The calculators are a requirement of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which Congress passed in 2008. Schools must post them online by Oct. 29.

What does it cost?

Most college students pay less than the published cost of tuition and fees, or list price, because of grants or other forms of financial aid.

In 2009-10, the average amount of financial aid for a full-time undergraduate student was $11,500, according to the College Board, a nonprofit education organization.

However, students also must consider additional costs such as housing, food, books, supplies and laundry.

The actual cost can be somewhat of a mystery to prospective college students until they receive an acceptance letter and an aid award in the spring.

Financial aid officers said the calculators could help prospective students get a better idea of net cost early on in their search process, which could help them make better informed decisions.

But people could face challenges when using the calculators because the tools are not standardized, according to a recent report by the Institute for College Access and Success.

The report evaluated the success of net price calculators that were posted online by January.

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