Do you know how much your dream school will cost you?

For most students, it’s not the full price.

The Problem

Picking the right college is hard. Paying for it can seem impossible. Too often, students see the advertised price of a school and believe that’s how much they have to pay. How does anyone afford a college that costs $60,000 a year? The truth is most students don’t have to.

Pell university illustration

Especially for low-income families, most students aren’t charged the full price. We’re not talking about a measly $500 scholarship after hours of essay writing. No: this is about need-based financial aid.

Need-based financial aid is when schools look at your family's finances and determine how much your family can afford to pay. The trick is, each school determines your aid differently. The same student can get nothing from one school while practically getting a full ride somewhere else. On the downside, this means that there is no surefire way to know exactly how much college will cost until college acceptance time. The upside? Your dream school may not be as far out of reach as you thought!

Pell university price tag illustration

So what do you do? How do you plan your future when college tuition is so confusing? Let Pell Abacus help you figure it out!

Pell p icon illustration

Our Mission

Pell Abacus is a free search site that helps students get financial aid estimates directly from schools. Search multiple schools and compare in one place, before you even apply.

You already think about how a school will fit your social life and your academic ambitions. We want you to also consider how it will fit your finances. College is one of the biggest financial decisions in your life. We believe students deserve to know how much college will cost – and to learn about it in a way that doesn’t feel like a test.

How It Works

Pell Abacus lets you compare the “net prices” — a.k.a. what you pay after aid — of any school in our system. We simplify the questions too, so you only have to answer each question once - no matter how many schools you search.

We designed Pell Abacus specifically for students, so we estimate your parents’ finances for you. Do you know what an IRA is or how much your parents made in dividends last year? We didn’t think so. We ask you simple questions that you can actually answer, and then we crunch the numbers for you, using some in-depth research you can read about here

Pell math illustration

It’s not a guarantee, but we’ve found that our numbers probably provide a very close estimate of your family’s finances — at least if this sounds like you. If this doesn’t sound like you — or you just want to enter your actual financial information! - you can always use our other tool, College Abacus

When's the best time to use Pell Abacus?

We think the sooner, the better. Use Pell Abacus to make informed decisions when creating the list of colleges where you want to apply. (Most folks recommend applying to 6 schools).

What You Get

Here’s an example of our results page. To see yours, start searching now!

Pell results mobile
Pell results desktop

Sticker price is the amount a school says they cost. We get your total aid direct from the schools you searched. Sometimes it’s money from the federal government (usually in the form of Pell grants). Sometimes it’s aid directly from the schools. No loans here – we only show you the money you won't have to pay back.

Pell no strings illustration

We also show you how students like you do financially after attending a school. Understanding graduation rates and future salaries can help you put the price of college into perspective.

Pell future illustration

Note: We aren’t able to account for state aid or merit-based scholarships because most schools don’t include this information when they estimate costs. You should always check your state’s website to learn more about what aid programs they offer. School websites can also provide useful information about school-specific and general scholarships.

Accuracy And Security

Accuracy: The costs listed on Pell Abacus are the exact same estimates you would get if you visited each school’s website. We don't change any of the results (except to take out loans). Still, because Pell Abacus estimates your family’s financial information, the results can only give you a general idea of what a school will cost a student like you. To get a truly individualized estimate, use College Abacus.

We test our system regularly to make sure our financial estimates are accurate. But if you see anything that looks odd, send us an email and we’ll happily look into it.

Privacy and Security: We use well-established security measures to safeguard our systems and are committed to preserving, protecting, and respecting the privacy and security of your personal information. We don’t share or sell your information to anyone, and you can get results without signing up. Our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy are available at the bottom of the page, if you want the full scoop.

Pell security illustration

Making Pell Abacus Happen

Pell Abacus is created and maintained by ECMC Innovation Lab. The Lab is part of the non-profit, ECMC Group , which offers Pell Abacus as a free public resource. ECMC seeks to help students succeed.

Pell Abacus would not be possible without some fantastic organizations.

We’d like to extend our thanks to

    Passwords must be at least 8 characters and include a digit, a lower case letter and an upper case letter


    Sign up and we will drop you an email as soon as your parent submits the necessary information. Make sure to remind them!