You filled it out, now what?

Comparing NPC Results

Once you have entered your information into the NPC, you will be shown an estimate of your cost and aid eligibility. Below are some of our tips for comparing the results from different NPCs. If you haven't read the section on the previous page about types of NPCs, go there to learn about how to best enter your information in different types of NPCs and what type of accuracy you can expect. This section deals only with what to do with the results from multiple colleges once you have them.

Find the Net Price: Some NPCs will give you other subtotals as well, some of which may be more useful for understanding what you will actually pay. The net price is required to be clearly labeled and include the same elements for all colleges, so it is a good place to start for a comparison. Comparing the net price will be most useful if you are looking at results from similar types of NPCs, since levels of accuracy vary widely. The points below will help you understand why just putting two net price results side by side will not necessarily give you an "apples to apples" comparison.

Living On Campus: The net price total is most useful to compare for students planning to live on campus, when most costs are paid directly to the college and can be known by the college in advance.

Living Off Campus: There is only one category for "living off campus on your own" on the FAFSA (and therefore in most NPCs), but it includes these very different situations:

  1. You are planning to move to a new location for the purpose of attending college there. If this is your situation, and you plan to live off campus, on your own or with roommates, remember that the net price will include the college's estimate of what you are likely to spend each year on rent and food. Of course, the real amount can vary widely. If you are applying to different colleges in the same area and see different estimates of off campus room and board, it may be worth doing some of your own research first before concluding that one will actually have higher indirect costs than the other.
  2. You are already living on your own and planning to stay in your current home while attending a college near where you already live. In this case, you may not be thinking of your room and board as part of your educational expenses, but there will be an estimate included as part of net price. You may want to subtract room and board from the net price if you are comparing colleges that calculate them differently, and your living expenses would be the same at all of them. Students in this situation frequently attend part-time while continuing to work. Please remember that unless it specifically asks for your enrollment plans, the NPC results are based on full-time attendance.

Living With Your Parents: If you are planning to commute to college while living with your parents or other family members who support you, federal template NPCs will calculate $0 for room and board. Other types of NPCs may include a rough estimate for your share of the family expenses, so it is important to notice what is being calculated for room and board if you are a commuter student. You may also want to subtract room and board from the net price if you are comparing colleges that calculate them differently.

Year of Results: As always, pay attention to the year on which the calculation is based. If you are comparing the results of an NPC based on the upcoming year with one based on 2 or 3 years earlier, remember that direct costs and aid eligibility may have changed at the college with the less up to date NPC.

Timeframe for results: It is also important to know the length of time represented by the results. If you are planning to start a traditional four-year or two-year program, NPCs will generally show you results for a single full-time academic year. See Career Colleges and the NPC for information about other types of programs.

Are the results tailored to you? Remember that the more questions you were asked, the more the results will reflect your unique situation. Are you comparing an NPC that asks for academic credentials (GPA, test scores) with one that doesn't? One that uses a full EFC calculation with one that asks one or two financial questions? It is important to keep this in mind when comparing results.

We hope this article has helped give you a better understanding of both the usefulness and the limitations of Net Price Calculators. We encourage you to take the time to use the NPC for every college that interests you.

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