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For current and prospective Penn students, the financial aid application process may soon come with fewer surprises.

By October, Student Financial Services will unveil a new net-price calculator on its website.

The addition of the calculator — the first of its type in the University’s history — comes as part of an effort to comply with the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. The legislation — which was enacted to give families a better sense of overall college costs — requires all U.S. colleges and universities to release their version of the calculator by Oct. 29.

Though Director of Student Financial Aid Bill Schilling said the calculator may offer some advantages for future Penn applicants, he is generally not in favor of the federal requirement.

“If we weren’t required to do so, I probably wouldn’t put the calculator up,” he said. “We’re not going to be getting as much input [on the calculator] as we would on an actual aid application, so the results from the two may diverge significantly.”

In November 2009, the U.S. Department of Education released a template for colleges to create their respective net-price calculators. Schilling, however, said using the government’s calculator would be “a totally useless exercise” for Penn.

“We do a much more comprehensive evaluation of families in our aid process than the [U.S.] Education Department does,” he said.

Schilling added that Penn is currently deciding between two different third-party vendors to provide the platform for the University’s calculator. Though he would not give the names of the providers, he hopes a decision will be made in early April.

David Hawkins, director of public policy and research at the National Association for College Admissions Counseling, thinks the calculator may be a useful tool for students if information is presented in a “meaningful, accurate and easily-accessible way.”

“To the degree that it can give an apples-to-apples comparison of total cost at different schools, I think it’s a very positive development,” he said.

Though he is generally not in support of the calculator, Schilling said that its implementation could help show lower-income students that Penn is affordable.

“There are students who are qualified for admission who don’t even get into the game because they figure [the University] is too expensive,” he said, adding that the net-price calculator may help break some of those misconceptions.

In general, students reacted positively to news of the upcoming change.

College senior Jeffrey Then, who has been on financial aid since his freshman year, thought the calculator was a “great idea.” Before he decided to attend Penn, Then remembers being frustrated by the lack of concrete information about his potential aid package.

“If I had access to something like the calculator back when I was in high school … it definitely may have changed where I ended up applying to school,” Then said.

Sam Allon — a junior at Conestoga High School in Berwyn, Pa. — will “definitely” use the net-price calculator before he applies to Penn this fall in order to “get a baseline look at where I stand,” he said.

Though College junior Jenn Gamarra said she would have tried the calculator before submitting her application, she does not think the results would have influenced her final college selection.

“College is an investment, and an investment in Penn is a good call to make,” Gamara, who is also on financial aid, said. “Getting into Penn was a privilege, and it wasn’t something that [my family] was going to give up because of money.”

Lucie Lapovsky, principal of the higher education firm Lapovsky Consulting, said there are various factors that a school should consider when creating its calculator — ranging from the required level of detail to the overall aesthetic appearance.

Schilling said the University’s version of the calculator will likely fall between two extremes — asking too many questions versus asking too few questions. He stressed that the ultimate goal will be to provide students and families with “a ballpark price” for a Penn education.

“The number will never be 100 percent accurate, but we want to get our message of affordability out there,” he said. “If you want to find out your exact aid package, there’s still only one way to do it — apply.”

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