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Cost of College

Understanding Net Price and Using Net Price Calculators

Information adapted from the Financial Fit Program.

After you have figured out how much you can afford to spend on college, you need to start searching for colleges that are within your affordability threshold. And to find colleges within your affordability threshold, you need to figure out what colleges are likely to cost.

What actually is meant when someone says college costs?

Do they mean what the school lists as its cost (like tuition, fees, and room and board)? Do they mean comprehensive costs that include tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, miscellaneous expenses, and transportation?

Or do they mean your out of pocket costs? Do they mean what you actually pay after you receive aid that helps lower your actual cost?

To help make the whole process easier to understand, Frank Palmasani breaks college costs into two categories: sticker price and net price.

Sticker price is the number that a college is required to report and includes tuition and fees, transportation, books and supplies, and other miscellaneous expenses.

Net price is what you would actually pay if you decide to attend a college.

Net Price = Sticker Price – Gift Aid (grants and scholarships but NOT student loans)

In the past, net price wasn't known until you had filed all your financial aid documents and received your award letter. But now, every college is required to provide a net price calculator, so you can estimate your net price before you even decide which schools you will apply to.

For more information about net price and the factors that drive net price, check out the Financial Fit Program.

Once you figure out your affordability threshold and understand net price and how to use net price calculators, you can start finding colleges that fit you financially.

Ready to find your financial fits?