Can we afford this college? The 1-2-3 approach

by Grace

One of the most basic questions during the college planning process is often one of the hardest for a family to answer.

Can we afford this college?

The hard part is usually not in knowing what you can afford to pay, but in trying to find what the net cost of attendance will be for your child.  Here’s a three-step process that may help you answer this question.

  1. Run the Net Price Calculator
  2. Check the college website to find answers to the College Board “dirty dozen” questions
  3. Contact the school’s financial aid administrator


1.  Run the Net Price Calculator (NPC)

The NPC is an online tool that is a useful first step in comparing affordability.  Every college website has a calculator, which typically requires entering family financial information such as income and assets before the estimated net price of attending is generated.  Remember, this is an estimate and may not produce accurate results for business owners and other situations.  Proceed with caution, and check for online resources like the CollegeBoard tip sheet to help in the process.

2.  Check the college website to find answers to the College Board “dirty dozen” questions

A list of 12 questions to get you started on gathering information about a school’s financial aid policies is provided by the CollegeBoard.  In my experience, the answers to most of these questions can usually be found on college websites.  Going through these questions often prompts families to consider other important questions about college costs.

3.  Contact the school’s financial aid administrator

Okay, so not all your answers about costs and financial aid were easily found on the college website or other online resources?  Contact the college’s financial aid office and get the information directly from them.  They should be able to give you information rather quickly, and if they don’t it might be an indication of how transparent and helpful they are in other situations.

For organized families, it’s not a bad idea to create a spreadsheet that can capture important information and allow for efficient comparisons.

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