When you’re trying to determine which college you can afford, the most important number is the school’s “net price”. That’s why every college offering federal financial aid programs is required to provide a Net Price Calculator on its website, and why you should understand how to incorporate this handy tool into your college planning research.

How it Works

Using parent and student financial information, and in some cases the student’s academic credentials, each college’s Net Price Calculator:

  • Gives a rough estimate of the amount you can expect to receive in financial aid
  • Allows you to assess affordability as you make decisions about where to apply
  • Lets you determine the true out-of-pocket cost of a school with a high “sticker price”
  • Helps you identify financial “safety” schools — colleges that you know you can afford
  • Provides financial information to help you decide whether to apply Early Decision

Things to Consider

Here are some important factors to keep in mind when using a school’s Net Price Calculator:

    • They vary by school. The number of questions and the information collected may vary based on the calculator each school uses. Those that require more in-depth financial and academic information are likely to be more accurate.
    • They are as accurate as the information you provide. If you enter inaccurate financial or academic information, the estimated award is also likely to be inaccurate.
    • They don’t provide exact figures. The calculator might be based on current or upcoming academic year costs and financial aid policies. The farther away you are from enrollment, the more likely it is that the financial aid estimate will change.
    • They might overlook certain types of aid. Because the calculator may not consider your eligibility for certain merit-based scholarships, you may not receive a complete picture of the different types of aid offered by the school. Also, the calculator will not include potential private scholarships, and might not include loan and work-study eligibility.
    • They are not financial aid applications. Although a college may combine its own financial aid application with its Net Price Calculator, you will still be required to submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) after January 1 of your senior year.
    • They should be used in conjunction with other resources. The calculator is not intended as the sole resource in determining a college’s affordability. You should contact each school’s financial aid office to learn about all aid opportunities and eligibility criteria.
    • They don’t know who you are. Net Price Calculators are required by regulation to be accessible anonymously. So even if a calculator asks for your name, email address, or other identifying information, you don’t need to provide it.

Where to Find It

Each college’s Net Price Calculator is located somewhere on the college’s website. Check for it on the financial aid or admissions page, or use the homepage search feature to find out where it’s located. You can also reference a list provided by U.S. News & World Report.