Tuition. Room & Board. Books. Transportation. Incidentals. [Ah yes. Incidentals. Didn't think of those, did ya?]

What is the REAL cost of attending college? How close were those "guesstimates" to financial reality?

For years, many colleges, and a host of college-related websites, have posted so-called college cost calculators, aimed at helping the confused and tormented become even more so.

Calculations, often skewed and seldom accurate, were of little use in determining what money would be made available to students, let alone at providing the lo down on actual out-of-pocket costs.

That's all about to change, and, hopefully, for the better. Or so colleges, and our own federal government, would have us believe!

Beginning October 29, ALL colleges and universities -- or at least so many as hope to continue to receive federal aid dollars -- must post net-price calculators on their websites.

Nice! Assuming, of course, that they prove any more meaningful than the plethora of calculators already out there, on college websites and beyond.

College cost calculators, such as those found at, which creates such calculators for students as well as colleges, use the federal calculator, which, concededly, misses the mark by glaringly omitting such seemingly critical factors as family/student assets, household size and merit awards.

Hmmm. Mere trifles. Why quibble over such minor things as assets and liabilities?

Then, too, could a one-size-fit all college cost calculator accurately determine YOUR true cost at any given college or university?

Pull out the old Texas Instrument T-Whatever, and plug in those logarithms and sine-cosine tables.

Consistency. Good. A foolish consistency? Well, you know...

Here are a couple of the "generic" net college cost calculators out there on the web:

CollegeData - Net Cost Calculator

College Board's Net Price Calculator

And one from a college itself (Rice University):

12 minutes to complete? Must be Uncle Ben's Converted College Cost Calculator, or that new-fangled Minute Rice for College Students!

As with almost all such college cost calculators, these are free to use -- though we are certain College Board (the folks who charge you to file for financial aid) will soon figure out a way to get you to pay for it!

Boon to students and parents? Bust on the math? A mere recalculation of the old "razzle, dazzle 'em?"

Read just a few of the many articles on the net effect of net cost college calculators:

College Costs: 3 Unintended Consequences of the Net Price Calculator

Get the Real College Costs

Are Online College Cost Calculators Flunking the Math?

Warning: Net Price Calculators Fail to Provide Adequate College Cost Estimates

Right on the money or off by thousands of dollars? Yes and yes.

If the existing college cost calculators too often miss the mark, could net college cost calculators mandated by the federal government -- the same federal government that pays thousands of dollars for a hammer and millions to build bridges to nowhere -- be any more (or less) accurate?

Bottom line: YMMV (your mileage may vary). Try one. Try all. Take an average. Derive a scientific formula that would make Albert Einstein's head spin, and apply it to your favorite net college cost calculator. Better yet, build your own, trademark it, and sell it to Google for $200 million.

For the application-weary, perennially overwhelmed college-bound student -- and the parents thereof -- the advent of the latest incarnation of the college cost calculator is yet another source, as Yul Brenner in The King & I once said, of puzzlement.

Perhaps, if the penalty imposed by Congress were to hold each college and university to the penny of the cost arrived at through the use of their online net college cost calculators, we might just be on to something.

Alas, getting an act of Congress ain't what it used to be. And, or so it would seem, calculating the true cost of a college education isn't getting any easier!

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.
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