Using Net Price Calculators to Determine Financial Fit

By Lea on January 5, 2024 0 Comments

It’s no secret that college is expensive. But estimating the actual cost can be a lot more complicated than simply identifying the sticker price on a college’s website. There is a whole number of factors that determine the price offered to each student. In fact, the system for setting the actual net price for each student can be loosely compared to airfare pricing. In many cases, students in the same college sitting next to each other in the same lecture hall are paying very different fees for the same education.

Often times, students apply to colleges that they think are in a certain price range, but are shocked when they find out how little, or how much, financial and/or merit aid they are offered from the schools that admit them. Colleges start with the new Student Aid Index and may identify qualifying grants, scholarships, financial aid, work study and other expected self-help revenue to create each student’s individualized net price of attendance.

One of the best ways to reduce the college cost shock factor is by using each college’s Net Price Calculator. These online calculators are required by law on each college website in order to allow prospective students and their families to get a customized cost estimate for that school including grants, scholarships and financial aid for which they may likely qualify.  

You can visit and type in the school you are looking for to get started. Or find the link on each college’s profile page in your Great Choices student portal.  

Since each college has its own Net Price Calculator, some colleges may ask more or different questions than others. Typically, the more questions asked, the more accurate the results are likely to be. (Take note of those that do not ask for much information; this means the estimate may not be very accurate.) The most common information you may be asked about includes: 

  • Information about your parents’ and their age, marital status, income and tax information 
  • Number of children in your household, ages, and how many of them are in college 
  • Whether your parents or siblings attended that college 
  • Your academic information such as standardized test scores, GPA and class rank
  • Whether you plan to live on or off campus  

As a general rule, the closer you are to enrolling in a particular college, the more accurate the Net Price Calculator results will typically be. 

Having an estimated cost for the colleges you apply to will help insure you have a balanced list of great fit schools, not those that are just good academic, social, and geographic fits but also schools that you can actually afford to attend and graduate from.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Net Price Calculator is meant to provide an estimate. Until you receive an official “award letter” from a college, there’s no way to know for sure what your net price will be.

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