FORT WORTH (CBS 11 NEWS) – Christy Smith is already preparing to send her only child, Cambria, off to college.

“It will be bittersweet,” Smith said. “She’s currently in 10th grade, and we started planning for college last year when she was a freshman.”

The Smiths started planning early, knowing a college education won’t come cheap.

“There’s the financial stress,” Smith said, “There’s the emotional stress that you don’t think about.”

Part of that stress is not knowing exactly how much each university will charge, because tuition costs can vary greatly from school to school.

“What happened in the past is a family didn’t have a good mechanism to determine before applying to the school what the true cost would be, “ said Kevin Campbell of College Planning Authority in Fort Worth, which offers free seminars to parents to help them plan for their child’s future.

Parents can register for those seminars on the organization’s website.

But now universities are required to offer additional tools to help students and their families estimate the cost associated with an education.

As of October 29, 2011, all universities that accept federal funds must provide a net cost calculator on their website.  You can click here to see SMU’s calculatorClick here for TCU’s calculator.

The calculators use basic information such as a family’s income to estimate how much a family will have to pay for one year of college.

“That’s the goal behind it — to provide transparency,” Campbell said.

But some of the calculators are inaccurate and misleading, according to Campbell’s comparisons.

“We’re seeing numbers that are off by as much as 50 percent,” he explained. “That’s my fear in this, that a lot of people will be misinformed with what’s it’s really going to cost them.”

“It was kind of a scary eye-opener,” said Smith who admitted she was shocked when she found out. “That’s when you go to the professionals.”