If you have a child in high school, you are probably already thinking about college costs. And, if you are thinking about how much college might cost you, one of the best things you can do for your family is to find how to use a Net Price Calculator. Doing this will help you find your Net Price, an important estimate to help you plan how you will pay for college.
Colleges are in some ways like a car dealer. They advertise a suggested retail price, but each person could pay a different amount. At a dealership, the amount each buyer pays could hinge on the generosity of the salesman or the mysterious "manager," the time of the month, or the buyer's negotiation skills.
Likewise, the amount a family pays for college could also hinge on their negotiation skills. However, there are a few more important factors at work. Those factors include your family's financial need and your child's academic achievement or talent, especially regarding merit aid. Your family's negotiation skills can be helpful if/when you appeal the financial aid award. Some people appeal and get more scholarships, while others fare less well.
Despite all these divergent factors, getting an estimate is still highly recommended to help you plan and pay for college.
What is Net Price?
Your Net Price is the total cost of attendance (tuition, room and board, books, and fees) at a particular college minus any grants or scholarships you might be eligible to receive.
The net price is only an estimate and not a guarantee of financial aid.
You must use a Net Price Calculator to find your net price. Most colleges publish a sticker price, but most students pay a different amount.
What is a Net Price Calculator?
The Net Price Calculator, available on most colleges' websites, allows you to answer critical questions about your income, assets, and investments before providing a Net Price. The student must also provide similar information if they are working or have personal assets such as savings. The questions you will answer can include how many credits the student plans to take each semester and if they plan to live on campus.
These net price calculators can also be found in a few other places besides a college's website, like The College Board and the federal government's net price center.
After you answer the questions, you can see what, if any, grants and scholarships you are eligible to receive based on the information you provided. Your results can also include how much and from what source you can get loans for college.
Be aware that each calculator might yield vastly different results. Some calculators, especially those available on a college's website, might only ask a few questions. In contrast, others, like the College Board, might ask more in-depth questions.
As a result, some estimates are more accurate than others. The College Board's net price calculator provides some of the most reliable estimates.
Why Knowing Your Net Price Matters
Understanding the concept of net price is crucial when planning for your child's college education. It can significantly impact your financial decisions and help you manage expectations about the actual cost of college.
It is crucial to calculate your Net Price before making any college decisions; doing so can help you select the institutions your child should apply to, budget accordingly, and decide whether or not to secure loans.
Knowing your Net Price will help you and your child choose the best-value schools. The schools that offer the best education for the least amount of money.
Where to Find a Net Price Calculator
Below, I have listed four places to find a net price calculator. However, I recommend using the one available through the College Board if your college is included in theirs. The calculator tends to ask for the most information and provide some of the more accurate estimates. However, not all colleges are included on their calculator.
As a second option, you could use the calculator available on the college website you plan to attend. If you have questions about the estimate, feel free to ask the college's representative about the accuracy of their calculator. Some college reps will be very candid about the level of accuracy of their college's net price calculators.
After you have done all of this, remember it's only an estimate of what you will pay if you are admitted.
Whichever option you choose, you may need some of the following information:
- Student and parent tax returns and W-2 forms for the most recent year
- Records of untaxed income and benefits received
- Current mortgage, bank, and investment statements
1. College's Net Price Calculator
Most colleges are required to have a net price calculator on their website. While it can be challenging to find, using Google could help.
Do this for each college or use one of the other options available below.
2. US Department of Education's Net Price Center
This Net Price Calculator Center gives you access to every college's calculator. Go to the Department of Education's Net Price Center, type in the name of the college then press enter. You will be taken to that specific college's Net Price Calculator.
Keep in mind, some calculators will have better features (for e.g., comparison tool) than others. Also, some ask more questions than others and, as a result, produce better results.
3. The College Board's Net Price Calculator
The College Board offers a Net Price Calculator used by more than 200 colleges.
This calculator offers the advantage of saving the information you enter (your family's income, assets, and, in some cases, the student's GPA, class rank and test scores) or future use. Your can then use the same information to get your net price for any of the other colleges subscribing to the College Board's calculator.
- Select a college from the the College Board’s Net Price Calculator subscriber list. Then you'll have the option to sign into your College Board account or create an account.
2. You can opt to create an account to save the information you enter.
Answering all of the questions on the calculator should take no more than 15-20 minutes.
To answer the questions about your family's financial circumstances, you may need to gather information from your family's tax returns or W2 (pay stub).
You will then see an estimated net price in the results. This amount includes any likely grant or scholarships you might receive from the college if admitted.
4. Net Price Calculator for Texas Public Colleges
In the case of Texas, this net price calculator is provided by the state. Whatever state you are living in, they might offer one too.
However, keep in mind this calculator is only good for 2-year and 4-year public colleges in Texas.
- Visit the College For All Texans website.
- Read and agree to the disclaimer before moving on to answer the questions.
- Select up to three colleges to compare at the same time.
Be aware that this calculator can produce a wide range of net prices. Instead of a single net price amount, you will get a range that could be as much as $20,000 apart.
How to Find the Average Net Price for a College
You can also review the average net price for different colleges by visiting the College Navigator sponsored by the Department of Education. The average net price gives you an idea of how much merit or need-based scholarships and grants you are likely to receive based on income alone.
- To find the average net price, enter the name of the college you would like to look up.
- Then go to the tab that reads “Net Price” to find the average net price students have paid at that college.
- You will be able to see the "average net price" by income.
Finding your Net Price is an essential first step in knowing the actual cost of college and could help you determine which colleges your child chooses to apply to. Knowing your Net Price can help you make informed decisions when comparing colleges and also help with budgeting. And it can also help you determine if you need to take out loans to fund your child's education.