College Cost Calculators

College tuition, room and board, scholarships, financial aid, meal plans are all screaming different numbers at high school students and their parents. Adding and subtracting these numbers in attempts to figure out exactly how much a specific college will cost can be a difficult, agonizing task. But, life’s getting easier for students and their parents because all colleges will be forced to post a “net price calculator” on their Web site by 2011, according to an article in The Washington Post.

            The actual costs of college can be very different from its advertised sticker price. There are many additional costs that colleges tack on to tuition, and many students and parents do not see all of these costs. Some students are not fully aware of all these costs until they have set foot on campus for freshman year, and are faced with hefty bills to pay.

            Also, most colleges do not decide financial aid and merit-based scholarships until after a student has already applied. Sometimes colleges will give out large amounts of financial aid late in the spring of a student’s senior year of high school. Therefore, the financial aid news could come after one’s college decision has already been made. However, the college cost calculator that will go into effect in 2011 will give students and parents better estimates about how much a specific college will cost.

            Some colleges such as MIT, Yale University, Williams College, University of Arkansas and Cornell have been using their own, individual price calculators. The federal government recently provided a uniform college cost calculator template with the help of and Think Ahead LLC. By 2011, all colleges must adopt some form of a cost calculator.

            The federal program is uniform for all colleges. This is one of its biggest flaws because not all colleges offer financial aid and merit-based scholarships on similar criteria. The program asks students about eight questions regarding family income. However, the program does not ask about family assets and income exclusions. Also, the program does not consider merit-based scholarships. The federal cost calculator is likely to be inaccurate at times.

            A college cost calculators is more accurate if it is produced by and is unique to each individual college. It can be personalized to the amount of aid that a college has, and the competition of other students who are applying.