Bob Johnson's Blog on Higher Education Marketing

Net Price Calculators... can you find one at Boston University?

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Net Price Calculator at Boston University... not visible from the Admissions website

The 2012 Noel-Levitz E-Expectations Survey is always popular... witness the packed room for presentation and commentary on the results at the eduWeb2012 conference in Boston last week. If you don't already have a copy, follow that last link and download one today.

Most high school students can't find net price calculators: 74 percent

This year I was especially interested in whether or not more students were using net price calculators at college and university websites. The answer: usage from 2011 fell from 36 percent to 23 percent of these college-bound high school juniors and seniors. What might account for that significant drop? Consider this: 74 percent said they had not used one because they could not find it on the website, up from 50 percent in the 2011 survey.

I decided to visit the Boston University website, one of my favorite higher education sites. I've used Link of the Week selections from BU as well as screen shots from the website in my conference presentations. How easy would it be to get an estimate of net price at BU?

Boston University: A Meandering Net Price Calculator Search 

Consider the plight of a person trying to find the net price calculator at Boston University to get an estimate of the cost to attend, including possible merit scholarships.

  • If you start at the admissions entry page, you won't find a link to a "net price calculator."
  • If you follow the link to "financial aid forms" on the admissions entry page, you'll be at a page for "Costs, Aid & Scholarships. The primary feature on that page is a 2:38 length video featuring happy BU students extolling the various ways they have combined scholarships, grants, campus work and external financial aid sites to help them meet the "daunting" cost. Quite well done. But don't expect them to say anything specific about their personal cost. After all, everybody is different so what help would that be?
  • Inspired by the video to find an estimate of your own costs at BU? Scanning the page won't help. No words resembling "net price calculator" are here. From the main text, you might follow a link to a page for Scholarships and Merit Awards or Financial Aid but you won't find anything about a net price calculator there either.
  • Frustrated but interested enough in BU to continue your quest? You might try using the very visible search box to "Search this site" but this is the answer you'd get: "No web results were found for net price calculator site:www.bu.edu/admissions."
  • Still frustrated but just maybe persistent enough to wonder if the net price calculator might be elsewhere than on the admissions site and the search function isn't intelligent enough to know that? OK, let's try the same thing from the home page. Bingo! A search for "net price calculator" takes me right to a page called The Net Price Calculator. Right before my eyes is a link to "Visit the Net Price Calculator" that leads me off the BU website to a College Board site customized for BU. Happy times? Not quite. A few lines after the opening you'll find that this is for need- based aid only: "Please keep in mind that this calculator only includes need-based financial assistance. It does not include all of they many generous merit-based scholarship opportunities Boston University has to offer." Another link is provided to take me back to the Scholarships and Merit Awards page.
  • And so we learn that after our diligent efforts, we will not get a complete net price estimate here if we are interested in what our academic achievement might bring us from the "generous" money available.
A Simple Alternative: The admissions entry page at Augustana College

Visit the Augustana College main admissions page. You'll quickly see a prominent listing for "Costs" and right under that a link to "Net Price Calculator and Scholarship Estimator."

Quick, simple, visitor friendly. Not to mention smart online marketing navigation that lets college-bound high school students (and parents) quickly complete a top task. 

Boston University, on the other hand, gives the impression that if you are too interested in cost details too early in the recruitment process, it just might be better to look elsewhere. If the marketing goal here is to discourage applications from people who care too much about cost, then the BU approach is also smart marketing. 

That's all for now.

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