P.B. of Plainview, NY writes:

I've been trying to figure out college costs by using the Net Price Calculators as appear on most college websites. Are they accurate?

The College Whisperer responds:

Ah, yes. The Net Price Calculator. Created for the good of the college student (and his/her parents). But have we instead created a Frankenstonian distopia?

Assuming (and you know what happens when we do that) every college used the very same calculator, taking into account exactly the same factors, and actually "calculated" costs by methodology reduced to one, uniform formula, one might actually be able to arrive at a reasonable -- if not entirely good faith -- estimate of college costs.

Problem is, while colleges that receive Title IV federal aid are required to maintain and post on their websites a Net Price Calculator, they are not required to utilize the same calculator, let alone the data and number-crunching by which they ultimately arrive at the bottom line figure commonly known as your cost.

Call it The Price Is Right of college cost calculating. Try to compare the costs at one college by way of its Net Price Calculator to that of another college using the second college's Net Price Calculator, and you might as well be comparing the price of apples to a spanking new Maserati.

Then, too, you have to take into account a college's "puffing," as in, "We tell you only as much as we want you to know, and, sometimes, only what you want to hear."

The Wall Street Journal published an article earlier this year that goes to the very heart of the Net Price Calculator conundrum. Read, When Colleges Lowball Costs.
Armed with a single, standard, universal Net Price Calculator, you might find some semblance of uniformity, if not accuracy. Then again, perhaps not. Ever try calculating an exact "due date" using a "Pregnancy Calculator"? [Okay, let's not go there! ;-)]

Of course, you can always consult your Ouija board or local psychic when attempting to figure out what college will cost you. When using the Net Price Calculator -- any Net Price Calculator -- it is Caveat Emptor. Or better put, Student Beware. As with most of life's calculations, YMMV -- Your Mileage May Vary!
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To level the playing field somewhat when calculating college costs, try to use the same Net Price Calculator for each college. Alas, is there a "universal" Net Price Calculator? Well, we did manage to find one. Of course, it's the Net Price Calculator for the Universal Beauty School! Who knew? :-)

Plan. Prepare. Prevail!

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

Who knows what peril lurks in the college application and admissions process? The College Whisperer knows. . .

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