Net Price Calculators

What are Net Price Calculators?

Net price calculators, or NPCs, are online financial aid estimators that allow future college students and their families to receive a personalized estimate of their cost to attend college for one year as a first-time full-time student. They are required by federal law to be available on every college’s website. This page will tell you what to look for in an NPC, which ones are good, and which are not likely to give you an accurate cost estimate.

Estimating College Cost before NPCs

Before NPCs the real cost of college was often shrouded in mystery. People applied to college with only the sticker price to guide them. They waited until March or April to compare award letters, which were notoriously difficult to interpret (most still are). With only a short window of time to decide before the May 1 college deposit date, families were pressed to interpret award letters, discuss them with the colleges, and make a final decision. For many people the cost wasn’t clear until a week or two before classes started.

Imagine making any other significant purchase – a house or car – in which the seller doesn’t tell you the price until the last possible moment. NPCs haven’t solved all the problems, but they’re a big step in the right direction, helping families get an idea of cost before applying to colleges!

Although colleges must have NPCs there’s no requirement that they be accurate. Some are very accurate, and others are almost useless in helping you estimate your cost. In general the more questions an NPC asks, the more accurate its estimate will be.

Colleges usually put NPCs on their financial aid page, or sometimes on admissions or home pages. Sometimes they are hard to find. If a college makes it hard to find its NPC, there’s often a reason – they may be worried that you’ll think they’re too expensive. Get quick access to any NPC here: US Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center.

Net Price Calculators – What do they Tell You?

Net price is defined by law as the cost of college after gift aid. Gift aid doesn’t need to be paid back, so your net price is the cost you need to pay from savings, money earned during college, or loans. As a general rule, aid labeled “grant” or “scholarship” is gift aid.

All NPCs will tell you the Cost of Attendance (the list price before financial aid, also called the “sticker price”), Gift Aid (financial aid that does not to be paid back), and the Net Price. Some NPCs also identify loans, work/study, and other resources to help you manage the cost.

Remember:

Cost of Attendance

minus Gift Aid

equals Net Price

I Know the Net Price – Now What?

By now you know the net price is the real cost of college – the amount you need to pay. You’re going to need to pay the net price out of earnings: money you earned in the past and saved, money you earn during the college years, and money you borrow now and repay with money you earn in the future. You need to estimate the net price for all the years of college and decide if your prior, current, and future earnings are sufficient to pay the net price.

 

To Pay the Net Price use:

 

 

Prior earnings (savings)

Current earnings

Future earnings (loans)

Generally savings and current income are preferable to borrowing because they cost less. (But avoid using retirement savings; parents will need this money when they’re older, and it could reduce eligibility for financial aid.) Most people agree borrowing for college is reasonable, because the benefits of education – higher income, better employment prospects, and non-monetary advantages – pay off over the student’s lifetime.

To estimate the amount you have to borrow for college, subtract the amount you can pay out of savings and current income from the net price. The result is the amount you need to borrow. Be sure the amount you borrow is consistent with your earning potential and that you can pay it off in a reasonable time.

How to use a Net Price Calculator

Go to each NPC and answer the questions as accurately as possible. It’s fine to use estimates, but keep in mind that the more accurate your information is, the better the output will be. If your income varies from year to year, use your best estimate of what you’ll earn this year. (Most NPCs ask for income information from your most recent tax return, since it’s what your reported to the IRS – but if this year’s income will be different, you’re better off using an estimate of current income.)

As you visit various NPCs, print the output or copy the critical information. You want to create a table so you can compare the costs of various colleges side by side. The US Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has an online tool to help you create a cost comparison table.

Make a comparison table –

For each college on your list:

1. Cost of Attendance (sticker price)
All NPCs include items 1, 2, & 3 2. Gift Aid
3. Net Price
Item 4 is your best estimate 4. What you can pay from savings, income
Many NPCs include item 5 5. Work/Study award from college
NPCs often show loans, but most don’t include your
estimate of what you can pay from savings and income
6. Amount you need to borrow
The sum of items 4, 5, & 6 must equal the Net Price

How to Tell if a Net Price Calculator is Accurate

Estimating financial aid and college cost is complicated. If an NPC doesn’t ask enough questions, it probably won’t give you an accurate answer. In general, look for an NPC that asks enough questions to estimate your family’s financial strength, including questions about income and assets. If a college offers merit aid (check the financial aid page to see if the college offers academic scholarships), then there should be questions about your academic background such as grades and standardized test scores.

Because it’s costly to develop NPCs, all but a handful of colleges use outside providers for their net price calculator. Of the roughly 2,200 four-year colleges in the US, about 1,000 use a low-quality, free NPC provided by the federal government. The remaining 1,200 colleges use private companies to customize NPCs of varying quality. The top three vendors supply about 75% (900) of those colleges. The other 300 use NPCs provided by one of several small vendors or develop them internally.

NPC Vendor / Provider

Notes

Department of Education
(Federal Government)

Examples:

William Peace University (NC)
http://www.peace.edu/admissions-aid/costs-scholarships-financial-aid/

University of Idaho
http://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ira/net_price_calculator/npcalc.htm

New York University
http://www.nyu.edu/admissions/financial-aid-
and-scholarships/references-and-resources.html

Very poor accuracy, especially if college awards merit aid

Used by about 1,000 colleges

Asks only about 10 questions

Does not ask name & address

Easy to identify by questions about family income in ranges of $10,000:

  • Less than $30,000
  • $30,000 – $39,999
  • $40,000 – $49,999
  • $50,000 – $59,999
  • $60,000 – $69,999
  • $70,000 – $79,999
  • $80,000 – $89,999
  • $90,000 – $99,999
  • Above $99,999

Campus Logic

Examples:

University of Arkansas
http://finaid.uark.edu/331.php

Vanderbilt University (TN)
http://www.vanderbilt.edu/financialaid/net-price-calculator.php

Wheeling Jesuit University (WV)
http://www.wju.edu/admissions/finaid/

Very accurate*

Used by about 300 colleges

Multiple questions tailored by the college based on how it awards aid

Because the calculator can be customized based on the way aid is awarded, the output can seem confusing. The required net price elements are always included – look for the Cost of Attendance, Grant Aid, and Net Price. There’s often additional information, so take time to read the output (or print it to read later).

Name and address are optional, but providing information allows you to indicate interest in the college

Disclaimer Prior to 2014 ScholarFITS’ director, Bill Smith, worked for companies that sold the NPC now owned by Campus Logic. He has no affiliation with Campus Logic.

College Board

Examples:

Park University (MO)
http://www.park.edu/student-financial-services/apply-for-aid.html

University of Kentucky
http://www.uky.edu/financialaid/

Vassar College (NY)
http://admissions.vassar.edu/financial-aid/

Very accurate*

Used by about 300 colleges

Multiple questions tailored by the college based on how it awards aid

First name is required, last name and email are optional to use the NPC as a guest. You are encouraged to create a College Board account, which requires your last name and email address. Providing information does not indicate interest to the college; your data is retained by the College Board and is subject to its privacy policy.

If you create a College Board account you can import data to pre-populate other College Board NPCs, but be careful to review your data because not all colleges ask for the same information.

You can identify a College Board NPC by the message on first page asking you to sign in. You may also be asked to sign in to the College Board on a window at the end of your data entry.

Noel Levitz

Examples:

Biola University (CA)
http://undergrad.biola.edu/finaid/#net-price

University of Vermont
http://www.uvm.edu/~stdfinsv/

Westminster College (UT)
https://westminstercollege.edu/undergraduate/tuition-and-aid

 

Moderately accurate*

Used by about 300 colleges

More questions than Federal version, but not enough to provide a highly accurate result in most cases

Often shows a preliminary scholarship estimate; more data entry required for net price estimate

Name and address are optional; providing information allows you to indicate interest in the college

You can identify a Noel Levitz NPC by a bar across the top with 3 sections: “Scholarships,” “Financial Information,” and “Net Price”

* Accuracy depends on maintenance. If a college updates its costs or aid awarding approach but fails to update its NPC, the NPC’s output may not be accurate.

Note: All NPC links above verified as of April 2017. Please use Contact Us page to notify us of any broken links.

What’s Great About Net Price Calculators?

Before NPCs, most people didn’t learn the true cost of college until after they’d been accepted and received an award letter. Using NPCs allows families to estimate the cost of college before they apply, giving them much more time to plan. Even if a college uses a less-accurate NPC, it’s still helpful to get a ballpark of cost compared to relying only on the published sticker price. If you question the results of an NPC – because it doesn’t ask enough questions or you think it may not reflect your situation – contact the college and ask for an estimate of your cost.

Don’t eliminate a college you like just because the NPC shows a high cost. No online tool can take into account your unique qualities, and some colleges award aid that isn’t programmed into their calculator. But do use NPCs to make sure that you’ll have some affordable colleges to choose among – use NPCs to make sure you have financial safety schools!

Net Price Calculator Limitations

NPCs are great tools, but there are some limitations to be aware of as you use them:

  • No NPC can evaluate a clarinet solo, a creative writing sample, or athletic talent. If the college offers scholarships based on talent or ability, contact the college directly for help estimating the cost.
  • The costs and aid estimates may be based on old data, sometimes as old as 3 years.
  • Sometimes adjustments may be made for financial hardships such as high medical bills or loss of employment; these special circumstances aren’t reflected in most NPC results.
  • NPCs are intended for new first-time full-time students. If you are a part-time or transfer student they may not give accurate information.
  • NPCs give estimates for a single year only; aid after the first year may change.

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