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Your Questions About the Net Price Calculator Answered

Colleges may post their tuition per credit hour, per class or per semester, so it might take some research to get to an apples-to-apples comparison between programs. A net price calculator can help cut through the confusion and help you make a wise decision. 

What Does Net Price Mean?

Think of the net price as a big picture number. According to the U. S. Department of Education, "the Net Price is the amount that a student pays to attend an institution in a single academic year AFTER subtracting scholarships and grants the student receives." Since scholarships and grants are forms of financial aid that a student does not have to pay back, they are subtracted from the total cost. Student loans, on the other hand, must be paid back and are included in the calculation. 

What is the net price calculator and how does it work?

The calculator can be a powerful and easy-to-use tool. Unlike the hand-held calculator you used in math classes, this calculator is actually a series of questions about your financial situation. Your answers help to estimate the possible need and merit-based aid you might receive. Next, the calculator compares those numbers against data from recent students. Finally, your aid amount is subtracted from the cost of attendance (tuition and required fees, books and supplies, room and board, and personal expenses), and the difference is your net price total. 

How can finding the net price help me?

Each school's net price calculator should factor in the same information, leaving you with handy numbers for easy comparisons. 

See whole costs: The cost of a degree isn't like the sticker price on a toaster — it's complicated. When you see tuition at one school is thousands of dollars more expensive than at a different school, you may think it is out of your price range. However, if the school offers scholarships and has a low cost of living, it may put the higher tuition college in the same net price range of a less expensive college with higher living costs.

See costs over time: In some areas, housing costs for students decrease over the summer when there's less demand. Looking at cost over time in the net price absorbs those month-to-month hikes and dips particular to your area. Most net price calculators represent the costs for the two traditional fall and winter semesters, not the summers.

Get a customized idea of costs: Since you'll put your family's information into the calculator, you'll get an idea of how much need-based and/or merit-based aid you may receive based on your unique situation. The net price total is not a one-size-fits-all number.

Just remember that the net price calculator gives you a ballpark number, and that the specific amount of aid you may qualify for may vary. 

Where do I find the net price calculator?

Columbia College's net price calculator is found under the Tuition & Financial Aid section of the website. Net price calculators are typically available on a college or university website, under tuition and fees or affordability information. Net price calculators are a free resource that schools are required, by federal mandate, to provide to first-time, full-time undergraduate students. 

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