Net Cost Defined

Understanding What College Really Costs

What Is Cost of Attendance (COA)?

The published cost of attendance (COA), also called the "sticker price," is the sum of all costs associated with attending a particular college. COA has three components:

  • Tuition and fees, including room and board, as well as equipment and materials that are required of all students in a certain program of study
  • Books and supplies, which may include the cost of a personal computer and printer, classroom supplies, lab supplies, etc.
  • Other expenses, such as parking and transportation, program fees, etc.

COA varies from college to college. Public colleges have different COAs for in-state and out-of-state students. To qualify for in-state tuition, you must meet a state's residency requirements. Unlike public colleges, private colleges do not have in-state and out-of-state tuition. Additionally, since a majority of technical colleges are for-profit schools, they tend not to have different tuition rates for students who live in-state versus out-of-state. To get a published COA from a particular college, check its website or contact the admissions office.

Ask your TuitionHelp™ Student Aid Advisor about a College Cost & Planning Report® to help you understand the cost of attendance for full-time, undergraduate programs at up to 10 colleges of your choice.

Published COA vs. Net Cost of College

Remember, the COA does not represent your real cost for a particular college. College financial aid offices use their COA, along with your expected family contribution (EFC), to determine the amount of student aid you will be awarded as grants, loans, and scholarships. Your true net cost (also called "out-of-pocket cost") for a particular college is calculated by subtracting grants and scholarships from the published COA.

What Is Expected Family Contribution (EFC)?

Your EFC is an estimate of the amount of money that the government expects you to contribute to your education expenses. The federal government calculates your EFC using the information you provide on your FAFSA.

It is important to know that your EFC is a rationing tool to help determine aid eligibility and award amounts, not the lump sum you will necessarily pay out of pocket! A college's published cost of attendance minus your EFC is what colleges consider to be your "need." Your need can be subsidized through student aid, such as scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study.

Your EFC is calculated using prior-year income information. If your financial circumstances have changed considerably, speak with a financial aid administrator at the colleges that offer you aid to determine if your award can be adjusted.

Your TuitionHelp™ Student Aid Advisor will walk you through the FAFSA (Application for Federal Student Aid) to determine your EFC and eligibility for federal student aid.