Seeing the total cost of college – tuition, room, board, etc. – can shock anyone, but, believe it or not, there is often quite a bit of wiggle room.
Before you rule out a school as too expensive, you will want to run your numbers through the school’s Net Price Calculator.
Thomas Blum, vice president of administration at Sarah Lawrence College, explains how the calculator works.
“It’s taking all of the factors that you might have in terms of income, any assets you might have, college savings and then having the system calculate what you might be eligible for in terms of support,” Blum says.
The calculator, which can be found on a school’s website, will tell you which grants are available for the student and what loans and federal support he or she qualifies for, Blum says.
Taking all that into account, the calculator then spits out the potential out-of-pocket cost. However, the cost produced by the Net Price Calculator is merely an assumption.
Though the result is by no means a guarantee, Blum still says it is a very useful tool.
“There may be sources of support that you simple haven’t thought of and really aren’t clear from a magazine that simple states the sticker price for a college,” he says.
A law requiring all institutions to include a Net Price Calculator on its website went into effect last year. While there are different versions, the more detailed the questions, the more accurate the estimate will be.
Let’s take the Smiths for example. A hypothetical, middle-income family with two kids, the Smiths have a mortgage and a yearly household income of about $95,000.
The child applying for college has exceptional grades. The cost of yearly tuition at Sarah Lawrence is $58,000. Based on the student’s potential grants and financial needs, the price drops to less than $22,000. Add to that $3,000 in student loans and a part-time job and you’re looking at an estimated $17,000 out of pocket.
While that is just an estimate, Blum says it is one that families can use to make educated choices and, when the time comes, negotiate more effectively.
“There’s no question that we’re seeing an impact, and it’s really helping families be more informed and to work more effectively with financial aid offices,” Blum says.