Mom and teen daughter looking at laptop, dad in background reading newspaper

Getting real about college costs

When exploring the cost of college with your student, you may hear different terms around price, including sticker price and net price. Let’s unravel some of the mystery around the real price of college and how to pay for it.

Sticker price vs. net price

All colleges do have a listed or sticker price—that is, the cost of college without any financial aid applied. When you take the sticker price and subtract grants and scholarships (aid that doesn’t have to be repaid) you get the school’s net price.

Today, when you visit a college’s website, you’ll likely find a Net Price Calculator to help estimate the school’s net price, based on some information that you and your student provide. It’s designed to give a general picture of the school’s cost than the sticker price alone.

Financial aid

Some net price calculators also provide information about the kinds of financial aid your student may be offered, such as student loans and work-study jobs. While this this information is just an estimate, it can give you a better idea of how much your student may need to borrow at one school versus another. Some schools may be able to offer more grant and scholarship aid; at others, student loans may make up the bigger portion of the financial aid package.

Trimming costs

As you get a better sense of the real cost of specific schools, you can start consider ways to potentially trim costs. An in-state school with fewer travel costs may start to make more sense as you crunch the numbers. You may also want to explore reciprocity agreements available at schools in neighboring states.

After looking at the numbers together, your student may want to consider dual enrollment courses, explore more housing options, or consider working while in college to offset some costs.

Caroline Hanson
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Caroline Hanson

Communications Consultant at Wells Fargo
Copywriter at Wells Fargo.

She’s experienced in planning and paying for college both as a student and parent. With one child through college and two more a few years away from it, she is right there with you on the college-planning journey. A creative pro with years logged in journalism, public relations, and marketing, she’s been writing for the College Planning Blog since its launch in 2006.
Caroline Hanson
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