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What Will This College Cost?

Many parts of the college application and acceptance process are not transparent, including need based financial aid—who will qualify and for how much?

Rules now require colleges to put a “net price calculator” on their website so families can try and get a better estimate of how much their EFC will be. EFC is the Expected Family Contribution that the college determines from the financial information the family provides on various financial forms.

According to this article in the NY Times, “Many families are approaching these new tools with caution, however, finding that they vary widely in thoroughness and clarity. Moreover, there is no publicly available information for gauging how accurate they are.”

This article tells us that colleges are using different calculators and the information they ask for isn’t consistent or clear. “Just answering the most important basic question — how much a family earns — can be baffling. Some calculators want all wages included, others exclude money set aside for 401(k) or I.R.A. plans, and others ask for adjusted gross income. It is not always clear which figure the college wants, and the distinctions may be unfamiliar to the people filling out the forms.”

Last year when I was on a college visit that was arranged for professionals—counselors and consultants– one college told us that they ask families to use their net price calculator and to leave the data on their system. If the family doesn’t get the financial package they were expecting, they can go back and analyze the data.

It may take a while to work the bugs out, but the Net Price calculators should shed some light on the financial aid process and how different colleges interpret the data collected.

Janet Rosier