According to the Federal Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance “it is essential that students and parents focus on net price, which is the dollar amount that must be paid after subtracting financial assistance from cost of attendance. Throughout the decision making process — from considering whether college is a financial possibility, to choosing which college to attend, to assessing whether to continue once enrolled — net price, rather than list price, is of singular importance.” But comparing net prices used to be impossible until students had completed the college application process and had received their student aid awards.
That’s now changing. The Higher Education Act of 2008 requires all colleges to install Net Price Calculators on their websites by the end of October. These calculators provide information about the cost of attendance at that college minus likely grant aid from the college. Cost of attendance includes tuition and fees, room and board, and books and personal expenses. Through the use of Net Price Calculators, families of college-bound students will be better able to compare the actual cost of attendance from one institution to the next. Since financial aid at different institutions can vary widely, it’s hoped that Net Price Calculators will encourage families to consider colleges that they may have thought they could not afford.
Finding Net Price Calculators
The Net Price Calculators are generally found in the admissions sections of college websites. (If it’s difficult to find on the college site, just type in “net price calculator” in the college’s search box.) The calculators themselves differ, with some calculators asking parents to complete a relatively short questionnaire, while others ask more in depth questions about family finances and the student’s academic credentials. Not surprisingly, the more data the college requires, the more accurate the Net Price Calculator is likely to be in estimating the cost of education at that institution for that particular family.