Colleges across the country are racing this month to be in compliance with a federal requirement that all schools have a Net Price Calculator (NPC) on their website by October 29. In theory, families will be able to enter a limited amount of financial data and be given a financial aid offer that reflects the institution’s aid philosophy and aid resources. The W&M NPC will be available this week.
Expectations range from… finally…an unveiling of shroud that envelops financial aid to, at the other extreme, the numbers not being worth the virtual space that they will occupy. The reality probably lies somewhere between these opposites. Families are understandably desperate to know much sooner about the potential cost. In many cases, what they will get from the NPC will give them a reasonable idea of eligibility. On the other hand, the usefulness of the estimate will depend on the timing and accuracy of the data entered. Don’t let your seventh grader complete it and hope the estimate will still be valid 6 years later! Moreover, the NPC has no narrative to explain special circumstances and cannot measure the many additional aspects of a family’s situation which cannot be fit into a small number of pre-set fields.
How to view the answer? Treat it as an additional tool to evaluate potential colleges, but realize that it will not be perfect and may be affected by changes in schools’ aid programs and federal regulations.
See you next time.