How Much Will College Cost My Family?

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In 2011 the federal government required colleges and universities to publish “net price calculators” on their web sites. These tools are supposed to help families figure out which colleges they can afford. The calculators take into account family income, number of kids in college, state of residency, and other factors. But they’re often hard to use and time-consuming. Our guest this week has made this process simpler and more accessible.

Abigail Seldin was a Rhodes scholar getting her PhD in anthropology at Oxford when she came up with the idea for College Abacus, a web tool that pulls in data from about 4,000 different college web sites.

To illustrate that the price of college is different for every family, Seldin’s team put together a series of net price calculations for fictional characters, based on details from books and movies. For example, they ran the numbers on Bella Swan, the heroine of Stephanie Myers’ “Twilight” series, and found that Dartmouth would be more affordable for her family than the University of Alaska-Southeast:

Sample net price calculation for Bella Swan, a character from the "Twilight" series.

Sample net price calculation for Bella Swan, a character from the “Twilight” series.