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How to Find and Use a Net Price Calculator or Financial Aid Calculator to Estimate Your College Financial Aid

We know money is a big concern when applying to college. You have to consider the cost of each institution you’re interested in attending, fill out applications for financial aid, and try to find a way to begin setting aside money for life during college.

We get that this process isn’t easy, and we want to put the best possible resources in your hands so you can make your way through it with as little pain as possible. With that, we’re here to give you a brief introduction to an extremely helpful tool: net price calculators (also sometimes called financial aid calculators).

What is a net price calculator?

Before we get into what a net price calculator is, we should define what “net price” means. You’ve probably heard the phrase “cost of attendance” before (if you haven’t, consider browsing our glossary of financial aid terms). “Cost of attendance” is, simply put, the amount of money it takes to attend a school for one year without any type of financial aid.

Once a student’s individual amount of financial aid is determined, a little basic math can turn your “cost of attendance” into “net price.” Your net price will be what one year of school will cost based on the cost of tuition and the financial aid you’ll receive. Although these calculators aren’t always exact, they’ll allow you to start making general plans for your future!

Woman using a calculator in her office

Is a net price calculator the same thing as filling out the FAFSA?

No. The FAFSA is the actual document that you use to apply for federal financial aid. Net price calculators formulate net price by comparing your information with students who are similar to you and have attended the same institution. Again, note that the figure these calculators send back to you are only well-informed estimates and are definitely not a substitute for filling out the FAFSA or any other financial aid applications.

Also, certain calculators will ask you for your Expected Family Contribution (EFC), which is found in your Student Aid Report (SAR). If you haven’t completed the FAFSA, you probably won’t have this number on hand, but don’t be discouraged. Most calculators will still give you a result even without the EFC.

Okay, where can I find these net price calculators?

Pretty much any college or university that you could want to attend is going to have a net price calculator available for student use. The way they’re set up and the questions they ask may vary, but their purpose is fundamentally the same. So, search away. Most net price calculators will be available through the university’s financial aid office. You may be surprised what dollar amounts can show up!  

For the sake of conversation, where could I find UIUC’s net price calculator, and what kinds of questions will it ask me?

That’s such a random university to consider, but okay! We’ll use it as an example.

UIUC’s net price calculator is hosted on the Office of Student Financial Aid’s website. During the process of filling out the form, you’ll be asked information about yourself and your household. Some questions will be based around finances and some around academic and/or personal information. Try to be as accurate as possible, but again, this tool is really only useful for establishing estimates, so no information you supply will be binding.

After filling out the form in full, you’ll receive a net price figure, as well as expected methods of financing that total.

young student working at her computer and smiling while taking notes in a notebook

Okay, I think I understand. What if I have more questions related to my financial aid estimate or options after using a net price calculator?

The most direct route for getting answers is to reach out to a school’s financial aid office. And speaking of UIUC again (out of the orange and blue, am I right?), that office would be the Office of Student Financial Aid. They’re a very helpful resource as you’re navigating this process.

Well, that’s what we’ve got to tell you about net price calculators (again, sometimes called financial aid calculators). They’re a great tool for any student who’s planning on attending college, and they’re pretty easy to use, too. While your college finance concerns probably won’t disappear completely because of this article, we hope that we’ve given you some tools and ways to predict what the costs of college may look like for you.

UIUC Admissions

UIUC Admissions

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