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A Student Guide to Understanding Net Price Calculators

As you finalize your college list, there is one important step that shouldn’t be skipped before applying: using the net price calculator. If you're like most students, cost matters when applying and choosing where to attend college. So, why would you apply to colleges without first having an understanding of whether those institutions will be affordable for you. Too often, finances are considered an after thought - something that can be “figured out later.” Let’s change the narrative and discuss how you can find colleges that are affordable for you before receiving a financial aid package.

What is a Net Price Calculator?

The Higher Education Act of 1965 was amended on October 29, 2011, stating any post-secondary institution receiving Title IV federal student aid funding must post a ‘Net Price Calculator’ or NPC on their website. The NPC must include:

  • Total Cost of Attendance COA
  • Tuition and Fees
  • Room and Board
  • Books and Supplies
  • Personal Expenses
  • Total Grant Aid
  • Estimated Net Price


How to Locate a College's Net Price Calculator

Usually, a simple search for “net price calculator” in the search bar of the college’s website will take you where you want to go! Some college websites make it difficult to find their net price calculators, but rest assured that they must have one. If you can’t find it, you should reach out to the college and ask them to forward you a direct link. You should also keep in mind that this is only an estimate. If you are looking for a more detailed summary of your potential cost-to-attend, you should reach out directly to the financial aid office of the college you’re interested in attending.


When to Start Utilizing NPCs

Determine Your Best-Fit Colleges First

Before you begin filling out NPCs for every college you are aware of, you should really start the college discovery process by determining what you’re looking for - what qualities does your best-fit college possess?


Make a Cursory List

After you’ve figured out what you’re looking for in a college, you can begin to explore and make a list of colleges that match up with your preferences. The colleges that remain on your list after this point are the colleges whose net price calculators you should utilize.


Use NPCs During Your Junior Year

During your junior year, you should begin to keep track of the results of the net price calculators that you’ve used. After you have a decent list of results, you should be able to determine if a college is within your expected budget or not. Every first-generation student who I work with removes at least one college after this step.


What Information Do I Need to Complete a NPC?

  • You parent/guardian's tax information
  • Your GPA
  • Your standardized test scores

If you encounter a NPC that does not ask for both academic information and tax information, it will not be very useful.


Can I Earn More than the NPC Results Depict?

Some colleges offer competitive full tuition or full tuition/room/board scholarships. These would not be on the net price calculator because you must compete with other top applicants to earn the award. If a college is in your top 2 schools and the NPC is too far from what you can afford, I suggest contacting the college financial aid office and/or looking on the website to see if they offer full competitive scholarships. Write down the requirements to compete for the scholarship, the due date, and how to apply.


Is It Really Necessary to Complete the NPC?

Absolutely. Any student that does not have the ability to pay cash for their college education must complete the net price calculator as part of their college search process. Not attending college because you believe you can’t afford it or taking out private student loans to attend are two results that you want to avoid. The second scenario will anchor your financial future for the rest of your life.

It is a much smarter approach to begin your college search with finances in mind. Working hard to get into a college only to determine you are $40,000 short after all financial aid is a defeating feeling, but one that can be avoided with a little research upfront. Putting your energy, time, and effort into another school where you actually have a chance of attending will lead you down a path of educational and financial success.


Including Your Parents in the Conversation

When you're considering finances for college, it's important to have some conversations with your parents/guardians. What is your family willing and able to contribute to your education, if anything? In other words, what is your expected family contribution (EFC)

If you are connected with your parent on Scoir, we encourage you to ask them to complete our cost calculator. Doing so will give you an estimated net price for most colleges that you explore on Scoir.

Learn more about Scoir

Are you a student or family member hoping to learn more about how Scoir can help you with your college journey? Find out more here.

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