Are colleges and universities playing hide and seek with their net price calculators?
As I’ve mentioned in the previous posts below, net price calculators can be extremely valuable tools for families wondering what a specific college will cost their families. I don’t think anyone should be applying to schools unless they have used these college cost calculators in advance.
College Cost Calculators: Getting Wildly Different Answers
A New Way to Add Up the Cost of College
Now that all schools must have net price calculators installed on their sites, I decided to see how easy or hard it would be to find these tools on eight college websites. I used the US News & World Report’s Ultimate College Guide to pick eight random schools while I had my eyes closed. I was disappointed that locating many of the calculators proved to be so difficult! At one college website, I never did find it.
I had naively assumed that colleges would put the link to their net price calculator in a prominent spot on their admission and financial aid pages. I had envisioned that visitors to these pages would be drawn to a large icon that would direct them to the calculator.
Net Price Calculator Goose Chase
Here is what I found instead:
Columbia University, New York City
I thought I’d see the Columbia University’s net price calculator on its student financial services page, but no such luck. I then poked around on the Office of Undergraduate Aid & Educational Financing page and was about to give up when I spotted a tiny link at the very bottom of the page. Columbia didn’t even bother to give visitors a one-sentence description of the calculator.
Ouchita Baptist University, Arkadelphia, ARK
I thought I had found Ouchita Baptist University’s calculator, but it was actually a link to a merit aid calculator. When I typed net price calculator into the university’s search box, I was directed to a parent email newsletter that was dated April and July 2011! (See below). It took awhile but I eventually discovered Ouchita Baptist’s net price calculator.
University of Denver
Once I found the financial aid page for this school, the University of Denver’s net price calculator was easy to spot. DU did the absolute best job of making its net price calculator stand out by designing a helpful icon for it. I would hope other colleges would try something similar.
University of Wisconsin Platteville
This is one of the ugliest college websites that I’ve ever seen, but that wouldn’t have mattered if I could have found the university’s net price calculator! On the University of Wisconsin Platteville’s financial aid site, I found an Award Estimator and at first I was wondering if the university was simply using a different name for its calculator, but it wasn’t asking the sort of questions that a net price calculator requires. Strange indeed.
I never did find the university’s net price calculator. I laughed when I typed net price calculator into the university’s search engine and got four unrelated listings including a university help-wanted notice for a cement concrete technician and contact information about a sewing and quilting expo. Wow!
Linfield College, McMinnville, OR
Salem College, Winston-Salem, NC
I wouldn’t have found Salem College’s net price calculator if I hadn’t clicked on the more link. (See below.) I’m wondering how many people would do that. Using the Firefox browser, I couldn’t find the calculator link at all, but I discovered it when I switched to Safari.
Villanova University, Philadelphia
I found Villanova’s net price calculator fairly easily, but the link was pushed towards the bottom of 19 links! Surely Villanova could display the the net price calculator link above many of these:
Wayne State University, Detroit
Initially I thought I had found Wayne State University’s net price calculator when I saw College Cost and Tuition Calculator, but that just directed me to FinAid.org’s list of calculators. Strange. Yesterday when I typed net price calculator into the university search engine, I got a Google message saying it couldn’t find matching documents, but today the search engine produced the calculator!
Don’t be deterred if colleges and universities try to hide their net price calculators. It’s crucial that you use calculators to help pinpoint college costs well before applying. Maybe some day colleges will do the right thing and begin prominently displaying their calculators!
If you’ve had any experience with net price calculators, please share in the comment box below.
Lynn O’Shaughnessy is the author of The College Solution, an Amazon bestseller, and the workbook, Shrinking the Cost of College: Great Ways to Cut the Cost of a Bachelor’s Degree. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.
More on The College Solution: