On October 17, #CollegeCash welcomed Abigail Seldin, CEO and Co-Founder of College Abacus (@CollegeAbacus) to discuss how to compare college costs. College Abacus went online with a beta in Oct 2012, and launched its full site in Oct 2013. The website provides financial aid estimates to students before they decide where to apply to college. It helps students and families learn how much financial aid to expect from different schools, based on individual student circumstances, before students apply or any financial aid determination is made.

We started by discussing the Net Price Calculator (NPC). These calculators provide the only reliable way to find out where you will get financial aid before you apply. All colleges are required BY LAW to post a NPC online which shows TOTAL cost (tuition, fees, etc.) minus anticipated grant aid.

When asked how College Abacus can compare college costs, Abigail said the site is like the “Kayak.com” of NPCs. College Abacus does not set prices – they just report the estimates on college sites. College Abacus enables students to access and compare the same financial aid estimates that appear on college net price calculators.

Abigail said that different schools ask different questions because they have different rules governing their financial aid award policy, and need different information. Each NPC brand asks different questions. College Abacus lists the NPC type used by each school on its results page. Schools that choose to offer merit aid estimates also need to ask for additional, non-financial information.

College Abacus users can generate estimates for 4000+ schools, and compare three colleges at a time for free. With Abacus100, users can get personalized results for 100 top-ranked schools for $75. As a comparison, Abigail pointed out that $75 is the application fee cost for Harvard, so it makes sense to identify schools with financial aid on College Abacus for one cost before applying separately to individual colleges and paying application fees at each.

It is important to compare the cost of every school because most don’t meet a student’s full financial need. Students need to identify affordable schools before “falling in love” with one place only to find out later that they can’t afford to attend. If families compare costs before submitting applications, they can save application fees and ensure affordable options in the spring.

Families should start using College Abacus during the fall of the student’s senior year at the latest, when they are putting together the final application list. Only first-year college cost estimates are shown because federal law only requires schools to provide estimates for the first year of college.

College Abacus reports financial aid breakdowns as they appear on school websites, but not all offer information on work-study, merit, or loan estimates. By law, schools aren’t supposed to include loans in their NPCs, so College Abacus removed loans to help standardize results.

By law, NPC estimates only need to apply to first-year, first-time students with US citizenship so it is generally not helpful to transfer students or international students. Schools don’t design these NPCs for use by transfers or international students, so their results will not be accurate.

Three takeaways about comparing college costs:

1. If you’re still confused about NPCs, check out the 90 second introduction video on College Abacus!

2. Use your #CollegeCash discount code to try out Abacus 100.

3. If you get stuck on the financial information questions, use the Lifeline feature to send the questions to your parents. College Abacus will send them a secure, private link that will enable them to fill in the answers for you. You will get an alert when the information is submitted.

College Abacus:


Introduction video


Abacus100 video


Twitter (@CollegeAbacus)

Recent coverage of College Abacus:

Atlanta Journal-Constitution

CBS News Money Watch


Want more information? Visit College Financial Aid Advisors on the web or Tweet @JodiOkun with any questions that you might have about #CollegeCash. Hope to see you each week on Thursday nights at 10 pm EST/7 pm PST!


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