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Looking At Colleges: Using College Net Price Calculators (NPC)

Once you find schools that you think might be the right financial fit for your family, then you’ll need to dig deeper. Start by filling out the net price calculator for those schools. A link to the net price calculator can be found in the financial aid area of a college’s website (or you can google the name of the school and net price calculator). Note, many colleges now use a customized version of CollegeBoard.org’s NPC. NPCs take around 15 minutes to complete.

You’ll get an estimate of your family’s net price for the college. This estimate will break down your expected contribution and the financial aid (including loans) for which you’re eligible. Many NPCs will show your net price after loans. But since loans must eventually be paid back, you’ll want to add the loans back in to get a true understanding of your net price (again, what you will pay out of pocket).

College Net Price Calculator

Experts recommend that parents run the NPC for every school their student is considering. “It’s better to have that reality check earlier in the process,” explains David Levy, an editor with Edvisors. “If you haven’t run the net price calculator, you run the risk of your student applying to schools they’ve dreamed about. Then you have to say, ‘I’m sorry, we can’t afford that.’”

Experts do caution that what you see on the net price calculator isn’t a guarantee. They often don’t show merit aid, for example. Unfortunately, schools with mediocre net price calculators may underestimate your teenager’s real cost of attendance. It can be off by several thousand dollars or more. Make sure the calculator shows all the expenses (tuition, room and board, fees, books, and supplies). If you’re skeptical — and you should be if the calculator only asks a few questions, only includes tuition, or doesn’t show merit aid at a school that you know offers it — call the college’s financial aid office and ask if your results are realistic (you can do this even if your student has yet to apply).