1. Net price is what you really pay.
Say you buy a $20 pizza, but you have a coupon that takes $12 off the price. Your net price for the pizza — what you really pay — is $8. Net price applies to colleges, too.
2. Net price is a college’s published price minus your gift aid and education tax benefits.
Your net price for a college is the cost of tuition and fees minus the amount of gift aid that you receive from various sources and education tax benefits. Gift aid means grants and scholarships — money you don’t have to pay back.
3. You can get an estimate of your net price online.
Most college websites have net price calculators. This tool uses data you enter to come up with a personalized estimate of how much gift aid that particular college may offer you — and what it will really cost you to attend.
4. Net price lets you compare apples to apples.
Net price is the best figure to use when comparing the costs of different schools. Knowing your estimated net price for each college lets you compare the gift aid each may offer you and the amount you’ll have to come up with yourself (through savings, work-study and loans) to go to each school.
5. You can see more than net price.
Most net price calculators also give estimates of the work-study aid and loans the college may offer you. Unlike gift aid, this is money you must work for (work-study aid) or pay back with interest (loans). This information will help you understand your options for covering your share of each school’s cost.
6. Looking at net price can broaden your choices.
When you consider net price instead of sticker price, you may realize that you can afford a college you thought was out of your financial reach. Or you may see that the school on your list with the lowest sticker price may actually cost you the most.
7. Net price varies from person to person.
Your net price for College A will most likely be different from your friend’s net price. That’s because the college decides how much financial aid to offer by looking at each student’s situation. Aid awards are based on factors like financial need, academic performance and athletic talent.
8. Your net price varies from college to college.
Your net price for College A will most likely be different from your net price for College B — even if their sticker prices are about the same. That’s because each college has its own way of deciding how much financial aid to offer students.
9. Net price is usually lower than the published price.
The average in-state sticker price for a public four-year college is $9,410. But the average net price is just $3.980. For a private four-year college, the average sticker price is $32,410, but the average net price is just $14,890. (Figures are for full-time students in 2014-15.)
Calculate your net price for the colleges you’re interested in. Almost all colleges offer a net price calculator on their website. You can also use the College Board’s Net Price Calculator to estimate your net price at hundreds of colleges.