Comparing aid offers

Finding the best financial aid options

Remember, the cost of tuition listed on a school’s website is likely not the price you'll pay.

The sticker price is the initial, “published” cost of attending a college before any financial aid is considered, while the net price is the actual cost a student will pay after taking into account scholarships and financial aid.

It’s crucial for students and their families to focus on the net price when evaluating the affordability of a college or university, as it provides a more accurate picture of the out-of-pocket expenses.

What is the cost of attendance?

The cost of attendance includes tuition, academic and student fees, estimates for on-campus housing, food, books, course materials, supplies and equipment, transportation and personal expenses. It takes into account your residency, major and campus.

Think of the cost of attendance as the cost of the university if you received no financial aid or scholarships. So, the cost of attendance is not likely the amount you will pay. For that, read on!

What is the net price?

The net price is the actual cost that you and your family need to pay in a given academic year (fall and spring semesters combined). It takes your estimated cost of attendance and then factors in all forms of financial aid and scholarships that you have qualified for.

The net price (what you’re actually responsible for paying) is why it's so important to apply for scholarships and file your FAFSA. While students and families can experience “sticker shock” when seeing the estimated cost of attendance, it's likely that your net price is lower.

Ways to estimate your net price

ASU, NAU and UArizona all have a tool called the “net price calculator.” By answering a few questions about your residency, program of interest, academic performance and family finances, the tools can give you and your family an idea of what your net price will be.

Received your offers? Let’s compare them.

All schools to which you have been accepted will send you (sometimes electronically) your financial aid award. Each school organizes these a bit differently, but they follow a similar format. These will include:

Cost of attendance

Tuition + fees, and estimates for housing, books and food, and transportation

Federal aid

The total amount of federal aid that you qualify for based on information you filed in the FAFSA. Federal aid comes in three forms:

  1. Grants: Financial aid that generally doesn’t have to be repaid, like the Pell Grant. If the award says grant, it’s free money.

  2. Loans: Borrowed money for college or career school; your loans must be repaid with interest. If the award says loan, this will need to be repaid in later years.

  3. Work-Study: A federal work program through which undergraduates and graduate students at participating schools earn money to help pay for school. If you participate in Work-Study, you earn money through employment while you’re in college that goes directly to your tuition. 

State grants

In Arizona, you may be qualified for the Arizona Promise Program, which offers gift aid that you do not have to pay back.


Based on your academic performance, family income and other factors, the college or university may offer you scholarships, which are financial awards that do not have to be repaid.

Net price

The bottom line. Based on the costs minus loans, grants and scholarships, this is the remaining amount that you will have to pay out of pocket to attend the school.

Can my net price change before I enroll?

Yes. Please keep in mind that your financial aid notification net price may change from the time you receive it to the time you enroll. If you switch campuses or degree programs, or are awarded an additional scholarship, the net price may be impacted.

At ASU, NAU and UArizona, your financial aid notification comes to you electronically, so it will be updated if you make any changes. If you make a change, like changing your major, check back to see how it impacts your award.

A note about the natural temptation of the “bigger scholarship.”

It’s possible to get a bigger scholarship from a university, but the net price of attending is still more expensive. A common example is earning a larger scholarship at an out-of-state university, but with nonresident tuition rates and costs associated with travel, you wind up paying more to attend than an in-state school that offers a smaller scholarship.

There certainly can be social and psychological pressures to enroll in the school that offers you a bigger scholarship. A bigger scholarship makes you feel special and signals that the school really wants you. 

However, weigh those psychological factors against financial factors, your goals and which school feels like the best fit. While your college decision is almost never based on one factor, comparing schools by the bottom line, net price empowers you to make the best financial decision when choosing colleges.

Need more assistance understanding your award?

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