September 7, 2011


An insider's view to paying for college

At a "A Guide to Paying for College: Savings, loans, grants, scholarships & financial aid," Erik J. Lips, senior assistant director of financial aid at Emory, enlightened Emory employees and their high school-aged children on the "not overly complicated" ways to pay for college.

At the July session, sponsored by Emory's WorkLife Resource Center, Lips said he "mainly likes to talk about need-based aid. [However,] most families think [of] merit aid as in ‘how are you going to award my child for being so awesome?'"

When researching where you want to attend and how much it costs, "It's important to ask the questions," Lips said, "and it's all about being realistic."

"Even if your test scores and GPA aren't as high as the school's stated average but you want to go to college there, still go for it and let the school make the decision… understand where you fit but don't select yourself out."

"Look at financial aid," when looking at an institution's website. "Most people look at admissions. Within two weeks of applying for admission, you should have financial aid information in."

Noting that a $250,000 family income won't qualify for need-based aid, Lips explained the mystery of the EFC — expected family contribution — what the institution expects the family to pay when need-based aid is awarded.

Lips' rule of thumb is that 20 percent of total income and 4 percent of a family's net assets will be used as a family's EFC.  Many college websites have net price calculators to help figure this out, he said.

Aid is used for tuition so living costs, Lips noted, are almost the same wherever you go, about "$8,000 to $10,000 — I'd budget $12,000 for living expenses."

When looking at loans to fill the gap left by the college's aid offer, Lips said Stafford loans should be considered as the first option of financing. There are also Parent PLUS Loans, private loans and private equity.

Lips offered some tongue-in-cheek advice to be more competitive for merit scholarship: Get your young child playing brass instruments. "Those are the instruments that pay big money," he said.

Lips' tips:

• When it comes to scholarship money, nothing's ever fully covered.

• The more selective the institution, the less likely they're going to have any merit money at all.

• Arrive on campus with a recommended $1,000-2,000 to cover books and unexpected expenses.

• In the search for merit money, hit the websites, like

• In addition to the FAFSA, Free Application for Federal Student Aid, consider the CSS/Financial Aid PROFILE from the College Board.  "It costs money to fill it out, but it's worth it."

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