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November 20, 2019

Understanding College Costs: Sticker Price vs. Net Price

 Understanding College Costs:  Sticker Price vs. Net Price

Photo by Gratisography from Pexels

So fundamentally, students and parents know that colleges can be expensive but often they really don't know how much college really costs.  Whether you are thinking about college as something that will be over a decade away or you are building your list of colleges to apply to, take some time to understand college costs.  The first step is breaking down the college costs.  

What is Sticker Price?

Every college has a Sticker Price that is a the fully loaded retail price of every component of college costs.  This includes tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and loan fees.  Many colleges refer to the Sticker Prices as the cost of attendance on their website and financial aid offers. For some of these components, there are are variations in annual price.  For instance, actual tuition costs may be driven by the number of credits taken per enrollment period.  For room and board, the cost will be dependent on your housing option (i.e., single room vs. share with a room mate, apartment vs dorm, meal plan, etc.).  

What is Net Price?

Once many families start breathing heavily when they look at the Sticker Price.  Luckily, many breath easier when they better understand Net Price.  Much like the Sticker Price of a new car on the Honda lot, most people pay a lower amount.  College Net Price uses that sticker price/cost of attendance subtracts all the free money sources you are awarded.    

National Averages by College Type

To give you a sense of the difference of Sticker Price vs Net Price let's look at the national averages.  The average Net Price of  full-time students enrolled in private nonprofit four-year institutions in 2019-20 is $27,400 vs. $49,870 in Sticker Price according to the College Board.  In comparison in 2019-20, the average Net Price of  full-time student  enrolled in  public four-year colleges is  $15,400 vs. $21,950 in Sticker Price.


Colleges publish the average Net Price for all their students who receive some sort of free money for the prior prior year.  Plus, many colleges break these averages into smaller slices by income bands.  If you are one of the folks who is trying to get a gauge of what college costs, the good news is that Quatro makes it easy to estimate your these Net Prices not just for one year but for all four years.  We use the published data and applies the historic 3 percent rate of increase as reported by the College Board's Trends in College Pricing.


If you are compiling your list of college to apply to and want to get a better estimate of your Net Price from a specific college, find the colleges Net Price Calculator.  Typically, these calculators will ask a series of questions on the family income, assets, household size,  academic achievement, and other factors.  Some of the calculators are very sophisticated and will calculate a fairly accurate Net Price for one year.  If you want to know how far this number will stretch in relationship to your savings and cash from income, then use Quatromoney to see side-by-side comparisons of your family's financing options.

Photograph of Colleen Krumwiede
Colleen Krumwiede
Co-Founder & Chief Marketing Officer

Colleen MacDonald Krumwiede is a financial aid and paying for college expert with over a decade of financial aid experience at Stanford GSB, Caltech, and Pomona College and another decade at educational finance and technology companies servicing higher education.  She guides go-to-market strategy and product development at Quatromoney to transform the way families afford college.

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