As your high school senior considers different colleges, it can be helpful to gauge the affordability of the various schools. Thankfully, you can use the college net price calculator to quickly find out how much you will need to pay for your child’s potential colleges.
Every college website is required (by federal law) to have this college grant estimation tool on its website. You can find the link for your desired school’s net price calculator on the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center or the College Board’s Net Price Calculator.
You can also google “(school name) net price calculator” or type “net price calculator” in the search bar of a potential college’s website to be directed to the tool.
With each school’s calculator, you can get the general amount that your family will be expected to contribute towards your child’s college education per year. Basically, the net price is the “sticker price” for the college minus need-based grants. (Loans are excluded from the estimate.)
The college net price calculators are not financial aid applications. They are also not a guarantee of financial aid. Rather, it’s a good estimate tool.
For each calculator, you will be asked for some basic family information. Your most recent year’s gross wages and other income (interest, dividend, business, farm, real estate, etc.) information are needed. The most recent year’s assets (cash and investments, business and farm equity, other real estate equity, etc.) will also be required.
Both parent and student income and assets are used in formulating the net price estimate of your family’s costs. Estimates include the cost to parents, expected student asset contributions and projected contributions from students’ work during the school terms.
Colleges consider a variety of billed and unbilled costs when calculating their net price estimate. Depending on the college, various costs (tuition and fees, room and board, books, personal expenses, travel, etc.) are taken into account.
Net Price Calculator Notes
-Each college has its own net price calculator, so there are slight variations in the questions that need to be answered.
-If parents are separated or divorced, each parent should fill out the calculator with their personal information. Each parent’s contribution (based on their income and assets) is assessed separately. The total estimated net price is usually the sum of the estimates for the two parents. (Remarried parents should not include their new spouse’s/the student’s step-parent’s income and assets.)
-Income information (tax forms and other financial documents) will be verified later when you complete the actual financial aid application for each school.
-The U.S. Department of Education has a helpful College Affordability and Transparency Center site. On their affordability page, you can find information about tuition and net prices at postsecondary institutions.
My son Michael has a list of six potential colleges on his shortlist of colleges that he wants to attend. I completed the net price calculator for each of the colleges to get an idea of what our out-of-pocket costs would be.
As I mentioned, Michael is very frugal so most of his choices are city colleges with great computer science programs. He also put down Columbia (my alma mater) to humor me and New York University (NYU).
All of the city colleges are reasonable (less than $10,000 per year). Columbia is not super expensive either. I hope that the NYU net price calculator is broken though. Our estimated costs would be almost $20,000 more per year than for Columbia (?!)
I’m happy that Michael wants to stay in New York. If he didn’t, I would encourage him to apply to a school with an amazing endowment like Harvard. They keep sending him information and their packages are amazing – more expensive than NYC city colleges but less expensive than some SUNY colleges.
If you want to know an estimate of how much grant money your family would likely receive from a particular college, use the net price calculator. It provides pretty accurate information regarding your expected family contribution (EFC).
It’s free and easy to use the net price calculators so I recommend filling them out for each college that your student is interested in. You might be surprised at how affordable some colleges really are!
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