College cost calculator



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What's the cost?

Online net price calculators help families predict the cost to attend a specific university or college. The calculators ask for certain information and then subtract grants that might apply to provide the total estimated cost to attend. They show breakdowns for estimated tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, other expenses, grant aid, and net price.

Schools can create their own net price calculator or use the federal government's template, which asks fewer questions than custom calculators. Though the federal template isn't as complicated as custom calculators, it also doesn't factor in merit aid calculations, so affluent families who use a federal calculator may assume they have to pay full price, when their student actually qualifies for non-need-based (merit) aid.

Student Aid Services, which created calculators for schools such as Yale, Cornell and Fordham universities, reports that calculators that ask fewer than 20 questions are going to be consistently unreliable. Keep this in mind if you use a calculator that follows the basic federal template.

Here are some tips for using net price calculators to research and compare:

* Determine whether the calculator factors in merit aid.

* Find out if the cost of attendance includes a one-time purchase of a computer, which many schools now require.

* Always indicate that you are interested in receiving financial aid, even if you don't think your student will qualify. It could make a difference in the estimate.

* Don't substitute the calculator's information with visiting the college financial aid offices and talking to staff members about tuition, financial aid, grants, etc.

Learn more about net price calculators at nces.ed.gov (search for Net Price Calculator) and access different schools' calculators at bigfuture.collegeboard.org.

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