What is a net price calculator?
A net price calculator (NPC) is a tool that generates your individualized net price for attending a particular school. Your net price is the real cost of college is equal to the total cost of attendance minus the total grant aid you receive. Federal law now requires all colleges and universities to maintain net price calculators on their websites, so that students can learn how much different colleges will cost before they decide where to apply.
Why do different schools require different questions?
The US Department of Education has announced the basic requirements for a compliant net price calculator, and offers schools a free version that they can post online. Many schools have decided that they need to ask prospective students for more information in order to provide accurate individualized estimates. These schools either built their own net price calculators, or commissioned them from one of several vendors in the space.
Can you really compare calculators of different types?
Yes. All net price calculators must meet (at a minimum) the requirements set up by the Department of Education. We believe that calculators with more questions probably return more precise estimates, so we indicate the calculator type on the result page.
Using the Abacus
When should students and families use College Abacus?
Students and their families should use College Abacus before senior fall. With Abacus, families can identify the schools that will offer them the best financial aid packages, before students decide where to apply. Middle-income and low-income families often discover that financial aid policies make attending ‘expensive’ schools possible. This information can expand a student’s understanding of his/her options, and affect students’ choices about where to submit applications. For many families, savings also come in the form of application fees avoided – why apply to a school that you know you can’t afford?
Does College Abacus include merit aid? Loans? Work-study?
Abacus reports only the types of aid shared by the schools through their net price calculators. Some schools do include merit aid and work-study in their calculators, and we report this information on our results page. In our new design, we indicate which schools offer merit-aid and work-study estimates, so that students aren’t left guessing.
Abacus does not include loans on the results page.
Are College Abacus’s financial aid estimates accurate?
College Abacus does not generate its own financial aid estimates. Rather, we provide students with the exact same estimates that they could generate on individual college websites. Our tag line used to read “financial aid estimates – direct from colleges.” It is a good description of how our system works, but marketing said it was too wordy.
How do I make sure that I get the financial aid package listed on College Abacus?
To ensure that you (or your student) get the best financial aid package possible, you must submit your FAFSA in January of the year you intend to begin college. You should also check the websites of individual schools on your list, as some may require supplemental forms. Unless you submit all required forms, you will not be eligible for financial aid.
Why does Abacus only show estimates for my first year in college – not all four?
Currently, the federal government only requires schools to maintain net price calculators for first-year, first-time college students. As a result, few schools offer estimates for more than one year.
I want to use College Abacus, but I don’t know much about my family’s finances. What should I do?
If you get stuck on the financial information questions, you can use our Lifeline feature to send the questions to your parents. We will send them a secure, private link that will enable them to fill in the answers for you. You will get an alert when the information is submitted.
I'd like to use College Abacus with my students. Do you have any resources available to help me with a lesson?
Yes, we do! We are building a resource page, so please email firstname.lastname@example.org for materials.
I'm a transfer student. Can I use College Abacus?
Not all schools maintain net price calculators for prospective transfer students. When available, we do include them in our system, so you should check to make sure the school name is marked “transfer” before starting the question flow.
I'm an international student. Can I use College Abacus?
Federal legislation only requires that net price calculator estimates apply to US citizens or permanent residents. As a result, College Abacus does not provide estimates to international students. We admire the small set of schools that have built net price calculators that will provide estimates for international students, but we recommend that international students visit the official websites directly to generate net price estimates.
I'm a mature student. Can I use College Abacus?
Net price calculators provide financial aid estimates to first-time, first-year students. If this is your first time attending college, then you can (and should!) use College Abacus to find the schools that best suits your financial situation.
The Fine Print
I noticed that you are incorporated as a C-Corp, not a 501c(3). Are you evil?
No, we’re not evil. We started College Abacus because we wanted to unveil the mystery of the college financial aid process, so that students and their families could make informed decisions about where to apply. We thought seriously about incorporating as a non-profit, but we didn’t think that anyone would donate money to a website about net-price calculators. Transparency is important, but it doesn’t really tug at your heartstrings!
How do you make money?
College Abacus received generous funding from the College Knowledge Challenge, an initiative funded by the Gates Foundation. We are currently developing an API that we will license to other websites.
Is my data safe? Will you sell my personal financial information?
We will never sell (or share) your personal financial information. College Abacus is a secure site.
My institution isn’t included in College Abacus. How can we join?
College Abacus only includes schools with net price calculators that meet federal guidelines. If we have missed your school, please email us and we’ll add you as soon as possible. College Abacus does not charge schools for this service.