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Net Price Calculators: What families should know

My latest assignment is about financial aid (and if you want to stop reading now, I completely understand).  This is not Matt's Photoexactly my favorite subject, but it is a necessary evil.  You don’t need me to tell you that the sticker price of most colleges is shocking, but many, many students pay something less than the sticker price.  Thanks to a federal regulation instituted a few years ago, every college must put a Net Price Calculator on their website. For those of you who are like me and have no idea what that is, I’ll help you out. A Net Price Calculator is a tool on college websites for estimating the amount of financial aid that a prospective student might be eligible to receive.  The goal of the Net Price Calculator is to help families see beyond the alarmingly high sticker price of college tuition and determine what a given college might actually cost them. This past week I’ve examined three different college Net Price Calculators.

Before I get into the results of my assignment, I would like to give you some background information on the data I put into the calculators. For this experiment the fictitious family from which I allegedly hail, has four family members with one parent earning $80,000 and the other making $20,000 (for an aggregate income of $100,000), and one sibling in college. I also said that I, as the prospective student, do not have a personal income. I indicated that my family does not have any other assets or additional sources of income by inputting zeroes in all applicable fields.

Also, one more quick point before I give you the results. I’ve created a row for grant aid in addition to the estimated cost with financial aid. I think that it is important to explicate the amount of grant aid a school will give a student because this is the money that an institution awards a student without having to pay it back. Just some food for thought.

I decided to compare aid packages from Siena College, Middlebury College, and Johns Hopkins University. I found all three of the calculator interfaces to be friendly and fairly painless. And now, the long-awaited results:


Siena College

Estimated Sticker Price without Financial Aid: $45,452 (should you specify that this is for a boarding student??)

Estimated Cost with Financial Aid: $23,252

Grant Aid: $10,500


Middlebury College

Estimated Cost without Financial Aid: $58,150

Estimated Cost with Financial Aid: $13,756

Grant Aid: $44,394


Johns Hopkins University

Estimated Cost without Financial Aid: $60,747

Estimated Cost with Financial Aid: $15,097

Grant Aid: $45,650


I encourage you to test the water yourself and use one of these calculators. Although the result is only an estimate for financial aid, it is still worthwhile because you may realize that the school of your dreams (with that brow-raising sticker prize) may be affordable after all.

Article written by College App Wizard

College App Wizard
Lynell's 20 years of experience as a college counselor, consultant to The College Board, an Associate Director of Admissions and Director of Financial Aid have given her a unique insider's perspective to the college application process. She has helped countless students and parents navigate the path to college. She also volunteers her time with several non profit organizations to help low income students go to college.

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