BOSTON (CBS) – When picking a college price plays a big role, but a new federal rule could ease the pain of college sticker shock.

College web sites will be required to include something called a net price calculator.

The calculator allows families to punch in their own personal financial information to see what they might actually be required to pay for the school.

WBZ-TV’s Joe Shortsleeve reports

“For most students, they pay less than the cost of actual tuition, so don’t get scared off by the $55,000 a year price tag,” said Gregg Cohen, who works at Campus Bound in Quincy helping families through the maze of college shopping.

“Using one of these calculators, you will be able to build a list of schools that are more likely to give a better aid package,” said Cohen.

At Brandeis University, the estimated cost of attendance for tuition, fees, room, board, and other expenses is more than $56,000.

Using the calculator, a family making $75,000 a year with one child can expect that price tag to drop by about $20,000 thanks to estimated grants and loans.

It’s important to remember this isn’t a commitment of financial aid, but the estimate can at least give families an idea of the bills ahead.

The calculator has its critics, since the formula varies from college to college.

One version asks a few simple questions including GPA and SAT scores.

Others are a bigger time commitment asking for very detailed financial information.

Not all sites post the calculator right on the home page, so you may have to do some online digging.

One other thing to remember – some colleges offer larger financial aid packages to freshmen.

You may want to call the college to make sure you can expect the same amount of help through graduation.

Comments (3)
  1. Jenn says:

    I wouldn’t call it help with financial aid when all they do is expect you to get large college loans to cover the cost. Very small amounts of actual aid that you do not have to pay back are given out. Therefore it DOES indeed cost close to what the college says the cost is unless you are very poor.

  2. Mary Fallon says:

    Families can know how accurate calculators are by how many questions they ask. The more questions – 30 to 40 – the better the estimate of a student’s free grant aid, self-help aid like work study, federal loans, and military aid, net price, and out of pocket costs. The most reliable and accurate calculators take only 8 to 12 minutes to use. Some Massachusetts colleges with live, ‘predictive’ (accurate) NPCs are:

    Wentworth Institute of Technology of Boston, MA

    Williams College of Williamstown, MA

    Curry College of Milton, MA

    Dean College of Franklin, MA

    NPCs that are based on the federal template calculator ask 8 to 12 questions and typically produce inaccurate estimates for the majority of students. They often overestimate a school’s cost.

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