Whenever I’ve written about financial aid issues, it’s always been directed toward high school seniors, but a new tool in the marketplace has been developed that assists families of high school underclassmen predict the cost of college.
The “Net Price Calculator” (NPC) was designed in accordance with the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) of 2008. It requires each college or university that provides federal student aid to post a net price calculator on its website that allows families to calculate their own cost of attendance, based on individual circumstances.
After you input the requested financial data, the calculator estimates your financial aid; it subtracts that amount from the published price (tuition, room, board) and delivers a net price, which is the amount a student will need to pay or borrow to enroll.
One reason the Net Price Calculator was created was that many families were making false assumptions about their ability to receive financial aid from institutions. The focus on an institution’s sticker price, for private colleges frequently hovering over $50,000 annually, sparked the common refrain “we’ll never get any money.”
Families were ruling out colleges early in the process and preventing students from even applying to colleges that, in reality, would have given them financial aid. According to College Board, “one of the goals of the Net Price Calculator is to allow students to find that some colleges they thought were unaffordable are within their financial reach.”
While the NPC makes the financial aid process more transparent, the results are not a final or guaranteed financial aid offer. The NPC does not replace the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid – www.fafsa.ed.gov) or the CSS PROFILE ( https://profile online.collegeboard.com ). The results are intended to help families make sound, informed financial decisions.
The Institute for College Access and Success recently completed a survey which determined that “59 percent of students ruled out college on the basis of sticker price without considering financial aid support.”
The report also stated that as a result of this lack of information about financial aid possibilities, students may end up “under-matching” – choosing a less competitive college.
There are a few choices about how to begin.
1) The federal template nces.ed.gov/ipeds/ netpricecalculator/ .
2) Many colleges have created their own calculators on their websites.
3) College Board has created a third-party option with almost 300 participating colleges. The benefits of the College Board version, ( www.collegeboard.com/html/net pricecalculator/ ) are that it will save all of your information from college to college.
Here’s what you need to complete the NPC: parents’ most recent tax returns and W-2s or pay stubs. You should allow 15-20 minutes.
Make sure you print a copy or email the results to yourselves; that will make it easier to compare one college with another.
Don’t assume you make too much money to qualify for financial aid. At Princeton, families earning between $160,000 and $180,000 qualified for an average award of $26,450.