Net Price Calculators: What are they and can you trust them?

by | May 13, 2024 | Financial Aid

Several years ago, the government required colleges to include a Net Price Calculator (NPC) on their sites to allow prospective students to estimate how much they could receive in grants and scholarships based on the packaging policies at each school.  It was an effort to bring more transparency to the college’s financial investment.  To narrow down a list of colleges to a manageable number to apply to, it would be nice to have a close idea of what it will ultimately cost!  Knowing what the aid package will be is a critical part of building a college list for the majority of families so this just made sense.

In practice, the results are mixed with some colleges that are able to produce calculations close to the actual packages that come upon acceptance. We also have seen estimates wildly off at other places.  One “tell” about the likely accuracy has to do with how much detail is in the questions.  Also, one should note the year that the projection is based on, as some schools have gone years without updating their calculation or increases to the costs of attendance. With the recent changes to the formula, an old calculator may be meaningless.  Some calculators will give an assessment of merit scholarships while some do not account for them on their calculators. Recently, we were reviewing NYU’s page and they actually had 2 calculators!  We felt one would be reasonably close and the other not remotely accurate.

Net Price Calculators typically do not come with instructions either so it is easy to make mistakes.  Similar to the risk of the actual financial aid forms, the data is only as good as the information being entered.  A mistake can throw off the calculation

Our advice: Take the time to carefully run the calculators at your target school but take the outcome with a grain of salt. It can be one data point for you to know if a school could be in your budget after an aid package. You may be pleasantly surprised for the discounts you are eligible to receive. Campus Bound maintains data points from hundreds of colleges for both merit and need-based aid based on aid eligibility and GPA or other merit criteria.   Call us today for a free aid eligibility consultation so that you can have more than one reference point on this important investment.

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