paying for college

If you think getting into college was hard, try paying for it. Tuition rates rose again in 2012-13, according to the College Board. The average price tag for attending a public, in-state school is now $22,261 a year. For a four-year private college, it’s $43,289.

Few families can meet education expenses without help. Fortunately, there are billions of dollars in financial aid available. Following these steps will help you get your share — and your education.

Step 1

“Contact your school’s financial aid office,” said Dean Bentley, director of financial aid at Emory University. “They’re the experts on federal financial aid, institutional scholarships and other types of funding. You don’t want to miss out on money because you didn’t apply or (you) missed important deadlines.”
It never hurts to ask. While private schools have higher sticker prices, they generally have larger endowments and offer more scholarships than public schools. The Emory Advantage program, which gives additional grants to middle- and lower-income students, is a good example.

Step 2

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“Fill out the FAFSA,” said Mike Davis, director of admissions and student services at Belhaven University’s Atlanta campus, which offers accelerated undergraduate and graduate degree programs for working adults. “The Free Application for Federal Student Aid is the gateway to federal student grants, like the Pell Grant for low-income students, and subsidized and unsubsidized federal loans.”

Apply for financial aid regardless of your income, as the formula takes into account the size of your family, the number of family members enrolled in college and other factors.

“The FAFSA will let you know what percentage you’ll be expected to pay for college from earnings and assets. It’s also what institutions use to determine your student financial aid package of grants, loans and work-study to help meet your financial needs,” Bentley said.

As of June 8, the FAFSA is required for Georgia residents who want to receive state funding, including the HOPE scholarship, HOPE grant and Zell Miller scholarship.

Step 3

Borrow money wisely.

Federal loans have advantages over most private loans, such as lower and fixed interest rates. The government pays the interest on subsidized loans while you’re in college. U.S. Department of Education Direct PLUS loans can help you pay for graduate school or professional programs.

Step 4

Take advantage of work-study funding.

“Students rarely work more than 10 to 15 hours a week, but the job helps pay for books and other expenses. It also gives students some real work experience and integrates them quicker into the college community. Some students may even find work aligned with their future careers plans,” Bentley said.

Step 5

Apply for national scholarships.

“Never pay anyone to help you find scholarship sources. The information is available free on the Internet,” Davis said.

Ask your school guidance counselor about scholarships or loan forgiveness plans. For example, future educators willing to   teach a high-need subject  in a low-income area after graduation might be interested in a federal TEACH Grant.

Step 6

Beat the bushes locally.

Small scholarships from your high school’s PTA, school clubs or civic organizations add up and can decrease the amount you have to borrow.

“Working adult students should ask their employers about tuition assistance plans and scholarships at their churches,” Davis said. “For gift-giving occasions, ask family members for tuition contributions.”

Step 7

Budget your money.

“Setting a realistic four-year college budget should be an important part of the college decision process,” Bentley said.

Don’t just compare costs and financial aid packages. Look at the overall value of the college or program, the average debt load of students and the percentage of graduates who find jobs, and how much those jobs pay. Considering some of those factors will help you decide if a more expensive school is worth the cost.

Students who take the time to look and apply will find resources to help them pay for a postsecondary education. “Education is never cheap, but it’s one of the best investments in yourself that you’ll ever make,” Davis said.

 

FINANCING THE DREAM

Jeweleon Jones, 21, dreamed of going to Emory University when he was a high school sophomore. With an interest in business, Jones knew that the reputation, resources, professors and alumni network of a top-tier business school would be a lifelong advantage.

He prepared to meet Emory’s tough admission requirements by earning a 4.1 GPA and joining Future Business Leaders of America and Junior Achievement, and he was admitted.

“But I didn’t think I could afford it until I saw the financial aid package,” Jones said. “Because I qualified for the Emory Advantage program, the school replaced what would have been loans with grants. They lifted a lot of the financial burden off my family and made it possible for me to attend my dream school.”

To do his share, Jones applied for scholarships and the Federal Work-Study program. “It was hard writing all those essays. I got more rejections than money, but the ones I got helped,” he said.

Today, Jones is a junior majoring in business and concentrating in marketing and strategic brand management. “It’s extremely challenging, but I enjoy it,” he said.

For three years, Jones has held a work-study job in the school’s Marketing and Communications Department.

“At first it was just busy work, but as they’ve learned to trust me, I’ve been able to help with magazine ads, events, reports and social media,” he said. “I’ve learned how to do so many things that will help me when I enter the job market. And the paycheck pays for groceries and monthly bills. It’s such a blessing.”

Jones advises high school students to brand themselves early as hard-working and responsible.

“When people know you will persevere and take advantage of opportunities, they’re willing to help you move forward,” he said. “More opportunities will come your way.”

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