Life of a college applicant: logging on to College Confidential and desperately asking to be chanced, religiously browsing through the admission page of the shortlisted institutions, checking fervently one’s emails for the latest updates, and the cycle repeats itself. For those applicants applying for financial aid, add ‘playing with the numbers on the net price calculator’ as another thing that most applicants are guilty of. Now that we are into the season of financial aid application (and the brutal cold), here’s what you need to know about the net price calculator.
It is federal law that every college and university in the United States must have a net price calculator available on a college’s website. The net price calculator is an online tool that provides applicants and their families with an estimated cost of attendance. Using information such as family income, number of dependency and expected family contribution, a predictive cost of attendance will be generated. All institutions that participate in the federal aid programs are expected to have a net price calculator for applicants, though the information required for each college calculator may vary. For example, an institution that gives out merit aid may require students to include additional information such as GPA.
When keying the entries for the net price calculator, you will need the following:
- Applicant’s academic information such as cumulative GPA, standardized test scores and ranking information
- Applicant’s household information such as the most recent tax return(s) and W2 statement(s)
Remember, the net price calculator generates an estimated value, which is dependent on the accuracy of the information submitted. In addition, the award amount indicated is just an estimate and is not finalized and is subjected to change. For example, applicants whose parents are divorced or separated are required to fill out the Non-Custodial Parent Statement, and the results from this statement may affect the finalized aid award. Unfortunately, the net price calculator is not applicable for incoming international and transfer students. To discuss cost of attendance, international and transfer students should consult directly with the financial aid office of the institutions that they are applying for.
One tip for college applicants (and high school juniors): Get a better estimation of your financial aid awards by using the net price calculators of the different types of institutions present. By doing so, it allows you to compare the financial aid packages that you may receive from private institutions that boast a large endowment, in-state and out-of-state public universities, colleges that award merit scholarships as well as specialized colleges, such as art colleges. Comparison of these awards will allow you and your family to have a better understanding of the cost of attendance and to make plans to increase college affordability. For example, if your top choice college appears to be a problem for your family, look at viable alternatives by using the net price calculators of similar schools to generate financial aid packages that may be better suited for your family finances.
For eligible applicants, the good people at U.S. News and Word Report have consolidated the links of the net price calculator of each institution for easy access into one webpage! For those who are applying to college next year, it is always a good idea to start early and plan for your college education using the estimated costs of attendance.