Have a conversation about the cost of college
Discussing money can be an uncomfortable topic for even adults to broach, but it's important to have a sit down with your student about paying for college so they have a better idea of what college costs as well as how and who will be paying for it.
Start with the basics
The cost of college is more than just tuition and required fees. There’s also room and board (that is, housing and food for the academic year), books and supplies needed for classes, living expenses and transportation expenses to get to and from the college.
Net price vs. listed price
This is often where families get confused, but it's vital that you understand the difference. When you see the cost for one academic year posted on a college's website, don't assuming that is what you will pay. Only a small percentage of students, generally those from the wealthiest families, pay the full amount. Most students benefit from financial aid as determined by the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (or FAFSA).
Using a number of factors (not just income), the FAFSA estimates how much need-based aid each student is eligible to receive. That can changes depending on such things as the cost of each college and the number of students you have in college.
To get an idea of how much a college might cost BEFORE you apply or fill out the FAFSA, use the college's net price calculator. By entering some of the financial information unique to your family, these calculators will give you a better idea of how much the college will cost based on your specific financial circumstance. This adjusted cost is referred to as "net price" and is a more accurate estimate of the college's cost.
Filling out net price calculators with your student provides a good opportunity for you have a candid discussion about cost before any college applications are submitted. To help get you started, we've compiled a list of links to each of our member college's net price calculator.
You can also use the FAFSA4CASTER to get an estimate of your expected family contribution and eligibility for financial aid. This tool has fewer questions than the actual FAFSA and requires you to enter less personal information.
When to file the FAFSA
You can file the FAFSA beginning on October 1 for the upcoming academic year. It can pull in your previous year's tax information so there is no need to wait until after January 1. Remember: To be considered for federal, state and institutional aid and be offered the most complete financial aid package, you must complete the FAFSA.
Need help managing all deadlines? We've gathered together the key admissions and financial aid deadlines for our colleges in once place to make it a little easier.
Need more information and guidance? These past articles might help:
- Keep your options open by finding the real cost of college
- What you need to know about applying for financial aid
- Considering financial aid
- Answers on affordability
- Where to turn for college planning, prep advice