Posts tagged ‘NPC’

March 4, 2015

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.

January 22, 2014

The risk of promising your child that “we’ll find a way to pay” for college

by Grace

Don’t make promises you cannot keep.

In the college search and selection process, parents should think very carefully before assuring their child that “we’ll find a way to pay for it.”  That promise could be the cause of deep disappointment or crushing student debt.

In answering the question, “Should Students Apply to Reach Schools?“, Do It Yourself College Rankings discusses the pitfalls of applying to colleges that are financial reaches.

The simple answer is not to apply to any college that you can’t afford to attend.

The more detailed answer would be that it’s fine to apply to a financial reach school if everyone clearly understands that only significant financial aid would make matriculation possible should the student be accepted.  But to avoid unnecessary disappointment and stress in making the final decision where to attend, one recommendation is to get a sense about the likelihood of receiving financial aid by running the Net Price Calculator tool very early in the process.  Also consider the realistic chances of merit aid, which is often not included in the NPC estimate.

For more insight on what makes sense for your family when deciding whether to apply to a financial reach, check out the complete DIY Rankings answer.

Related:

January 21, 2014

Net Price Calculator can help guide your college search

by Grace

Can we afford it?

That question has to be high on the list for a high school student creating a list of colleges she’d like to attend, and the Net Price Calculator can help in answering that question during the early stages of the college search.

What is a Net Price Calculator?
Net price calculators are available on a college’s or university’s website and allow prospective students to enter information about themselves to find out what students like them paid to attend the institution in the previous year, after taking grants and scholarship aid into account.

While it’s fine to stretch aspirations in considering a dream college that may be a financial reach, it’s important to be realistic in understanding practical budget limitations.

Let’s consider the hypothetical case of a New York high school senior, where an NPC calculation can show meaningful cost differences among various colleges.  Here are three possible college choices:

  1. Harvard University:  It’s a reach for almost everyone because chances for admission at this Ivy League school are small at only 6%.
  2. Syracuse University:  A private university with a 50% acceptance rate that is attainable for many students.
  3. Binghamton University:  One of the top New York state universities, it comes with a 43% acceptance rate.

Here are simplified NPC scenarios showing Net Cost of Attendance (COA) based on earned income levels of $50,000 (low income), $80,000 (medium income), and $150,00 (high income).

20140115.SEMNPCChart1

Useful information, right?  This chart illustrates the oft-repeated advice that in some instances a private college may be as affordable as a state school.

Important points about this hypothetical NPC illustration:

At what income level does a family’s chance of aid become zero?

At an income level of $250,000, the net price of attendance in all these scenarios equals the gross price.  In other words, somewhere between an income of $150,000 and $250,000 is the point where a family would not qualify for any need-based financial aid.

The advice?  Run a NPC early on in the process to get a general idea about a college’s affordability.

Related:

April 19, 2013

In their college search, students need to look beyond ‘average net price’

by Grace

Even with its flaws, the Net Price Calculator (NPC) offers low-income students a better indication of college affordability than the College Scorecard does.  However, sometimes finding a college’s NPC is not easy.

Limited value in using a college’s average net price

Because it uses average net prices as a measure of affordability, the recently introduced College Scorecard may discourage low-income students from applying to high-priced schools.  Low-income students do not pay “average” prices.  For that matter, high-income students don’t either.

There’s just one problem: no student is average.

Consider a low-income applicant to the University of Pennsylvania, a school with a high sticker price. At Penn, a full-price student pays $59,600 (including tuition, room & board, and other fees) and a low-income student with a full scholarship pays $0. The average net price across these two students is $29,800. (As it happens, Penn’s reported average net price is $20,592.) Just like high sticker prices, high average net price can mislead students from modest circumstances looking for affordable college options. Many colleges – particularly prestigious schools with high sticker prices – are committed to building socioeconomically diverse student bodies. At such schools, students’ individualized net prices can vary significantly depending on their financial circumstances.

NPC figures offer a better measure of affordability.

… Like the College Scorecard, NPCs offer key financial information to students and families prior to application and matriculation. The College Board’s 2012 study revealed that more than half of college-bound seniors from lower-income and middle-income families still rule out colleges on the basis of sticker price, but with the advent of NPCs, students from all backgrounds can identify affordable college options before they decide where to apply.

… Instead of discussing financial aid after students have received acceptance letters in senior spring, counselors can help students build application lists in junior spring that take financial aid into account. With the Scorecard’s average net prices, high schools students are left with yet another one-size-fits-all ranking of affordability; in short, it is not much better than the starting “sticker price.”

20130418.COCNPCvsAverageNetPrice1

For low-income students like Cristina, the College Scorecard misses the mark – sometimes by a big margin. As with sticker prices, these average net prices can indicate to low-income students that they will find neither financial support nor a warm welcome at selective schools.

But NRC calculators are often not user friendly.

A report issued by The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) in October 2012 asserted that “net-price calculators are still not reliably easy for prospective college students and their families to find, use, and compare,” noting (among other issues) that many schools post NPCs on obscure web pages.

Although NPC links are included in both the College Scorecard and the Department of Education’s College Navigator, it turns out that many do not connect to the right location.

A solution:  College Abacus will soon have a consolidated set of links to all NPCs for U.S. colleges and universities.

At College Abacus, we are closing the gap between legislation – and its goals – and the actual needs of students, parents, and counselors around the United States. We are taking on the task of aggregating the net price calculators into a single, student-friendly tool. With the help of a grant provided by the Gates Foundation’s College Knowledge Challenge, we expect College Abacus to expand from its current group of 4,000+ schools to include all US colleges and universities by September 2013.

Related:  ‘Tips for Using Net Price Calculators’ (Cost of College)

December 9, 2011

‘Tips for Using Net Price Calculators’

by Grace

Here are some practical tips for using Net Price Calculators, a tool that is a useful first step in comparing affordability among the various options during the college search process.

Finding them on the college website (they won’t always be in the same place)

  • Some calculators are easier to find than others. A few are posted on the college’s homepage, but most are in the Financial Aid section, which is sometimes under Admissions. Otherwise, try looking in Consumer Information or Disclosures, or search for the calculator within the site or by using an outside search engine like Google.
  • It’s not always called a “net price calculator,” so also keep an eye out for the keywords “cost,” “estimator,” and “financial aid.”…
  • Eventually, the Department of Education is planning to post all net price calculator URLs on its College Navigator tool (http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/). We will update these tips when we find out more information about when the URLs will be posted.

Answering the questions

  • Be prepared to encounter all kinds of calculators, from the simple (as few as 10 questions) to the complex (50 or more). Some calculators ask questions that require you to dig up detailed financial information from your (or your parents’) tax returns, earnings statements, and bank statements. If you don’t have that information handy, answer as best you can or try to skip the question.
  • Colleges cannot require you to provide your contact information. If you aren’t comfortable giving them your name, email address, or other information, you don’t have to.

Interpreting the results

  • The most important number on the page is the “net price” – the full cost of attendance minus grants and scholarships. Make sure you focus on that dollar figure when interpreting calculator results and comparing colleges. Some colleges also subtract their expectations of how much you’ll earn and borrow to get a smaller cost figure, but it won’t be called “net price. Remember that grants and scholarships don’t need to be repaid, while work expectations must be earned and loans repaid with interest. That’s why work-study and loans are called “self-help.” You don’t want to accidentally compare one school’s net price with another school’s figure that includes loans and work-study.
  • Be wary of estimates that include unrealistic amounts of self-help. We have found calculators that subtract $20,000 or $30,000 worth of expected loans to get to what might be called a “final” or “out of pocket” cost figure of zero. This can make colleges look more affordable than they really are. It may look like you will have no out-of-pocket costs, but the costs are just delayed.
  • The results are only estimates and colleges can calculate them differently, so use them to make ballpark comparisons between colleges. Don’t draw conclusions based on differences of several dollars or even several hundreds of dollars – talk to the schools’ financial aid offices to find out more.
  • The estimates are only for your first year of college and apply to a particular academic year (e.g., 2011-12). If you expect to enter college at a later date, know that the college’s costs and financial aid policies may change.
  • Not all grants and scholarships are available for all years of college. You can contact the college’s financial aid office (or try searching its website) to find out whether you can expect the same amount of grant assistance after your first year.
  • As all net price calculators are required to tell you, the estimates are not final or binding financial aid awards. To get an actual aid offer, you have to apply to the school for admission and fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid, http://www.fafsa.ed.gov/) to qualify for federal financial aid, and you may have to fill other applications for aid from your state or college. Net price calculators can help you decide whether to take those next steps.

Courtesy of the Institute for College Access & Success, which also produced a report titled “Adding It All Up: An Early Look at Net Price Calculators.”

October 28, 2011

Net Price Calculator – a helpful first step in the college search

by Grace

Starting October 29, all colleges are required to provide a Net Price Calculator (NPC) showing the ‘net price’ (defined as tuition, fees and indirect expenses minus grant and scholarship aid) for individual students based on their personal status.   For more details you can go here.

I created three fictional student profiles and ran them through the calculations of a dozen colleges.  In all three cases the student was a top scholar with high test scores who resides in New York State.  The only difference between the three profiles was the family’s financial situation.  The earned income for the three different families were $50,000 (low), $80,000 (medium), and $150,000 (high).  Here are the net Cost of Attendance (COA) results.  [UPDATE:  Harvard figures have been updated to correct a mistake.]

Some initial observations:

  • A low- to middle-income student enjoys a tremendous bargain at many top-ten schools, if he is admitted.  With acceptance rates in the single digits for some of these schools, that’s a big “IF”.
  • At most schools ranked below top ten, a low-income student will pay at least $20,000 a year to attend.  (Note that all these were out-of-state schools for our fictional student.  I plan to run in-state examples later.)
  • Quick comparisons can be made based on NPC results.  For example, with similar COA figures, it appears that UVA offers more need-based aid for low-income students than Denison does.  The detailed report generated as part of the NPC confirms this, indicating the next step might be a request for more detailed information from the college admissions staff.
  • Merit scholarships may be the biggest unknown factor.  I would be careful about relying on NPC figures for this, even for schools that explicitly state that they include merit in their calculations.  Further research will usually be required.

Bottom line:  Families should run NPC reports for all schools on a student’s initial list as a useful first step in comparing affordability among the various options.

* CHART EXPLANATION:
….•  Rank:  USNWR ranking; NR = not ranked nationally
….•  COA:  Cost of Attendance
….•  Net COA:  Income Categories are Low = $50,000; Med = $80,000, High = $150,000
….•  Merit Aid:
……….1 – NPC does not consider merit aid.
……….2 – NPC considers at least some merit aid.
……….3 – Unclear if merit aid is considered.
……….4 – School does not offer merit aid.

** This NPC non-resident COA is at odds with the information on the college website.  According to the UNM website, it appears the NPC COA should be increased by approximately $13,000 a year.  Since it’s unknown how that change would affect the net price, I would consider all these UNM numbers to be unreliable.

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