To make it easier for prospective students to figure out how much it will cost them to go to college, Congress last year passed a higher education law that, among other things, requires all colleges to offer a "net price calculator" on their web sites by 2011, reports the New York Times. Many colleges and universities have been doing this for some time, and last week the Massachusetts Institute of Technology joined them, introducing its own calculator that allows prospective students to get detailed estimates of their out-of-pocket costs as well as their eligibility for financial aid. Such calculators are likely to provide a closer approximation of the true costs of particular colleges than general calculators available on multiple web sites, or the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which offers a figure for the Expected Family Contribution (EFC) but does not take into account the criteria of individual schools. "It was like using a shotgun to kill a house fly," Daniel Barkowitz, director of MIT’s student financial aid, said of the FAFSA. The MIT financial aid calculator gathers all the data from the FAFSA and adds additional questions on home equity, school, and medical expenses. "The major thing keeping people from college is perceived cost. The calculator demystifies the sticker price," Barkowitz said…

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