Estimating College Financial Aid with the Net Price Calculator

In an attempt to create college financial aid transparency, the federal government created the Higher Education Opportunity Act. One of the mandates created in this act was the Net Price Calculator. Since 2011, this online tool has provided families the opportunity to estimate the real cost of attendance at every college or university.

Cost of Attendance

The cost of attendance to attend a college must be listed on a college’s website. This includes tuition, room/board, books and expenses. Tuition refers to the amount of a money a student pays in order to attend classes and be considered a full time student (usually 12-18 credit hours). Room/Board refers to residing, on campus in an average size, two person dorm room, while being provided an average of 10-14 meals in the school cafeteria. Books refers to the estimated amount a student will spend for their classroom supplies for a particular school year, usually considered $1200. Expenses, also an estimated amount (usually $2500), refers to a student college fees, spending money, personal costs and transportation.

How it Works

Per the government mandate, the NPC must be located on every college website. It is usually found on the financial aid page and can be completed in less than ten minutes. A little hint, questions referring to ‘you’ mean the student. Parents may need to locate their W2 forms or tax returns to complete the calculator. Besides the financial questions, there are additional questions for students, asking for their grade point average, standardized test score(s) and other specific academic questions. The calculator is not difficult to complete, but can ask for a plethora of information. A completed calculator will allow the college to gain a snapshot of a family’s financial situation and provide a ballpark figure of the real cost of attendance.


When a family completes the NPC, there will be four types of discounts used to compute the real cost of attendance. Scholarships are awarded for student merit. These can be because of a student’s grade point average and/or ACT/SAT test score. Perhaps a student is being rewarded for other achievements, such as a fine art (art, theatre, or music) or athletics. Students can also receive a grant. These can be from the federal government based upon their financial need, or from the academic institution themselves. Scholarships and grants do not need to be repaid. A student may also receive a discount for the Federal Work-Study program. Here, students are paid to work on campus in return for a portion of their tuition. Examples of some positions are assisting in the admissions office, school cafeteria, or athletic facilities. Lastly, colleges will offer federal or school based loans to students. Click here to read a previous blog post regarding financial aid.

If you would like to learn more about the Net Price Calculator, the cost of a college education, or anything else, contact us.

Thomas Jaworski is the lead consultant of Quest College Consulting. He is an Independent College Counselor with over ten years experience in the college admission process as an Certified Illinois Teacher (Type 09) and Counselor (Type 73) while also a member of IECA and NACAC. For more information, you can visit his website at or email him at Follow him on Twitter @Tom_QuestCC or on Facebook at

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