I’d love to hear from parents who have tried using the net price calculators that nearly every college and university must post on their websites. Have you had good experiences or have the net price calculators tried to trick you into believing that a school is going to be affordable?
I’ll mention why I am asking in a minute.
First I want to emphasize that if you don’t know what a net price calculator is, you absolutely need to. No student should apply to any schools without his/her parents running the numbers for each school.
The purpose of the calculators is to provide families with a personal estimate of what a school will cost a student. The calculator is supposed to calculate what institutional scholarships and grants the child would be entitled to and then deduct that from the sticker price.
If you need to bone up on net price calculators, I devote a chapter in my book to these tools and I’ve written about them many times on my blog. You’ll see some of the posts at the end of this one.
Findings of a Net Price Calculator Study
I am bringing writing about net price calculators today because of a study released this week from the Institute for College Access & Success. With nearly a year having passed since the federal net price calculator requirement kicked in, the nonprofit set out to see whether these net price calculators were working as intended. Unfortunately, what the institute discovered was too much hanky panky.
The institute randomly surveyed the net price calculators of 50 different institutions. Here are what I consider to be the report’s two biggest findings:
1. Some colleges subtracted loans and work study from their net price estimates, frequently making the resulting lower dollar figure more prominent than the required net price. The official net price cannot include loans — only grants and scholarships. It’s easy to conclude that these schools were being sneaky in trying to make their prices look artificially low.
2. Nearly a quarter of colleges did not have a link to their calculator on the website’s financial aid or costs page. Despite the federal requirement, three schools didn’t even have a net price calculator on their websites.
When I did my own random survey of net price calculators last fall, I found that many schools were burying their calculators on their websites. Here is that post: Playing Hide and Seek With Net Price Calculators. It’s easy to see why a college wouldn’t want prospective students to use their calculators if theri financial aid is lousy.
One way to find a school’s net price calculator without the hassle is to head to the College Board’s website and call up the profile of any school. After clicking on the school’s Paying link, you’ll find a blue button under the heading “Financial Aid Distribution” that will direct you to the institution’s net price calculator.
What’s Been Your Experience?
I’d love to do a follow post on this subject, if I hear from parents who have used these calculators.
Have you tried a calculator that has used loans to reduce a school’s net price? Have you been unable to find some net price calculators? I’d also like to hear about the good experiences you’ve had. Please comment in the box below.
More on Net Price Calculators:
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of second edition of The College Solution: A Guide for Everyone Looking for the Right School at the Right Price.