Could you imagine walking into a high-end car dealership with no idea if the price of the car is going to be $60,000 or $30,000 until after you have done the test drive, talked to the sales manager, and done a credit check? Well, that’s somewhat like what the college financial aid system is like except it can be multiplied by 4-5x of those amounts or more for the 4 years of college.
Knowing your financial aid eligibility and how that relates to your college search is important. For many families, cost plays a central role in shaping the school list, so it’s important to identify which schools will be the right financial fit before applying. In the past decade, online calculators have become popular tools to help families ascertain if they are eligible for financial aid. Although the intentions of these calculators are good, they can be difficult to navigate and often leave families with more questions than answers. Here are some of our top pros and cons to using online calculators:
- Calculators can help determine your estimated expected family contribution (EFC), which is the number that a school uses to determine how much need-based aid you receive. There are different calculators for schools that use the FAFSA only or FAFSA & CSS Profile (the two main financial aid applications), which can establish at a very high level if you might qualify for aid at a particular school.
- The sticker price of a college is rarely a true reflection of what students are required to pay. Utilizing the net price calculator at a school can help give you an idea of how your family’s financial situation affects that price, but remember, this is only an ESTIMATE! Net Price Calculators are intended to give a projection based on the policy of the specific college but they aren’t always accurate.
- The institutional information that the calculator uses to determine award estimates is historical data, it is not based on the current year or the year your student will be applying for.
- The calculators intake general information and are not adjustable for each family-specific situation – this can have significant impacts for business owners (even sole proprietors), divorced families or those who own property beyond their primary residence.
At Campus Bound we use years of professional experience and knowledge to provide financial aid eligibility assessments for families, accounting for unique factors that may affect eligibility at different schools. We maintain data on awards for prior students and look at the policies of individual schools. Reach out today to learn about your eligibility and how that will affect your school search.