Every college is required to publish a Net Price Calculator (NPC) that provides an estimate of the net price (sticker price minus discounts) that your family will pay for the freshman year.
Some school NPC’s are more accurate than others so it is important that you understand how to assess the results and, in some cases, how to adjust the estimates based on your family circumstances.
That said, the NPC’s are the best place to start.
Q & A
Where can I find the these net price calculators?
Most colleges put the net price calculator on their admissions or financial aid office websites.
You can also link to every school net price calculator from the Net Price Calculator Center.
Do Net Price Calculators produce accurate estimates?
It depends on the type of calculator used by the school and the complexity of your family’s personal and financial circumstances.
Some NPC’s produce rough estimates and some produce very accurate estimates. As a general rule, the more questions asked, the more accurate the estimate – as long as you answer the questions correctly.
But there are exceptions to this rule and it is important that you read the fine print when using a Net Price Calculator.
For example, if the student’s biological or adoptive parents are divorced or separated or they are business owners, then the NPC’s for schools that use Institutional Methodology may not produce accurate estimates.
What information is required to generate a net price estimate?
It depends on the college. School NPC’s that adhere to the minimum standard will only require very basic family financial & personal information. These NPC’s produce less precise estimates based on median award data that is a year or two old.
Schools that use Institutional Methodology (IM) to award need-based grants will usually require significantly more personal and financial information to produce a net price estimate. These NPC’s produce more precise estimates based on current school awarding policies.
Some schools that award merit aid ask for other information such as GPA, test scores and intended major. If a school NPC asks for this type of information, then the results are likely to be more accurate.
How can we generate an accurate net price estimate when the biological or adoptive parents are divorced, separated or never married?
Since most colleges only require information from the custodial household and not the the non-custodial parent, this will only be an issue at a relatively small number of schools.
But, when estimating net price for schools that require information from both the custodial and non-custodial parent, both parents will have to run their information through the calculator separately. In these cases, both the custodial and non-custodial parent can include the student when reporting the household size and the number in college. That said, if one or both parents are remarried it may be impossible to generate an accurate NPC estimate without more information from the school financial aid office about how they untangle step-parent information when calculating eligibility for
In these cases, both the custodial and non-custodial parent can include the student when reporting the household size and the number in college. That said, if one or both parents are remarried it will be impossible to generate an accurate NPC estimate without more information from the school financial aid office about how they untangle step-parent information when calculating eligibility for need-based institutional grant.
How do we generate an accurate net price estimate if the parents own all or part of a business?
This is only an issue for the relatively small number of schools that require business information.
If you own any rental property or all or part of a business then you need to understand how some colleges adjust your reported income and assets figures when reviewing business tax forms such as Schedule C, Schedule E, K-1’s, Partnership, S-Corp & C-Corp returns.
1. Run Net Price estimates for a few colleges.
You can start with:
- Your flagship state university (living on campus)
- Any private college or university that might be an academic match (living on campus)
- A local college or community college that you could attend while living at home.
2. Run estimates for as many colleges – of whatever type – as you want. You can find the link to every school Net Price Calculator at the Net Price Calculator Center.
3. Save all your estimates and then transfer the information to your Net Price Worksheet.