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The Net Price Calculator: Estimate the Cost of College

By June 10, 2019October 18th, 2021Financing College

What is the Net Price Calculator?

You may have questions about how to use and understand a college’s Net Price Calculator. This tool allows you to compare the costs of your prospective colleges prior to applying. First, you give  that school information about yourself and your family’s financial status. Then, that institution can provide you with information about financial aid options. The Net Price Calculator lets you check the affordability of the particular college, regardless of the college’s sticker price—which is rarely the actual amount families will pay for college.

Where Do I Find the Net Price Calculator?

You should definitely use this tool while you shop around for colleges. However, they are often difficult to find on a college’s website and may be hard to understand. All colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs are required to supply families with a net price calculator on their website. Schools have the option to use a federal template or create their own calculator. If you can not easily find it on the website, try a separate Google search for it. Once found, it will ask you to provide some information about yourself and your family. Some types of personal information it may ask of you include the student’s dependency status and each parent’s adjusted gross income and assets. Some institutions also ask questions about the student’s academic record.

Calculating Net Cost for Your Family

According to the U.S. Department of Education, net price is “the amount that a student pays to attend an institution in a single academic year AFTER subtracting scholarships and grants the student receives.”  Therefore, the remaining balance which is the amount your family is expected to pay out of pocket after subtracting scholarships and grants is the net cost. The federal template for The Net Calculator includes need-based and merit-based grants and scholarships in its calculations, but since schools have the right to use their own calculator instead of the federal template, some schools’ net price calculators include a combination of scholarships, grants, and loans. Be aware that since you must repay your student loans, they are a part of the price to attend a college.

Variations by School

Each college may define or calculate their net price differently. It’s a good idea to contact the school’s financial aid office to learn how that particular college calculates net price. During that call, you should also ask what year they are using data from. A college typically lists the academic year of the net price results somewhere on the calculator. If not, then you should also ask the financial aid office about this. Also ask whether they consider housing as part of its cost of attendance when calculating net price, or if it is only tuition and fees. This will make the tool significantly more useful to families.

Keep in mind that net calculators do not consider the unique circumstances of each student. Your net price as calculated by this tool should not necessarily impact whether you apply to the particular institution. Since your life’s circumstances inevitably change, you may ultimately get a better than expected financial aid offer.

Getting Additional Help

Navigating through all of your financial needs may be intimidating, but finances are often a huge factor in choosing which college is right for you. If you need further help, we are happy to help with understanding your net price calculations. In addition, remember to be eligible for a financial aid award from a college, you must keep track of deadlines and fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

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The Net Price Calculator will only provide accurate results for U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents living in the United States. International students should not use this calculator. Additionally, net price calculators are designed for first-time, full-time undergraduates. Some institutions have a Net Price Calculator specifically for Transfer Students.