How Do These Calculators Work?
The Institute for College Access and Success (TICAS) published a report critiquing calculators at 16 different colleges. The results showed that many of the calculators are easy to find and use, while others are tucked away. With some, it is possible to complete a quick check-off and get an answer, while others force parents to go digging for figures not readily at hand. TICAS also felt that some colleges skewed the results to optimize their own costs compared to those of other colleges. In some cases, TICAS felt that colleges asked for unnecessary information or failed to protect privacy. Unfortunately, you’ll have to make do with whatever is available on your chosen college’s website(s). I experimented with several to give you an idea how they work.
The first one I tried was at the University of Cincinnati. I visited the UC’s home page, clicked on Admissions, then Financial Aid. I still couldn’t find the calculator, so I put Net Price Calculator in the website’s search bar, which brought me to the correct link. UC uses a calculator made available to it and to other colleges by CollegePortraits.org.
First, I had to click that I acknowledged and understood the legal disclaimer, which basically told me that the numbers I would get from the calculator would be estimates only and were not guaranteed—fair enough.
Questions included where the student will live, established state residency, and ascertained the basic demographics of age, marital status, and military experience. Next, I had to enter my income and the amount of taxes paid, then the student’s income and amount of taxes paid. This calculator estimated grant money available to me at about $2,000 higher than other calculators—possibly one of those attempts to make the costs sound better than they actually will be.
The next two calculators were identical, clearly adapted straight from the NCES website. Grant money available was very similar on both of them; the cost of college for my child changed only because the University of Arizona charges higher tuition than the University of Akron.