The Net Price Calculator- Estimate the Cost of College

By June 10, 2019April 30th, 2020Financing College

You may have questions about how to use and understand a college’s Net Price Calculator. Your family may benefit greatly from using this tool because it allows you to compare the costs of the colleges you are interested in attending prior to applying. You will essentially be provided with information about financial aid at the particular institution by giving them information about yourself and your family’s financial status. By using The Net Price Calculator, you can 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.

You should definitely use this tool while you shop around for colleges, but you should also know that they are often difficult to find on a college’s website and are also oftentimes difficult 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, it may help to do a separate Google search for it. Once you find it, you will be asked to provide some information about yourself and your family.  Some basic personal information that will be asked is the student’s dependency status and each parent’s adjusted gross income and assets. Questions about the student’s academic record are also asked about by some institutions.

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. It is important to be aware that student loans must be repaid and should be considered as part of the price to attend a college.


Since there are discrepancies in the way colleges define net price, students and their families should contact the schools’ financial aid offices to clarify what their net calculator includes. This will make the tool significantly more useful to families. When contacting the financial aid office to learn how net price is calculated at that particular college, you should also ask about the year they are using data from. A college typically lists the academic year of the net price results somewhere on the calculator, but if not then you should ask the financial aid office. 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.

Keep in mind, the 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, in the end you may get a financial aid offer that is better than expected.

Navigating through all of your financial needs may be intimidating, but is 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.