Net price is what you’ll pay after subtracting scholarships and grants. For a more specific figure, based on your family’s finances, go to the college’s Net Price Calculator.
Paying for college is often compared to buying a plane ticket. In a classroom, as in coach, there's a good chance you're surrounded by people who paid a different price than you did. With this variation in mind, colleges have long argued that their sticker prices are not a good measure of affordability.
Finding out a particular college's sticker price is easy, but the amount a particular family will actually pay is revealed only after students are admitted and receive their financial-aid awards. Even then the numbers can be confusing.
Recently the federal government has required colleges to post net-price calculators on their Web sites, estimating personalized prices. It has encouraged them to use a standard "Financial Aid Shopping Sheet" to display students' actual out-of-pocket costs. Whether these efforts to promote transparency are making much of a difference is not yet clear.
But either way, they have a glaring limitation: They all focus on what students will have to fork over for a single year of college when, presumably, they plan to complete an entire degree.
It's not just one year's price times four. Tuition and fees will probably go up. Students' level of aid can change because of their financial circumstances or grades—or because their state runs out of money in its grant program, or the federal government changes a policy, or the college has front-loaded its grant aid. College administrators know all of that; the average family probably does not.
Net Price Calculator Center
A resource from the U.S. Department of Education about the net-price calculator.
Trends in College Pricing
From the College Board, the report provides information on changes over time in undergraduate tuition and fees, room and board, and other estimated expenses related to attending colleges and universities.
Trends in Student Aid
From the College Board, the report provides up-to-date information on the funds available to help students pay for college.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid
In order to get aid, all students must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, also known as the Fafsa.
Published by Mark Kantrowitz, a leading expert on the financial aid, the site is the most comprehensive source of student financial aid information, advice, and tools.