Frequently Asked Questions

ShoppingSheet.com allows prospective college students and their families to quickly compare schools with an estimated net price of attendance.

What is ShoppingSheet.com?

ShoppingSheet.com is a free tool that allows prospective college students and their families to research college options based on an individual estimate of net price of attendance. Our tool collects basic information about academic performance and financial circumstances to determine an estimate.

How does ShoppingSheet.com work?

ShoppingSheet.com begins with data provided by colleges annually to the U.S. Department of Education and combines it with information published by colleges and feedback from financial aid reports our users provide about their experience at various colleges. Then ShoppingSheet.com evaluates millions of proprietary models about the financial aid practices of U.S. colleges. Based on a user’s specific academic and financial profile, ShoppingSheet.com estimates the net price for the student to attend specific colleges.

Where does the data for ShoppingSheet.com come from?

In addition to the data we obtain from our users' financial aid reports, much of our data comes directly from the U.S. Department of Education's “Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System” known as IPEDS. This is the same data used by many college-related websites and national college ranking lists. IPEDS collects many types of data such as overall institutional characteristics, information about a school's financial aid grants, endowment, enrollment, degrees granted, faculty salaries, and demographic data. The U.S. Department of Education also provides a College Scorecard that assists in evaluating the loan default rate and average debt upon graduation for most colleges. For computing financial aid estimates, we also consider data from other sources such as U.S. Census, tax/income, and housing valuation data by geographic location.

Data from IPEDS is often a couple of years old and the age of a given data point varies by the type of data, when it was collected and when it is released by IPEDS. Sometimes we do not provide the raw IPEDS data but estimate fields such as costs based upon our analysis of historical trends and projected inflation.

For U.S. Department of Education data, our current, primary Data Sources - IPEDS: hd(2015), gr200(2015), ef_d(2015), ef_c(2015), c_a(2015), ic(2015), ic_ay(2016), sfa(2014-2015), f_f2(2014-2015), College Scorecard: scorecard(2014).

Is the net price provided by ShoppingSheet.com accurate?

Our net price are provided as estimates and may not reflect the actual net price you receive in a financial aid award letter from a particular college or university. Generally, our models are able to provide costs that are accurate to within 10-20% of the costs provided by actual financial aid reports or as estimated by colleges' net price calculators.

We strive to provide a quick and convenient user experience that doesn't require much effort. In accomplishing this, ShoppingSheet.com makes a number of assumptions based on statistical data when calculating estimated net prices. For example, many private colleges ask for information about home equity, tax losses, # of employees, whether the family owns and lives on a farm, etc. We do not ask these questions in our default mode, but instead make assumptions about typical answers in our basic model. Users can choose to provide detailed family and financial information to get the most accurate estimate of Expected Family Contribution.

We encourage users to take advantage of the colleges' net price calculators to receive a more accurate estimate of net cost, and then share that data with ShoppingSheet.com when possible. Of course, if you have received an actual financial aid award letter from a college, please share that with us too. By providing us with your official net price estimates or data from award letters, you can help to improve the accuracy of our estimates.

What if my net price on ShoppingSheet.com is very different from the one provided by the college's net price calculator?

Help us get better! Provide us with data from the college's net price calculator or financial aid award letter and we can use that information to provide better estimates in the future.

Does ShoppingSheet.com factor in external scholarships?

No, ShoppingSheet.com currently only estimates costs based primarily on grants and scholarships provided directly from the federal government (e.g., Pell Grants), state governments, and the college or university. Our models do not take into account scholarships or grants from third-party organizations.

Does ShoppingSheet.com work for all types of students?

Currently, ShoppingSheet.com is able to provide estimates for students interested in pursuing an undergraduate degree as full-time, first-time students. However, students returning to college or transferring between institutions can use these estimates as a guide in planning their college options.

How do you use my data?

We value your privacy. Please see our Privacy Policy for more information.

Can I save my estimates and data and come back to it later?

Yes. You have the option of creating a user account. This will enable you to save your settings on our servers via a secure connection.

Is this service free?

ShoppingSheet.com provides data to users free of charge. We are able to do this by offering advertising and affiliate offers through partner companies and colleges. As described in our Privacy Policy, these partners do not have access to the data that you provide directly to ShoppingSheet.com.

What is a “Net Price” and how is it different from a “Sticker Price”?

The “sticker price” of any college is a listing of the cost of tuition, books and living expenses, while the “net price” is the total out-of-pocket expense to attend AFTER all financial aid, merit-based aid and scholarships are included. (i.e. $20,000 “sticker price” minus $15,000 scholarship/merit-aid equals a $5,000 “net price”)

What is a “Net Price Calculator”?

The federal government passed legislation in 2011 requiring all colleges to provide transparency in college costs to prospective students. “Net Price Calculators” are available from all schools.

What is an Award Letter?

When you are accepted to a college, you should receive an estimate of your costs to attend the college. This is the "award letter" and it should include important financial information like grants, work-study, scholarships and student loans. Before the U.S. Department of Education created the "Shopping Sheet", a key problem with award letters was there was no standard format for showing this information.

What is a Shopping Sheet and why did the U.S. Government create it?

A shopping sheet is a standardized form used by many colleges to facilitate the comparison of multiple colleges. Federal regulation states that all colleges must have a Net Price Calculator and suggests that they use a “Shopping Sheet” to display the results.

The standardized "Shopping Sheet" is designed to reduce confusion about college costs, and help families avoid making poor financial decisions. For example, "College A" might meet a student's $40,000 financial need with all grants whereas "College B" might meet the need with $40,000 in loans. Both colleges may advertise they meet 100% of each family's financial need, but if the student attends College B, they might graduate with $160,000 in debt whereas the student could graduate debt-free from College A. The Shopping Sheet format helps families see the net price of college and makes it clear than loans have to be repaid but grants and scholarships do not have to paid back.

Please see the Department of Education website for more information.

Why is a Net Price Estimate important?

Traditionally, Shopping Sheets are provided near the end of the process (with an award letter). ShoppingSheet.com moves the most vital net price estimates (standardized financial estimates) to the beginning of the process!

Why should I create a ShoppingSheet.com account?

You will be able to move at your own pace, providing additional financial and personal information along the way.

Also, once your profile is complete, you'll be able to compare all schools in on our platform with your account as opposed to providing that information separately to each school.

Have access to our other services (MyCollegePrice.com and CollegeRaptor.com) to help optimize your college search.

How accurate are ShoppingSheet.com's estimates?

Our college cost estimates are often accurate to within $1,000, even for fairly complex financial circumstances. However, it is important to note that our estimates are just that--estimates. Our results may not match the results of a college's net price calculator, especially if the college has not provided us with their full financial aid policies or if the user enters a limited amount of financial information instead of using our full calculator. We do not warrant our estimates and suggest that you contact each college's financial aid office before making a final decision about your college application list.