Whenever we work with a college or university, we spend some time getting to know the institution through its website. As a result, we have seen a lot of financial aid websites, and would like to offer a few “dos and don’ts” based on those reviews.
- Do make it easy to get to information about your sticker price.
Tuition, fees, room, and board costs are one of the things students most want to see when they go to your website—so don’t bury your costs. At the same time, however, consider providing a link on that page to your net price calculator—particularly if your calculator does a good job of providing accurate estimates based not only on need but on other factors considered in your packaging policies. Also, remember to tell them why you are worth it. Miami University’s website does a particularly nice job of that right on their financial aid landing page: http://www.miami.muohio.edu/admission/finaid/index.html
- Don’t blend information for new and returning students.
One common mistake is providing the links about application processes or awards to new and continuing students when the information isn’t the same for both populations. Trying to cover information applicable to two separate populations on the same page can be complex and confusing.
- Do include information to help students understand that you are affordable even before they have received an aid package.
Case studies and income profiles can be very effective in helping students see that others like them have found a way to cover your costs. Marketing merit programs with clear criteria and dollar values is another helpful technique. Even if your net price calculator (NPC) includes estimated merit awards, providing an easy to use merit grid is still useful as many students will not take the time to complete all of the questions required in a NPC. A good example of transparency in marketing merit awards can be found on the Schreiner University website: http://www.schreiner.edu/financial_aid/cms2012/future_students/freshmen/scholarships/freshmen_merit_scholarship.html. Note, they also offer a freshman merit scholarship calculator.
- Don’t blend required consumer information (often information about policies) with information about processes.
Keep information about applying for aid simple by using steps or checklists and by placing information about renewal requirements, withdrawal policies, etc., on other pages. The Nazareth College website is a good example of the clarity that can result from such separation: http://www.naz.edu/financial-aid/financial-aid-policies
- Do make sure that information about applying for aid includes steps for both need-based and non-need based aid.
Public institutions in particular often forget to include information about applying for scholarships on their “how to apply for aid” page. As a result, the “how to” page talks only about filing the FAFSA and completing verification but fails to talk about processes related to non-need-based aid. If there are no separate applications for scholarships because students are considered on the basis of their admissions application, the “how to” page should state that. Also make sure that all financial aid forms (scholarship applications, verification forms, etc.) are available online.
Take a look at your own financial aid website this summer with the eyes of a prospective student or parent and think about whether you are telling them what they need to know as clearly, effectively, and warmly as possible.
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About the author: Vice President Kathy Kurz's special area of expertise is in developing strategic financial aid and retention programs, designed to enhance enrollment and net tuition revenue results. A former Associate Vice President at the University of Rochester and Director of Financial Aid at Earlham College, she pays special attention to ensuring that the solutions recommended are practical, detailed, and implementable.
Kathy contributes regularly to University Business, authored a chapter entitled The Changing Role of Financial Aid and Enrollment Management in New Directions for Student Services, a Jossey-Bass publication, and speaks at national conferences and seminars such as NACUBO, Academic Impressions, and CIC.
Connect with Kathy on LinkedIn.