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Sticker Price vs. Your Cost to Attend

One big variable in calculating best college values in monetary terms is the cost to attend. Unfortunately, it can be fairly difficult to discern what your true net cost might be. The stated “sticker price” that colleges report to the Department of Education is often not representative of what a majority of students will pay. In a Washington Post article, author and higher ed pundit Jeffrey Selingo wrote “If colleges continue to maintain that so few people actually pay the sticker price, then maybe it’s time for them to stop advertising it and develop a new pricing approach that is more realistic and transparent for more of their students.”

Colleges will often reduce a student’s cost, by supplying financial aid assistance, based on family income and academic success in high school. Schools are required to provide access to net price calculators so that students can estimate their true cost to attend, but not all students are even aware these calculators exist.

“This information gap matters,” stated a November 2014 report titled Transparency in College Costs from the Brookings Institution. “Research suggests that providing more information to prospective students regarding what it would actually cost to attend will have a substantive impact on their higher-education decision making.”

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