Find out what you'll really pay


You won't know exactly what you'll pay for any college until you're admitted and receive a letter or email from the college listing your total charges, or net price.

Typically, colleges send out financial aid letters each spring, notifying admitted students of any grants or scholarships they qualify for that may reduce their costs below the sticker price.

But students don't always have to wait for a letter to arrive in the mail to figure out just how much school is going to cost them. In fact, it has gotten a lot easier to estimate your net cost, sometimes even years before you apply.

A new federal law requires every college that receives federal aid to post a web "net price calculator" that provides an estimate of your likely cost to attend school after grants and scholarships are subtracted.

However, it's important to note that these calculators only produce estimates -- the numbers aren't set in stone. Your final number could change depending upon government budgets, your family's financial circumstances, your performance in high school, and the competition for funds the year you apply.

To get more specifics from any particular college, call the college's financial aid office. Many financial aid officers are happy to give better estimates if you provide more details about your situation.

Here are some links to tools that can help you find your net price:

U.S. Department of Education's College Navigator: The federal government lists the sticker and average net prices of every college, along with other important factors such as graduation rates.

MONEY's Net Price estimator: We have created a simple tool you can use to estimate your sticker and net price at any four-year college in the country. This site is attempting to list the web address of every college's calculator. This private company will prepare a side-by-side analysis of the net cost estimates (and other important factors) of up to six colleges for $49.

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