Students applying to college this fall have a new tool to help them compare costs at various campuses. This month, so-called "net price calculators" will appear on the websites of colleges nationwide, giving students and parents an idea of how much financial aid they could receive months before a formal offer arrives.
The idea behind the calculators – which are required by federal law to be posted on college websites by Oct. 29 – is that many students are discouraged from applying to a university when they see the price. A year of tuition, books, room and board now totals $30,000 at many public universities and north of $50,000 at many private ones.
But that's what experts call the "sticker price" – the amount paid by students who don't get any financial aid. At many schools, the typical student receives aid and pays less than the school appears to cost. The "net price" the new devices calculate is the sticker price minus grants the student could expect based on family finances and, in some cases, academic performance.