What does it cost to attend college?
The question is a very basic one but the answer can be very complicated and depend on a number of factors.
Effective October 29, 2011, the Higher Education Act of 2008 requires each U.S.-based college or university that participates in Title IV federal student aid programs to include a “net price calculator” on their website.
The net price calculator is intended to assist students and families in planning for college. By entering some financial and personal data on the form for a net price calculator, prospective students and the families can receive an estimate of the out-of-pocket cost to attend that particular institution.
While these calculators do provide insight into the cost, it is important to remember that the estimate received is just that - an estimate.
You can expect to receive the following information from a net price calculator:
- Estimated price of attendance
- Estimated tuition and fees
- Estimated room and board
- Estimated books and supplies
- Estimated other expenses (personal expenses, transportation, etc.)
- Estimated total grant aid
- Estimated net price
- Percent of cohort (the percentage of full-time, first-time students) that receive aid
- Caveats and disclaimers
- Most net price calculators are based on full-time, in-state students.
- College and universities might use different net price calculators, making it difficult to compare the information from different schools.
- Most net price calculators only include a few questions to determine a student's expected family contribution (EFC). The FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) includes more than seventy questions in determining a student’s EFC. Therefore, the EFC calculation on a net price calculator may not match actual EFC, thereby distorting the estimated amount of financial aid.
- Some of the more basic calculators do not include merit aid (non-need based aid). It is important to ask schools if their calculator includes this aid, because some students who might not qualify for need-based aid, might qualify for merit aid and mistakenly think they will be required to pay full price if this aid isn’t included in the calculator.
- The net price calculator does not take into consideration your housing choice (on-campus versus off-campus).
How can you use these tools to your advantage?
- Review the calculator offered by each institution you are interested in. How many questions does the net price calculator have? The fewer questions asked, in general, the less accurate the estimate will be. (Calculators including 40-50 questions will offer the most accurate estimate.)
- Once an estimate is calculated, contact the institution’s financial aid office to verify the estimate’s accuracy.
- Remember all awards listed in the net price calculator are estimates and subject to change. Awards are not final until the student’s award letter is processed.
- Review your Student Aid Report (SAR) to determine the institution’s graduation rates and average student loan indebtedness.
- Average student loan indebtedness may offer insight into whether or not the institution offers more free aid to incoming freshman and then shift from free aid to loan aid in subsequent years.
Net price calculators are just one step in the financial aid process. Students/families can obtain an estimated cost of attendance (COA) on the institution's financial aid website to determine how the institution's budget aligns with their budget, or to compare the out-of-pocket costs between two or more institutions.
For more information about the net price calculator for any institution, visit that institution’s financial aid website, or contact their admissions and/or financial aid office.