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Low-income students may be discouraged from applying to some top schools that have a reputation for being pricey, not realizing that the “net cost” of attending a school like Stanford is much lower when students take advantage of Pell Grants and other federal, state, and institutional aid available to families in their income bracket.

Even students who know they won’t have to pay full freight may be discouraged from comparing schools by net cost, because they’re asked to fill out long forms provide tax information to get a personalized estimate of the net cost of attending schools they’re interested in.

To get around that potential roadblock, the developers of College Abacus have launched a new tool, Pell Abacus, that lets users tap data from the Obama administration’s College Scorecard database, returning results tailored for Pell Grant recipients.

Pell Abacus accomplishes this by asking just one question about the student’s finances: Whether they’re eligible for free and reduced lunches. The app makes other assumptions about the prospective student’s finances, such as annual household income and assets, based on answers to questions like their employment status and family size.

Pell Abacus — an initiative of Educational Credit Management Corp., a student loan guarantee agency — does have its shortcomings. As its developers note in a blog post announcing the tool’s launch, the net cost estimates served up by Pell Abacus are not as exact as they would be with more specific user data. Some students may be eligible for even more generous packages than the estimate they’re provided with.

But Pell Abacus — also available as a mobile app — could open doors by encouraging students to change their assumptions about how high they can set their sites.

Matt Carter is editor of Credible News.