Wednesday Weekly Reader: The Net Price Calculator Edition

News from the college search / admissions / finance front.

As of last Friday, every college admissions website is required to provide a net price calculator. Students and their families can input financial data (income, expenses, number of children in college, assets, etc.) and calculate the possible net cost of attendance for that college.

I’ve tried out a handful of these — some ask about six questions, others require full attention and a lot more data. Here are a couple of extreme examples:

Harvard, which has one of the most generous financial aid programs in the country, provides a user-friendly calculator here. The entire calculator is on one page:

Harvard Net Price Calculator. Click to enlarge.

They also try to put the calculations in context here:

This calculator provides a quick and easy way for prospective students and families to estimate the net cost of a year at Harvard and to gain an understanding of our need-based financial aid program. The calculations are based on Harvard’s current financial aid policies and the actual financial information of the current undergraduates enrolled in Harvard College. Thus, it typically provides a good estimate of the affordability of Harvard for students and their families, but is not a guarantee of aid. …

In general, the simpler your financial situation, the more accurate this estimate is likely to be. Many families have complex financial situations (e.g. businesses, real estate holdings, negative income from losses, income that varies from year to year) which require professional judgment to arrive at an appropriate award. A calculator cannot capture all of these nuanced financial circumstances.

A number of colleges use (contract for) a net price calculator from College Board. You can see how that works here, as offered by Wake Forest University. The College Board-based calculator asks many more questions, five pages of them. The good (and bad) news is that it will prepare you for the College Board Profile application. Here’s a screen shot of the Parent Income page:

Wake Forest Net Price Calculator. Click to enlarge.

Some of their explanation (from that same link):

The calculator is designed to give you an early indication of how much and what types of financial aid you might qualify for if you were a college freshman attending school full-time in the academic year indicated. It is a tool that we hope will give you a clear picture of options and opportunities so you can make more informed decisions about your college choices. …

Completing the calculator should take no more than 20 minutes of your time. You will need to answer some basic questions about your parents’ financial situation; it will be helpful to have recent tax forms or pay stubs on hand before you begin.

Finally, a huge thank you to Grace at CostofCollege who ran calculations at a number of colleges for three different family scenarios:  income of $50,000, $80,000, and $150,000. Here’s a glimpse of some of the colleges:

Cost of College NPC. Click to enlarge.

I recommend you read her entire post, for the explanations of additional assumptions behind the calculations and for her initial observations. I also agree with this:

Bottom line:  Families should run NPC reports for all schools on a student’s initial list as a useful first step in comparing affordability among the various options.

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Filed under Paying for College

4 responses to “Wednesday Weekly Reader: The Net Price Calculator Edition

  1. Kim

    I’ve been working with these calculators all week. I got a few surprises, which actually meant crossing some colleges off the list. However, what is still confusing, especially if the calculator is through The College Board, is that the word “scholarship” is sometimes used under the “Estimated Grant Aid” section. Very confusing, especially if there is a question asking for the student’s SAT scores. I would just like to be able to confidently compare apples to apples. Unfortunately for the consumer, I don’t think we’re there yet.

  2. Pingback: Financial Aid Application Dont Take This Step Lightly | Financial Aid And Student Loans

  3. Pingback: 17 Things, Minor and Major, I’ve Learned about Completing the CollegeBoard Profile | Dr. StrangeCollege or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Journey

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