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Why you really need to use Net Price Calculators- sooner rather than later!

July 13, 2020

Every college has something called a net price calculator (NPC) on their website. The purpose of this is to give families some general idea of what they are net out-of-pocket cost will be for college. It often takes into account things like class rank, SAT scores, as well as financial need. This can be a very valuable tool in helping you make your college choice the one you can afford.  Here are several reasons why: 

Use them to test academic scenarios 

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get a sense of how your financial aid package might change if your child got a higher SAT score? Maybe get some coaching on testing?  By tinkering with the net price calculator, you can enter in array of variables, like different grade point averages or test scores, and see what kind of impact they have on an estimated aid package. 

Use net price calculators to weigh the impact of home-equity 

The vast majority of colleges do not consider equity in the primary home when computing you were expected family contribution, but many schools, including lots of private schools that use the CSS profile form do consider home equity. The problem is that you won’t know how much they weight it unless you test it out in the NPC. 

Net price calculators can be an indicator of how schools want to hide their aid formulas 

Many schools use something called the federal template when they provide their net price calculator.  A university of Pennsylvania report in 2019 determined that more than half of public universities and less than 25% of private colleges use this federal template. 


You can recognize it because it probably takes you 30 seconds to do it, and with so little input from you, it’s garbage in garbage out!   Other symptoms of an outdated or useless net price calculator is if it uses old cost data. For instance, I have seen some this for that were using 2017 2018 cost figures for the college. How valuable is that?  Take a look at this article from US News on some of the problems they have encountered on this front. 

Make sure that you understand that the output from the net price calculator is only an estimate. However, it’s an important tool in helping you figure out whether you can actually afford to deal with the net number when the time comes. We strongly suggest that you start looking at these during your student’s sophomore and junior year, even before you and your student have worked together to develop a final list of schools to apply to.