What You Need to Know About the Cost of College

The cost of a college education is a significant investment. No matter what a family’s budget is, it's important to know a few key financial terms at the start of the college admissions process.

Some of the financial aid information will be available on a college’s website. Other information may not be readily accessible. Contact the admissions office directly with specific questions. And, if they are not straightforward with their answers, that’s a red flag.

Here are 7 important terms to get you started:

Net Price Calculator

Every college is required to offer a net price calculator on their website. Families are encouraged to submit basic financial/academic information into the online tool in order to get an estimate for how much money they will be expected to pay for the student’s first year of college.

TIP: How to Negotiate Your Financial Aid Package

Merit Scholarships

Most colleges (except Ivy League schools and a handful of similarly selective colleges) offer merit scholarships. These scholarships are given to students because of their athletic, artistic or academic abilities. Merit scholarships are usually renewed annually as long as the student stays in good academic standing.

Need Based Financial Aid

This is aid given to a student based on demonstrated financial need. All financial aid is re-evaluated each year and may change based on the student/family situation.

Need Blind Admissions

A small group of highly competitive colleges practices need blind admissions which means a student’s financial need is left out of the admissions process. This benefits students who qualify for financial aid as this is not a detriment to their chances of admission.


Learn more about need blind admissions in Sara's Op-Ed for the Star-Telegram.


Need Aware Admissions

A student’s financial need may factor into the admissions process. This can translate into a higher standard for admission if a student needs financial aid.

Meeting Full Need

Only a handful of highly selective colleges will be able to meet the full financial need for all students admitted. If a college doesn’t meet a student’s full need, the family will likely need to take out loans to cover the cost of college.

Average Indebtedness

Families can tell how generous a financial aid program the college has based on its average indebtedness of its students once they graduate. This is the average amount of money their graduates have to pay back.

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As you begin the college search, find out the price of and the financial aid available at all the colleges on your list. You don’t want to wait until the application process or after acceptances roll in to determine if each college on the list is viable and affordable.