Most accurate Financial aid calculators - EDMIT, Tuition Tracker, College Raptor, Net price?

Hi, Does anyone know which of these might be closest to actual costs? They seem to vary widely. For example Union College - EDMIT $10536, Tuition Tracker $24845, College Raptor $22880, Net Price Calculator $37380.
We are low-income so our final college decision will be based on cost and I can’t figure out how to determine even a ballpark price.

Use the net price calculator on the college website.

Are the parents divorced? Do they own real estate in addition to their primary residence? Are they self employed or own a business? Are you an international student? If NO to these questions, the net price calculator on the college website will be more accurate than a third party one.


I agree with @thumper1. We always used the NPC on the university’s web site, and there were always spot on for us with the exception that some accurately predicted merit aid and some did not.

However, we are still happily married and we do not own a small business, farm, or rental property.

One daughter had a friend who was a very strong student but who’s parents were divorced and owned a small business. This friend needed to do two years at community college and then transfer to an in-state public university that was within driving distance of her father’s home so that she could live with him. She did however do very well with this (and recently graduated university).

If the financial aid offered by a college is significantly less than what their NPC showed you have a basis for an appeal. If the financial aid offered is less than what a third party calculator shows any appeal will be denied.

We found the NPC to be very accurate, too, but again nothing complicated in our financial situation. I would re-run it and double check the data you are putting in. Keep in mind that your definition of low income may not come close to what the schools think of as low income. Also, the school’s definition of your need may not resemble what you are willing and able to pay. D20 attends a different meets full need school and we pay less than half of what Union’s NPC generates.

Keep in mind that Union College is a school that does not meet 100% demonstrated need. They have a comprehensive fee of $76,857.

Union college states:

  • Students who demonstrate financial need are offered a financial aid package that generally consists of a grant, loan and work opportunity.

  • The average need-based scholarship is $38,500. Need-based aid is evaluated annually. If your family’s financial situation is similar from year to year, you can expect your aid to be renewed at a comparable level.

  • Starting with the class entering in Fall 2020, to help more families overcome financial obstacles to Union, we offer Making U Possible grants to students who apply for financial aid, but who otherwise would not qualify for need-based aid or would qualify for only minimal amounts.

Thanks to Making U Possible, families who have an EFC – as measured through the CSS Profile – up to $50,000 (average family income of $100,000) can expect a minimum of $30,000 in grant and scholarship assistance.

Families with an EFC between $50,000 and $90,000 (incomes as high as $250,000) would be eligible for a minimum of $20,000.

  • I think that they should have stated family Income vs stating EFC.

So even if you get their largest award of 30K, there is still going to be over $40k left on the table which your family will be responsible for paying. I think the 37K would probably be about right.

You state that you are low income.

Are you NYS resident? If yes, are you opportunity program eligible?

Is there a non-custodial parent?

Union ask for financials for both the custodian and non custodian parent (this includes NYS EHOP eligible students).

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Actually, they claim they do meet full demonstrated need. I don’t know when they changed but that’s what they say. You always give such great info and advice so I hate to disagree :slightly_frowning_face:


Is the Union College $37K NPC estimate using the ‘limited family and financial data’ option, or the ‘full family and financial data’ that asks for much more detail?

If Union College is giving you a $37K EFC, it seems there is likely a mistake if you are low-income. I have to put in $180K income and $25K assets to get $37.9K EFC (on the partial data option). Did you include home equity in your assets (you shouldn’t)? Also, as thumper says if you parents are divorced, own a home, or own real estate beyond a primary home the NPCs won’t be accurate.

Although the Union NPC asks for academic stats, when I play around with those it doesn’t change the EFC (again just in the partial data option), so your student could receive merit aid that decreases the EFC further.

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Thanks for the catch.

While Union now meets 100% demonstrated need, they are need-aware :woman_facepalming:

Union states:

At Union, we have a pretty generous financial aid budget – about $30 million per year. But we are need-aware, meaning a student’s ability to pay is factored into whether or not he or she will be accepted.

Some don’t think it’s fair, that some students might be rejected because they can’t pay. But here’s our perspective: once we admit you to Union, we will find a way for you to attend. We will put together a realistic financial aid package based on your family’s ability to pay, and you will most likely be able to afford our school.

I remember when they were need-blind but did not meet 100% demonstrated need (with the exception of HEOP students)

If OP states s/he is low income and the net price calculator returned a net price of 37k, there are other things that come into play- divorce, business owners, farm, real estate outside of the primary home, or their take on what they consider low income.

The one from the college’s own web site will be the best estimate for that specific college. Note that some colleges use a customized-for-the-college template from an outside source (e.g. College Board) that will be linked from the college’s web site.

That said, not all colleges have high quality net price calculators on their own web sites. For those with low quality net price calculators, the best estimate may not be a very good estimate (although estimates from sources other than the college itself are still likely to be worse estimates). Also note that some colleges estimate merit scholarships in their net price calculators while others do not.

If the parents are divorced, you must check carefully whether the college wants financial information from both parents; if so, then both parents’ financial information must be included in the net price calculator.

Thanks all for these great responses, extremely helpful. Our income is usually around $35000 per year and we meet the eligibility guidelines for free reduced lunch. But we are self-employed and we own a small rental property which grosses $850 per month. This is my 3rd kiddo going off to college and our EFC has typically been $0. The Union calculator does ask the value of our home which is $482,000 due to the housing boom and we only have $70,000 left on the mortgage. Maybe that skewed it?

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For anyone else who might have unusual financial circumstance ie self employed etc. I have had some luck approaching the colleges financial aid offices directly for an early read. Especially important if you are hoping to take advantage of the benefits of Early Decision.

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I think this is the villain. It’s not the $850 that is so bad but the value of the rental property itself which is considered an asset.

Union College requires CSS Profile, so home value and equity may come in to play (they do ask for those numbers on their NPC). I don’t know to what degree they hit home equity though, if at all…a call to the FA office should easily clarify.

If you have a rental property, the equity in that home is also considered as an asset by colleges.

How much equity do you have in that rental property?

Probably $230,000 in equity.

Multiply that $230,000 by 5.6%. For fafsa purposes, that number will be added to your family contribution.

EXCEPT with your income…it’s possible you qualify for the simplified needs test over fafsa. Your assets would not be counted on the FAFSA.

But there is no simplified needs test for schools using the CSSProfile. I’m wondering if that is the difference you are seeing.

Your income alone wouldn’t be an issue, but you have primary home equity and a rental income with equity. So $230,000 in equity in the rental, plus $410,000 or so in equity in your primary residence. That’s a lot of real estate equity that some schools will expect you to tap.

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Thanks so much for taking the time Thumper1, very helpful.