Your Guide to the Net Price Calculator

Woman in a black shirt in front of a laptop.

College is about learning new things, exploration, and gaining the skills you need for future success. As you start making your list of dream schools, you’re probably looking at the sticker price and wondering, “Can I actually afford this?”

Thankfully, there’s a powerful tool out there called a net price calculator. It can help shed light on the true cost of college and empower you to make informed decisions.

All About the Net Price Calculator

  • What is it? The net price calculator predicts the net price of college (the amount you pay after subtracting the scholarships and grants you receive from the school.) The predicted amount is for one academic year. Colleges are required by law to provide this calculator on their websites.
  • Why it matters: Knowing your net price for college helps you compare colleges realistically, identify institutions that might be hidden gems (affordable with great programs!), and develop a financial strategy for success.
  • When to use the net price calculator:  Ideally, you can start using net price calculators during the early stages of your college research, around your sophomore or junior year of high school. After plugging your information into each college’s calculator, you can build a well-rounded college list that considers your academic goals and financial reality.

Remember, the net price calculator is your partner, not a judge. Experimenting with different financial scenarios to see how they impact your net price empowers you to explore options and make the most of scholarships and grants.

How to Use Your Net Price Calculator Effectively:

  • Gather Your Financial Info: A good amount of need-based aid is tied to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While you won’t file the FAFSA until the fall of your senior year, to use a net price calculator, you’ll need access to the same information you’ll need for FAFSA, including:
    • Parent and student tax returns and W-2 forms
    • Mortgage information
    • Bank account information
    • Academic information (GPA)
    • ACT or SAT scores
  • Include the tax returns for any parent or step-parent that would be expected to contribute to your FAFSA. 
  • Be Honest (But Strategic): While honesty is important, you can adjust some figures (like future income) to see how potential changes might affect your net price.
  • Use Multiple Calculators: Net Price Calculators are specific to each school because they take into account the school’s specific cost of attendance. Students should use the net price calculator for each school they are considering.
  • Understand that the Net Price is an Estimate:  The net price is a starting point. Contact each school’s financial aid office for the most accurate picture.

College is an investment in your future, and the net price calculator is a tool that can help you invest wisely.