With the costs of attending college steadily rising, the pressure to lock down funds can be overwhelming. But the average student pays far less than the sticker price, particularly those whose families make less than $30,000 per year. Why? Financial Aid.
And thanks to the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), which requires every aid-granting university to publish their average net price, everyone can get a good idea of how much they will actually pay to attend a university before they apply.
Net price, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, is generated by subtracting the average amount of federal, state/local government, or institutional grant and scholarship aid from the total cost of attendance. Total cost of attendance is the sum of tuition and required fees, books and supplies, and the weighted average for room and board, other expenses.
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Net price is lowest for students who come from low income households, because they tend to receive the most financial aid. The following graph shows what these students can expect to pay per year to attend college, with average housing, book, and other required fees included, in comparison to in-state tuition.
Colleges that offer the most savings when compared to in-state tuition are in the upper left hand corner. Take, for example, Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, where the sticker price for tuition is $45,000. Low income students can expect to save $27,000; paying on average $18,000 a year for tuition and associated fees.
Note that we’ve focused on the most common range of net prices in this graph, but there are outliers which are not shown (for example, sometimes financial aid is so generous that net aid ends up being negative).
The nation’s best schools are often outliers, so following is a graph showing sticker price tuition vs. net price of attendance for schools which FindTheBest ranks as the best, with a Smart Sating of 95 or higher.
Note the smart rating is a weighted score based on the following attributes, admission selectivity, academics excellence, expert rankings from Forbes, US News, and ARWU, financial affordability, and career readiness.
Washington University in St. Louis, for example, has an in-state tuition of $42,000, but the average net price for low income students is -$1,890. The financial aid that Wash U awards students actually outweighs the cost of attendance for the average low income student.
Other schools—such as Amherst, California Institute of Technology, Haverford and Harvard—have an average net price of $300-$1,300 for students who come from low income families.
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