Soon, it might get a lot easier for families to estimate exactly how much each college will cost–including the financial aid package you may (or may not) receive. The federal government has mandated that by October 29, colleges and universities must post to their websites a new tool called the "Net Price Calculator." You input the information financial aid forms ask for (like income and savings). Then the net price calculator estimates your financial aid eligibility, subtracts that from the sticker price of the college, and tells you how much they estimate you will need to pay next year to send your student to that school.
There's some debate about just how helpful this is going to be, and it's described well in this article on The Choice blog. And colleges are going to need to use plain-English, non-financial aid-y language to explain to people exactly what this calculator does and doesn’t mean. In fact, colleges, here's my suggested language.
Use our net-price calculator
How are you supposed to know how much a college you’re applying to will actually cost if financial aid awards aren’t given until your acceptance letter arrives? This net cost calculator might help. It’s designed to help you estimate how much it would cost for you to enroll next year with us (you reapply for financial aid each year that you’re in college, so the calculator is only estimating next year’s costs). It asks you the same types of questions you’ll later be asked on financial aid forms and estimates the amount of need-based financial aid you’ll qualify for based on the information you give us. The difference between the cost and your aid is the net cost, and the calculator even does that math for you.
Please don’t take the result as a promise (or a denial) of future financial aid. We’ll need to ask you for a lot more detailed information when you fill out your official financial aid forms in January, and the result then might be different than what our calculator tells you now. But we think that giving you a well-calculated estimate is better than giving you no information at all. So be as accurate as you can when you’re inputting the numbers. Then talk over the results with your parents and your counselor. We’re hoping this calculator can help you make more informed decisions about where to apply. And if you have any questions, please call our financial aid office—we’d be happy to explain anything that’s confusing.