Costs shown in our chart are those reported by the schools' online net-cost calculators. Because your family's financial picture is likely very different from that of our profiles, you should perform your own estimates. The schools' calculators are intended to estimate costs based on aid available the previous year. As discussed in our article, some schools' calculators provide more accurate estimates than others'. The amounts shown do not include costs schools estimated for books and supplies, travel, or miscellaneous expenses. As you can see below, numerous financial data were entered into the calculators; our researchers strived to enter the same financial data for each school, but in some cases the calculators weren't clear on how to report some types of data or used calculators that didn't consider (or even ask for) important financial information.

Profile A

  • Parents' annual income = $50,000, with father earning $25,000 per year and mother earning $25,000 per year
  • $0 in assets
  • Rent their home
  • College student is only dependent

Profile B

  • Parents' annual income = $100,000, with father earning $50,000 per year and mother earning $50,000 per year
  • $50,000 in assets
  • Rent their home
  • One dependent

Profile C

  • Parents' annual income = $100,000, with father earning $50,000 per year and mother earning $50,000 per year
  • $50,000 in assets
  • Rent their home
  • Two dependents, both college students

Profile D

  • Parents' annual income = $200,000, with father earning $100,000 per year and mother earning $100,000 per year
  • $100,000 in assets
  • Own a home purchased in 2000 for $500,000, currently valued at $500,000, with $250,000 remaining on mortgage
  • One dependent

Assumptions and Inputs Used for All Profiles:

  • Student is eligible for schools' in-state tuition rates (if applicable), and in-county tuition rates (if applicable).
  • Student was born in July 1996.
  • Student will graduate high school in May 2014.
  • Student is single with no dependent children.
  • Student has no military service.
  • Student plans to live on campus.
  • Student and parents are U.S. citizens.
  • Parents are married.
  • Parents filed a Form 1040 for the most recent tax year. Because the student had no income, s/he did not file a tax return last year.
  • All income earned by the student's parents was from wages from their jobs (no business income, investment income, dividend income, etc.)
  • For their most recent tax filing, the parents made no adjustments to their income (in other words, their Adjusted Gross Income equaled their income).
  • Student's oldest parent was born in 1970.
  • Parents had no non-taxable income.
  • Parents had no tax credits.
  • Parents made no retirement fund contributions.
  • For their most recent tax return, the student's parents took the standard deduction rather than itemized.
  • No one in the student's family pays or receives child support or alimony.
  • Student has no savings, investments, or trusts. All of the student's parents' savings are held in cash equivalent accounts, with no money is owed on investments.
  • Family had no medical expenses that were not covered by insurance.
  • Family does not own a business, farm, or real estate (although the family we used for Profile D does own its residence).
  • Student attends a public high school.
  • Student's parents did not attend the college.
  • Student's cumulative high school grade point average is 3.8, taking honors courses.
  • Student will have taken 4 AP classes prior to graduation.
  • Student's class rank is 50 out of 500.
  • Student's SAT scores are 650/680/650.
  • Student's ACT score is 30.
  • If site asked us to report "income after taxes," we assumed the following:
    • Profile A: $40,000 in income (paid 20% in total taxes, 10% in federal taxes)
    • Profile B: $70,000 in income (paid 30% in total taxes, 15% in federal taxes)
    • Profile C: $75,000 in income (paid 25% in total taxes, 13% in federal taxes)
    • Profile D: $130,000 in income (paid 35% in total taxes, 25% in federal taxes)