First came the Net Price Calculator. Then came the College Score Card. Means of comparing and contrasting college costs, which, all too often, turned out to be akin to comparing the cost of apples to the cost of a brand new Ferrari.

And now, enter the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, a tool designed to inform students, and their parents, as to the details of their financial aid awards. 

Ahh. Could it be that after slogging through the CSS Profile (enough to make a financial analyst's head spin) and awaiting that EFC (Expected Family Contribution) so gratuitously generated by the FAFSA, the college cost conscious will, at long last, be able to tell, with reasonable certainty, how much they will actually get from college "A" versus the financial aid award from college "B"?

Well, not exactly. There being more variables that go into each school's fin aid formula than ingredients in grandma's Sunday stew, it may not be as easy to compare cost vs. benefit as one might presume.

That said, entree of the shopping sheet -- sans eggs, milk and Frosted Flakes, as regularly appear on my shopping list -- will force colleges to be at least somewhat more transparent in their representation of tuition, fees, room and board, and sundry expenses, together with what they're willing to give you in exchange for that four year commitment. [Do you think NYU, now the most expensive college in America, and a central cog in the Collegiate Industrial Complex, will break down each student's share of property tax for all the real estate owned by the school in lower Manhattan, or the cost per capita of maintaining campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai? Don't hold your breath.]

While not quite settling, once and for all, exactly how much these colleges will be extracting from bank accounts and 529 Plans, the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet will help parents estimate, with some particularity, their out-of-pocket college expenses. 

To date, some 1950 colleges have signed on to participate in the Shopping Sheet. Just one question: Do they take competitor's coupons?
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Learn more about the Financial Aid Shopping Sheet
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