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Net-Price Calculators Get the Kayak Treatment

Remember when net-price calculators were going to be the next U.S. News & World Report rankings? That’s the comparison that staff members at Maguire Associates, a consulting firm, made a couple of years ago in a paper explaining what the calculators could mean for admissions.

But the calculators, which allow students to estimate what they would pay at a particular college after grants and scholarships, don’t seem to have gained much traction yet. While colleges have been required to post the calculators on their Web sites for nearly a year now, early evidence shows that only about a third of prospective students have tried one out.

The Maguire Associates paper predicted that online aggregators would spring up to allow students to compare their net prices at different colleges, much as Kayak.com lets travelers compare air fares. The prediction has come true: A new Web site, College Abacus, lets students do just that.

Whether this new comparison tool will encourage more prospective students to use the calculators, though, remains to be seen.

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