filing the FAFSA

Are you experiencing sticker shock as your child begins selecting the colleges to which he or she will apply? You aren’t alone. Many families see the school’s published cost of attendance, which generally includes tuition, fees, room and board, books, and personal and transportation costs, and wonder how they will pay the bill. Some cross the school off their child’s list entirely.

The Benefits of Using a College’s Net Price Calculator

Help is at hand! The college’s Net Price Calculator (NPC) will give you an estimate of what it might cost your family to send your child to a particular school. The NPC, which only takes a few minutes to complete, can give you an idea of the need-based aid and, in some cases, the merit aid your son or daughter might receive which will reduce the amount the family will have to pay. The calculator will also estimate your child’s eligibility for work study funds and federal student loans.

When completing the calculator, it’s helpful to have a copy of the most recent tax return and statements from any bank or investment accounts held by the parents and/or the student. Don’t include the value of retirement accounts when reporting investments; these are not included in calculating the family’s expected contribution.

Where to Find a College’s Net Price Calculator

To find the NPC for an individual college, visit the school’s web site.  At many colleges, it will be on the financial aid or financial services page. At others, you may need to search the whole website or even call the school to find out where to find its NPC. If you are looking at private colleges, you can find many net price calculators at the College Board’s website (http://studentnpc.collegeboard.org/participating-schools).

While you don’t need an account to use the calculators, it can’t hurt to have your child set one up as there is a lot of great information available on the site. The NPC will ask questions about your family’s income and assets, data you can save that can then be used on the NPC for different schools. You may also edit information as it changes. Note that if a school asks for information about your child’s class rank, GPA and the number of Honors/AP/IB courses taken, they are gathering information to allow them to include an estimate of potential merit aid.

Interpreting the NPC’s Estimated Price

Once you’ve entered your information, the calculator will determine an estimated net price you may be asked to pay. Many of the calculators will give a cost that reflects the impact of possible scholarships and grants. Unfortunately, some calculators will also reduce your net price by student loans, work study funds and self-help, the amount the student is expected to contribute from anticipated summer earnings. Since these do not actually reduce the amount the family will pay, College Coach considers them part of the family’s costs and encourages you to add work study and loan funds back to the figure the net price tool provides.

If used carefully, with the most accurate information you can provide, these calculators can be a useful tool in helping you understand the range of costs your family might face at each college. It’s important to remember that these are estimates only, and that the schools are using averages based on historical values in the calculators. Each school has a disclaimer that they will not be held to the results and that the information is for a first time freshman for the first year only.

But while not fool-proof, the Net Price Calculator can be a great antidote to sticker shock!



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Written by Jeanne Mahan
Jeanne Mahan is a member of College Coach’s team of college finance experts. She worked as a senior financial aid officer at Tufts University and Quinsigamond Community College before joining College Coach.