3 Tools to Easily Tell College Affordability and What You Can ACTUALLY Expect to Pay

Every student and family can benefit from adding financial aid into their college search. Why? Because not only do you want to go to a college that has the program you’re interested in, the social scene and the right academic environment, but you also want it to be affordable. Remember, you shouldn’t have your back against the wall second semester Senior year feeling like your only option is to take out a ton of loans (you know the type of “financial aid” you HAVE to pay back?) Take these three simple resources and incorporate them into your college search in a financially responsible way. Check out the extras at the bottom too, because there is just too much to share.



  1. Find your Expected Family Contribution number
    • This is roughly what a college will expect you as a family to pay per year towards your tuition price. Find your number with Bigfuture’s EFC Calculator and keep this number handy.
    • Note, this number may vary due to number of children in college, job loss, life change that alters income, etc.
  2. Net Price Calculator
    • Colleges are required to have them, which means all you need to do is go directly to your college’s website and access it on their financial aid page (or just in the college website’s search bar type Net Price Calculator)
    • You can expect to plug in numbers like your EFC number, GPA and test scores for an estimate of merit aid, etc.
    • Use this as a rough estimate of your financial aid package from that university. This number is not perfect, but it can give you an idea based off your Expected Family Contribution and what the university is able to traditionally offer.
    • By using this you will be able to find the Net Price (what the tuition is after you take out grants, etc.) versus the Sticker Price (published price on the college’s tuition website)
  3. National Center for Education Statistics
    • I love this website. LOVE it. Why? Because it gives
      incredibly useful and detailed information on colleges and universities financial aid offerings. So in depth that you can see not only the percentage of students receiving financial aid, but the breakdown of how much of it is loans, vs. scholarships and grants. Remember, loans qualify as “financial aid” so do not overlook these numbers. Be savvy! Access it here NCES College Navigator


A few final bonuses, because I think this is awesome (I know it’s beyond three, but there are too many goodies to leave out)

Good questions to ask a university

  • How competitive are your merit based scholarships?
  • What’s the percentage of need your university meets?
  • Are there any scholarship priority deadlines that are earlier than the published regular decision deadlines?
  • Do you have specific department or honors scholarships available? If so, how do I apply?

Extra online resources

The Western Undergraduate Exchange is a group of institutions in the western states that offer a hefty reduced tuition rate for out-of-state students making out-of-state an accessible option! A few
things to know:

  • Check the website for qualifications on WUE requirements.
  • In California we hear the “impacted” term a bit (there’s more students than spaces available so programs can be competitive and limiting), a good portion of these colleges have direct-entry programs with a nice low tuition rate…check them out!
  • Be open and explore! It can never hurt to research before you rule out an option.

Western Undergraduate Exchange


  • Families will complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) beginning October 1 of their Senior year. Think of the FAFSA4Caster as another tool similar to the Net Price Calculator to roughly estimate a family’s expected cost financial aid. Access it here FAFSA4Caster

Here’s to a future of AFFORDABLE education and all that extra money for you know…Spring Break trips? Or how about your business start up with your buddies in your dorm room. The possibilities are endless!

Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

3 thoughts on “3 Tools to Easily Tell College Affordability and What You Can ACTUALLY Expect to Pay

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