Tags: Financial Aid

Calculating the cost to attend college isn’t easy. Between the “sticker price” of the university’s cost, plus room and board, federal and scholarships, trying to estimate a family’s actual cost for a student to attend school can be a frustrating process.

To help, a federal act mandated that by October 2011, any college participating in federal aid programs are required to supply families with a net price calculator on their website, according to USN.

However, a study released in March by the University of Pennsylvania, shows that compliance isn’t complete. Here are a few things you need to know about net price calculators, what they’re for, where to find them and how to use them.

1. Schools that participate in federal aid programs must make available a federal template or create their own net price calculator.

2. As of March 2019, only 88 percent of participating schools studied are in compliance and have a calculator available on their site.

3. Calculators are designed for incoming freshmen who plan to enroll full-time. Some colleges may provide a separate calculator for transfer students.

4. Net price is "the amount that a student pays to attend an institution in a single academic year AFTER subtracting scholarships and grants the student receives,” according to the U.S. Department of Education.

5. To use the calculator you’ll be asked to input basic personal information, dependency status and your parents’ adjusted gross income.

6. Finding a net price calculator on a prospective school’s website isn’t always easy. Try a key word search through Google if a link isn’t provided within the college site’s navigation.

7. Some colleges may factor in the cost of housing while another school does not, so beware when comparing the cost to enroll and attend.

8. Net price calculators subtract estimated scholarships and grants, which do not have to be paid back. However, some college’s calculators also subtract the amount of loans. The can lead to misleading results, as loans do have to be paid back. They’re just not out of pocket up front.

9. Using a calculator does not make you eligible for financial aid. You must fill out the FAFSA for each coming year that you wish to apply for federal aid.

10. Use a net price calculator to figure out the “ballpark” average of attendance. Don’t rely on the results as gospel. Speak with staff members from the prospective school’s financial aid office for greater detail.

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