If you're seeing this message, it means we're having trouble loading external resources on our website.

If you're behind a web filter, please make sure that the domains *.kastatic.org and *.kasandbox.org are unblocked.

Main content

True cost of education

As you begin to explore your postsecondary education options, it's important to understand the difference between the cost of attendance (COA), and the net cost. Which one do you *actually* pay?

Figuring out the true cost of education

When you're researching the cost of attending a college or training program, you might come across two different terms: Cost of Attendance (COA) and net cost.
COA is the total estimated cost of attending a program, including all direct and indirect costs, like tuition, fees, room and board, books, and other expenses. But here's the cool part: you may not actually have to pay the full COA!
The net cost is the amount you'll actually pay after subtracting financial aid, like grants and scholarships, from the COA.
So, think of COA as the starting point, but definitely not the end cost. COA is the highest possible price for education that you can lower many different ways.

Finding COA and net cost

To find the COA for a specific college or program, you can usually visit the school's website and search for "Cost of Attendance" or "Tuition and Fees." Most schools will provide a breakdown of the costs, including tuition, fees, room and board, and other expenses.
To find the net cost, you'll need to know the amount of financial aid you're eligible for. This can include grants, scholarships, loans, and other forms of assistance. You can use a
, which is usually available on their website, or check your financial aid award letter if you've already applied and been accepted.

Calculating net cost

Now that we've established that net cost is the true cost you will pay to the school, let's talk about how you calculate it.
Calculating net cost is pretty simple - just subtract your financial aid from the COA:
Net cost=COAfinancial aid
Let's look at an example:
Imagine college X has a COA of $40,000, and you've been awarded $15,000 in financial aid. To find your net cost, subtract the financial aid from the COA:
Net cost=$40,000$15,000=$25,000
So, the true cost of attending college X for you would be $25,000, not $40,000.

Comparing schools with net cost

When comparing different colleges or programs, it's important to consider the net cost instead of just the COA. A school with a higher COA might actually have a lower net cost for you because of your financial aid package.
For example:
You are considering getting a degree from two different colleges: college A and college B. You research college A's cost of attendance and see that it is $30,000. The same degree program at college B has a cost of $35,000. Initially, college A seems more affordable.
You then look at their financial aid packages and compare the two:
CollegeCOAFinancial aidNet cost
In this case, even though College B has a higher COA, it has a lower net cost for you, making college B more affordable.

Understanding the true cost of education

By understanding COA and net cost, you can make more informed decisions about which college or postsecondary program is right for you. Always remember to consider the net cost when comparing schools, and use online tools like net price calculators to help estimate your costs. Happy school hunting!

Want to join the conversation?