Admissions, Resources

The Difference Between College Sticker Price and Net Price

2 Comments 06 August 2015


Whether you’re just beginning to build your college list, or if you’re narrowing down some choices you’ve already made, one of the top factors in many students’ decision is, you guessed it: money.  Most of us know college can be expensive, but what you might not know is that college doesn’t cost the same amount of money for every student. Colleges understand that every student’s financial situation is different and that they come from different backgrounds. Every good college knows that it doesn’t matter if a student comes from a rich family, it matters if a student is academically and personally prepared to succeed on campus. Colleges also know that students who have worked hard to rise to the top of their class, or who have had to overcome obstacles, or who have participated in an after-school program, or who have mastered a sport deserve to have their accomplishments recognized.

That’s why colleges offer a financial aid report to every accepted student. This report lists two different prices: a sticker price, and a net price.

The total yearly cost of a college education is called its sticker price. This price includes the total cost of yearly tuition, books, room and board, and any fees the campus might charge like a parking permit or library card fee. The financial aid report starts with this sticker price, and then subtracts a student’s financial need, scholarships, grants, and other forms of aid from the total, leaving the net price. The net price is what a student will actually pay to attend a college.

As you prepare to apply to college, it’s important to remember that the prices you might see listed of the colleges or universities you want to attend are not the price you will pay. Many students get discouraged by the high sticker prices at competitive private colleges, and decide they won’t even try applying there. This is a huge mistake because sometimes the colleges with the highest sticker prices offer the lowest net prices to students who don’t have a lot of money.

This is why net price is a more important number to consider than sticker price. Did you know College Greenlight’s college profiles include a college’s net price based on a student’s income bracket? Once you’ve completed your College Greenlight profile, you’ll be able to see the average net price for students like you for hundreds of colleges that you may be interested in–and get an accurate picture of how much going there can cost. 



Another tool to help students determine net price is a net price calculator. A net price calculator is a tool that estimates what a college will cost you based on your family income, scholarship information, and other factors. Net price calculators are free to use.

Click here to access the US Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator 

Make sure to bookmark that link onto your web browser. It will allow you to type in the name of any college in the country, and will take you directly to the college’s net price calculator.

College can and should be affordable. That’s why we’re here to help you. If you have any questions about net price, please let us know in the comments. If you are interested in applying for scholarships, make sure to fill out a free College Greenlight student profile. We have a database of thousands of scholarships that is updated daily.

Your Comments

2 Comments so far

  1. Another tip: Many colleges use the College Board’s Net Price Calculator. If you fill it out for one college, you can save your information and then it re-use for other colleges that use the College Board’s calculator. This will save a lot of time! You can find a list of all of the colleges that use the College Board’s NPC here:

    Also, if you’re a student using Net Price Calculators, don’t guess at your parent’s income and assets — ask them to help you enter the information using their most recent Federal tax return. You’ll get a more reliable estimate of your likely financial aid that way.

    • John Sheridan says:

      The problem with the College Board’s NPC is that it’s out of compliance with HEOA standards and requirements as they pertain to net price calculators. The simple fact that it requires a user-name (even if faux) in order just to use it for even a single session is non-compliant.

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