Reduce the College Price Sting—Using a Net Price Calculator

If you were buying a home today, would you just pick the number of bedrooms you need, and then start looking for houses?  Probably not.  Instead, you’d have a quick look at the market to see what’s a reasonable price for the type of homes you’re interested in, then start shopping for what you can afford.  The same should be true of a college education!  You can use a college’s Net Price Calculator (NPC) to get a sensible estimate of what you’ll need to pay, and then use that price information to choose the best college.  Even better, you can start employing some strategies to reduce the college price sting!

After the EFC, hone in on a few NPCs

If your college-bound child is a junior or senior in high school, you’ve likely already run the Expected Family Contribution calculator, so you know how much you may have to pay.  The next piece of the college funding puzzle is understanding how much each college individually costs.  That’s where Net Price Calculators (NPCs) come in.  Almost every college or university is required by law to offer parents/students an NPC.

Quality of the NPC matters

Unfortunately, there are a lot of poor-quality NPCs.  Schools that have a poor NPC won’t offer you much financing information until you have a financial aid letter in hand in your student’s senior year.  But, you can get a lot of information from a good NPC.  There are two easy ways to know if you have a good NPC—it will ask detailed questions about your income, and about your student’s academic record (GPA and ACT/SAT scores).

When to Run the NPC

That’s also one of the reasons you can’t run the NPC as early as you do the EFC.  You’ll want to have a good sense of your student’s academic profile, so the junior year of high school is an ideal time to run an NPC.  This is also the time to start the conversation with your student about which colleges to pursue.  If the results of the NPC mean a college is way outside your family’s ability to pay, better to know that in the junior year than after you have an acceptance letter!

How to Find and Run a School’s NPC

When you’re ready to run an NPC, gather up your previous year’s tax return and any asset statements (checking/savings, investments, etc.).  Then either:

  1. Search for “net price calculator” on the college’s main site (or via Google, like “net price calculator University of Iowa”).
  2. Or, go to the NPC Center and search for the school.

A good NPC should take 10-15 minutes for you to fill out.  It’s worth the time investment!

Do you want someone to look over your shoulder, or double-check your work?  Give me a call.

Use the NPC to Pay Less for College!

Time to start thinking strategically about paying less for college:

  1. Remember that an NPC is just a really good estimate, but it’s not a guarantee of how much you’ll pay. That comes later when you have a financial aid offer in hand.
  2. Use the NPC results to test out academic scenarios. For example, if you input a higher ACT score, would you get a merit scholarship in the school’s formula.  It might help your student decide if taking the ACT or SAT again is worth the effort.
  3. Similarly, you could choose to pursue certain colleges based on how your assets are treated. For example, if you are a business owner or have substantial home equity, colleges using the PROFILE system may treat those assets differently (and negatively, for you) compared to a school using the FAFSA.
  4. Lastly, weed out colleges that will put too much of a burden on your family. You can cast a wider net in the college pursuit game if you know some colleges are going to be just too costly for your student to attend.

A good NPC can be a powerful tool for taking control of the often-haphazard way of determining how much college will cost for you.  You can run an NPC, and start saving on those college expenses!


Want to learn more about college planning, and how a smart strategy can save you thousands and ensure the right school fit for your child?  Setup an appointment.

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