Can families easily find the new net price calculators that colleges and universities are now required to post on their websites?
I suspected that the answer was no, but I wanted to see for myself.
For those of you who aren't familiar with college net price calculators, which have been mandated by the federal government, here are two recent posts that will bring you up to speed:
I decided to conduct an admittedly unscientific sampling of school websites to gauge the accessibility of these net price calculators. I picked six schools at random from the U.S.News & World Report Ultimate College Guide. I ended up selecting three public universities and three private institutions.
Here is what I discovered: In general, your chances of finding net price calculators are slim unless you are dogged about looking for them. I knew what I was searching for and even I had difficulty. This is a shame because these calculators can empower families by providing an advance look at whether any particular school will be affordable.
[Read about how colleges are turning to custom calculators.]
Here is my experience with the six schools in my mini survey:
San Francisco Conservatory of Music: It was rough finding the net price calculator on this site. I didn't see a link on the prospective student page and when I scoured the main financial aid page, it didn't turn up there, either. I couldn't find a search box on the conservatory's website so I couldn't try that avenue. I finally found the net price calculator by using Google. Thanks to Google, I discovered that the net price calculator was hidden—I think that's a fair word—in a huge block of copy on the school's scholarship page.
University of Pennsylvania: I tried looking for the net price calculator on both the undergraduate admissions and financial aid landing pages. No luck. I tried clicking a bunch of links and was about ready to give up when I found the correct link after clicking on the "You Can Afford Penn" link. A little calculator icon was displayed in a corner.
[Get more tips on how to pay for college.]
Auburn University: It only took two clicks to reach Auburn's net price calculator, which was a pleasant surprise. I found the calculator link on the university's home page dedicated to future students. Auburn offered a net price calculator for freshmen and transfer students. Good for Auburn.
Westfield State University: In the undergraduate admissions section of the state school's website, I thought my hunt might be over when I spotted the "Cost of Attending" link, but that didn't work. I found the net price calculator link in the school's financial aid section, but it was positioned near the bottom of a long list of links. Not sure how many people would see that.
Ringling College of Art and Design: The calculator wasn't on the admissions home page, but I did find the link on the financial aid home page. You won't spot the calculator link, however, unless you scroll down the page.
[Learn more about life at Ringling College of Art and Design.]
University of North Florida: It was a challenge finding the calculator on the University of North Florida's website. I looked futilely on the landing pages for admissions and financial aid. I clicked on a bunch of financial aid links with no luck. The only way I could find the calculator was to type net price calculator into the university search engine.
To sum up, let me state the obvious here: If families don't know that these net price calculators exist, they can't use them. I suspect that this is what some colleges and universities in this country are banking on.