As juniors begin forming their college lists in consultation with their school counselors, it is important that families who are concerned about paying for college evaluate the likely cost of each potential target school before the spend time, money and emotional capital visiting and applying to schools that are likely to be unaffordable.
The flip side of that same coin is that juniors should not dismiss potential target colleges based on a published “sticker price” that looks unaffordable at first glance. Many of the colleges that look out of reach based on a high sticker price also provide large discounts (in the form of grants & scholarships) that make enrollment affordable.
The “discounted price” is commonly referred to as the “net price.” Net price is what matters when you are figuring out which schools are a financial fit.
Thankfully, all colleges are required to have a Net Price Calculator (NPC) that provides students with an estimate their net price.
Some NPC’s produce solid estimates based on up to date school financial aid awarding policy while others produce rougher estimates based on median award figures from previous years. In general, the more questions a college asks the more accurate the estimate will be.
Either way, NPC’s are the logical place to start when you are trying to determine if a college will be affordable. That said, we recommended that you complete additional homework on target schools by thoroughly reviewing their financial aid awarding policies in addition to running net price estimates.
There is a great deal of relevant information in the College Pricing section on how to evaluate (and reduce) college costs at your target schools.
Sometimes it will happen that a college you are very interested in looks unaffordable after you run a net price estimate and completed have completed all your addition research. That’s ok. You can have a some “financial reach schools” on your list just like you may have a couple of admissions reach schools. Just remember to keep your school counselor in the loop when it comes to financial fit so that you are not caught without any affordable options when the dust settles.