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Have You Tried a Net Price Calculator Yet?

As of October 29th, all of the colleges and universities in the country – in order to be in compliance with a 2008 mandate by the Department of Education – have added tools to their websites to help you, prospective families, understand a little bit better what the cost of the school will be for your student.

The net price calculators, as they are called, take a look at what the total cost will be for full-time incoming first year college students. Sounds great right?

Well, the idea of them is great. Every parent looking at the price tag of colleges today would love a little help knowing how to best plan financially for this future investment for their student. Some colleges and universities created their own custom calculators, or used vendors to help them do so, while others are using the federal calculator template. Unfortunately, many in the education world are calling the federal calculator too simple to produce accurate numbers.

As you are looking at the colleges on your list, I recommend using the net price calculator to get a good estimate of the cost but understand that the actual cost may fluctuate between now and the time your student actually enrolls.  Many circumstances may impact this. Perhaps you guessed on some of the tax information on the calculator or didn’t fill it out completely. It is also possible that the college’s tuition may go up in the next year or your family employment circumstances may change. Also, the calculator may not account for all of the factors considered in the determination of merit-aid awards. However, the further along the student is in the application process, the more accurate the numbers are likely to be.

So, definitely use the calculators for planning purposes but understand that until you actually get your financial aid award packet in the mail, or your tuition bill, that this calculator should only be used as an estimate.

For more information, check out a recent New York Times article about the subject.

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