For decades teenagers across the country have been applying to colleges blindly when it comes to costs. Most students have no idea when they submit their applications if the schools will give them scholarships or grants. In fact, teenagers and their parents often don’t discover whether a school will be generous or stingy until a few weeks before the deposit deadline.
Luckily, families no longer need to tolerate this sort of pricing uncertainty if they use a simple tool called the net price calculator. Thanks to these calculators, a family can obtain a personalized estimate of what a specific college will cost their household after any merit awards or need-based grants are subtracted. The calculator generates a net price because that’s the only figure that matters. The calculator provides the estimate after a family supplies such information as the parents’ and student’s income and assets. Some calculators also require such academic information as a teen’s grade point average, test scores, class rank and activities. Using a calculator, the cost of a $55,000 college, for some families, might shrink to $25,000 or $10,000 or even lower. For other families, the cost will be $55,000.
Concerned that many students were selecting schools based on sticker prices, which are often misleading, the federal government mandated that all colleges and universities install net price calculators (one for freshmen and the other for transfer students) on their websites. It can be hard locating net price calculators on some schools’ website. (Apparently some schools don’t want you to know how much they will really cost.) If you are experiencing difficulty, try Googling the name of the institution and “net price calculator.” These calculators, by the way, don’t really look like calculators. Here, for instance, is what you’d see after locating Stanford University’s calculator:
Unfortunately, not all net price calculators are reliable. The more questions that a net price calculator asks, the more likely it will be accurate. Be careful of calculators that only ask a handful of questions. These schools tend to be using the federal calculator template, which does not calculate merit aid.
Families should use net price calculators long before their children begin applying for college. By taking advantage of these calculators, teenagers and parents can draw up more realistic college lists by avoiding stingy schools.