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How to Use a Net Price Calculator

Read on to learn about what a net price formula is and how you can use a net price calculator to determine which college is best for you.

A net price calculator can be a crucial tool in helping you to determine which college is best for you. That's because a net price calculation shows you how much you'll be responsible for paying through savings, family contributions or student loans. 

It's important to know how to find net price, what's included in the net price calculation and how to use the information when making decisions about where to earn your degree. Here's what you need to know.


What is a net price calculator? 

A college creates a net price calculator to show you the cost of attendance that you will be responsible for covering. It's the amount you must pay out of pocket or through student loans.

All colleges and universities offering federal student aid are required by the government to create a net price calculator and to post it online to make it easier for potential students to figure out how to find the net price. But that doesn't mean each net price formula is exactly the same, so it's important to understand how different schools do their calculations. 

Using a net price calculator can be a much more accurate way of estimating total school costs than just looking at the price of tuition and fees. That's because different educational institutions make varying levels of grant funding available. 

One school that seems more expensive may actually be cheaper if the institution tends to be more generous with scholarships and grants than another college with a lower tuition price but less generous aid.  

How to find net price

You can find the net price formula for each school you are interested in by visiting its website and checking its financial aid page. The College Board also has a net price calculator, which a number of schools use. 

If you are interested in academic institutions that use the College Board's calculator, visiting this website can be the fastest and easiest way to compare the net prices of different schools.

How to use a net price calculator 

You will need to be prepared to spend a little time doing a net price calculation. That's because the more information you provide, the more accurate the assessment of the costs will be.

You will need to answer questions about your income and assets as well as your family's income and assets. Gathering your recent tax returns (and your parents’ returns) can be helpful in accurately providing this information. 

Remember, the net price calculation is only an estimate, though. It is not a guarantee of aid. You will need to complete your Free Application for Federal Student Aid to apply for financial help, and you will receive individual financial aid packages from schools you are interested in and accepted to. 

What's included in the net price formula?

Schools may use slightly different data when creating their net price formulas, so you need to consider each institution's formula when figuring out how to find net price. Some of the factors generally included in a net price calculation include:

  • Tuition fees
  • Room and board costs
  • Book costs
  • Grants and scholarships that students are likely to qualify for 

In some cases, a school will include merit-based aid in its net price calculation. However, it usually does so only if the school has precise and standardized formulas for awarding this kind of aid — such scholarships for students with certain test scores or GPAs above a certain threshold. 

If a school doesn't include merit-based scholarships, you will learn about only need-based assistance awarded based on income. That can still give you an idea of what the school might cost you, but the estimate won't be 100% accurate. 

Why a net price calculation is important

Knowing the price of different schools is important so you can decide which academic program is most affordable for you. A net price calculation gives you a more accurate picture of the total costs you will be responsible for if you attend different schools so you can more easily compare them. It is more accurate to look at the net price than the tuition and fees alone, as scholarships and grants can sometimes considerably reduce the price of a particular program. 

You also need to know how to find the net price so you can see if you can afford to pay out of pocket for a specific school or whether you want to borrow the amount you need to cover the costs. If a school is very expensive even after you max out the scholarships and grants you are eligible for, then you may decide you can't afford to attend. 

Of course, the good news is affordable student loan options are available for most young people interested in pursuing a degree. While it's important to max out scholarship and grant options first, both federal and private loans can help you cover your schooling costs. 

Federal loans come with generous borrower benefits, and you should exhaust eligibility for Federal Direct Subsidized Loans and Direct Unsubsidized Loans before exploring private loan options. When you are ready to get private loans to cover any costs that federal loans, grants and scholarships don't, you should shop around with different lenders and compare rates.

Juno can make this process simple and easy. We get groups of borrowers together and negotiate for undergraduate student loans and graduate student loans on their behalf. Lenders compete for their business, and through the power of collective bargaining, each potential borrower is able to get the best possible rate for their financial situation.

Join Juno today to learn how we can help you to get affordable private student loans to earn your degree. 

Christy Rakoczy Bieber

Written By

Christy Rakoczy Bieber

Christy Rakoczy Bieber is a full-time personal finance and legal writer. She is a graduate of UCLA School of Law and the University of Rochester. Christy was previously a college teacher with experience writing textbooks and serving as a subject matter expert.


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