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The Cost of College

Yes, it is nice to know how much I am expected to pay for college, but what I really want to know is what will it cost me????  This is the #1 question I and other parents ask when going through the college selection process.  Probably the most infuriating aspect of this question is that you won’t know that answer until you receive a financial aid package from the school.  Add on that the financial aid package usually doesn’t arrive until spring, this shrinks your decision window and then causes more stress. In turn, this may cause an emotional and rushed decision.  The information below allows parents to evaluate financial costs BEFORE students apply to a school.

The Calculator

Net price calculators are designed to assist families in generating personal price estimates for particular colleges.  These calculators can be used to generate estimates prior to completing college applications and have the potential to save you thousands of dollars by steering you towards colleges that will be more generous to your children. 

Good net price calculators will have families share financial information and if the child has income or other assets, this will also be included.  Remember the more information you provide through this process the more realistic of an estimate you will receive.  Below are examples of the type of information you will need:

  • Earnings from parents
  • Relevant tax information
  • Assets, (balances of bank account, investment accounts)
  • Child’s GPA, class rank, activities, (used to determine if merit scholarships could be awarded)

The result of the calculator is the true price of college because it only considers free money and it disregards loans.  Here is an example:

               Cost of College:                               $50,000

               State Grant:                                     - $5,000

               Institutional merit award:              -$20,000

               Net Price:                                          $25,000

It should be noted that every college and university that participates in the federal financial aid system, is federally mandated to have a net price calculator on its website.  The best way to find a school’s calculator is to search the school’s name and “net price calculator”. 

Using the Net Price Calculator

To get the full benefit of the net price calculator you should use it prior to your children finalizing their college list.  Typically, you should start using the calculator at the beginning of your child’s junior year. 

The calculator can be used to test out different academic scenarios, such as what GPA or test score is needed to win a greater award. 

Lastly, the calculator can be used to weigh the impact of assets.  Parents can see how schools treat different assets like investments, rental property and home equity. 


The calculator is not necessarily what parents will pay, but it should provide you a solid cost estimate.  When visiting and talking to colleges, you can ask a school about the accuracy of their net price calculator.  You should also keep in mind that the net price calculator only generates an estimated first-year price.

If you have questions or would like assistance with using the net price calculator, schedule an appointment with me via my website, https://michaelrebischkefa.com/

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.  All performance referenced is historical and is no guarantee of future results.  All indices are unmanaged and may not be invested into directly.

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