Cost of College: Sticker Price vs. Net Price

Fundamentally, students and parents know that college can be expensive. But just how much does college really cost? Regardless of whether the prospect of college costs is a decade away — or you’re currently amid the college application process — taking the time to fully understand the terminology of the costs associated with college is key. The first step is breaking it down. 

What is Sticker Price?

Every college has what’s called a Sticker Price — that’s the fully loaded price of every component of college costs. Often referred to as “cost of attendance” on college websites, this includes tuition, fees, room and board, books and supplies, personal expenses, and loan fees. Some of these components have variations in annual price. For instance, tuition costs may be driven by the number of credits taken per enrollment period. Room and board cost will be dependent on the housing option, for example a single room vs. sharing with a roommate. Other cost considerations include living in an apartment or in a dormitory, as well as the type of meal plan that’s chosen.  

What is Net Price?

Families may very well experience “sticker shock” when they take a look at the Sticker Price of college. However, many of them breathe a bit easier once they better understand the term “Net Price.”  Much like the Sticker Price of a new car on the dealership lot, many people end up paying a lower amount. College Net Price uses that sticker price/cost of attendance and then subtracts any free money sources that are awarded, for example grants and scholarships.    

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 2022-23 is $28,660 vs. $51,690 in Sticker Price, according to the College Board. In comparison, in 2022-23, the average Net Price of full-time students enrolled in public four-year colleges is $14,560 vs. $22,700 in Sticker Price.

Colleges publish the average Net Price for all students who receive some sort of free money for the prior year. Additionally, many colleges break these averages into smaller slices by income bands. If you are trying to gauge the cost of college, North Shore Bank can help. We make it easy to estimate college Net Prices not just for one year, but for all four years using our College Cost Estimator. Plus, we use the published data and apply the historic percent rate of increase as reported by the College Board's Trends in College Pricing.

If you are compiling your list of colleges to apply to and want to get a better estimate of your Net Price from a specific college, find the college's Net Price Calculator at the US Department of Education’s website. 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 relation to your savings and cash from income, use North Shore Bank’s College Cost Estimator. You’ll see side-by-side comparisons of your family's eligible financing options from federal student loans to private student loans, as well as using a North Shore Bank home equity loan line of credit.