They can be hard to find. Start by looking on the financial aid or admissions pages. If your search for a "net price calculator'' comes up empty, try looking for a "financial aid estimator'' or a "college cost calculator.''

Be sure you enter accurate information.

Use the calculators at institutions with steep sticker prices to check out aid packages before eliminating them as options.

The calculator determines an estimate for the cost of freshman year. Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of, cautions that some calculators could "understate the real bottom-line cost of college by thousands of dollars." For example, some colleges "front-load" grant dollars, giving significantly more aid to a student during freshman year.

Play with scenarios, calculating "what-if" scenarios about family income changes and academic achievement.

Questions? Call admissions or financial aid. Colleges are used to answering questions about estimated college costs.

Sources: Minnesota Private College Council, Institute for College Access and Success, Mark Kantrowitz