College net price calculators are becoming an increasingly important component of the college search process. Given their relatively recent addition to the college discovery toolkit available to families, the team at Costoflearning.com thought it would be valuable to assess how accurate they are.
To do this, we took a close look at the output from the calculators of 105 top colleges — the fifty flagship state universities and fifty-five private colleges – and assessed how accurate they are. The results were very mixed.
With few exceptions, the state universities’ calculators were accurate. Surprisingly, more of them erred on the side of overstating the net price than on understating it (i.e., the actual prices they charged were lower than what the net price calculator indicated).
For the private colleges, the results were different. In general, these calculators had wider discrepancies than the state universities and these colleges were more often biased on the side of understating the net price (i.e., the actual prices they charged were higher than the net price calculator indicated).
The conclusion? A net price calculator is useful as a starting point and comparison tool. However, don’t expect it to give you precise answers for what your specific pricing will be. Keep in mind that net price calculators are in their first generation of development with the mandate only a few years old. There is a wide variety of calculator types and approaches and these are not always consistent with each other. We expect them to improve over time.
To learn more details about our findings and see lists of colleges that over-estimate or under-estimate net pricing, you can read our blog post over at costofllearning.com.
About the Author
Jimmy Becker is the founder and CEO of Costoflearning.com, a website providing a universal net price calculator that makes it easy for families to determine the true cost of college and compare it across a range of colleges.