“Your net price calculator is often a prospective student’s first real engagement with your institution,” explains Misty Mullenbach, a Customer Success Manager at CampusLogic. “By checking off answers and divulging family income information, they’re clearly demonstrating more than a passing interest.”
But, first, they have to find your NPC, she adds. That’s not easy on many college websites—and something that can quickly turn students and families away.
In this second post of our series, Mullenbach shares what she has seen when institutions use their net price calculator as a powerful tool beyond a ‘compliance must-have.’ outcomes include better student engagement, more informed students and families, enhanced financial literacy, and improved “stickiness” from college search through enrollment. The higher ed veteran, who’s worked in enrollment and financial aid for both nonprofit and for-profit institutions, also notes that data derived from NPC usage can provide insights for future recruitment strategies.
Bring Your NPC Front-and-Center for Engagement
Can you immediately locate your own school’s Net Price Calculator? It’s probably not on the homepage. Is it linked in the navigation at the bottom of the page? In a drop-down under the Admissions and Financial Aid tab? Does your website make any mention of it at all—or do users have to hit the search button?
NPCs are generally so hard to find, that the venerable U.S. News and World Report Education website features a special landing page that directly links to nearly 300 of the nation’s top institutions’ net price calculators.
“I once heard a high school counselor repeatedly tell students and parents, ‘If you have to click more than three times to get to the NPC, find another school,’” says Mullenbach
A Bad Experience Turns Students Away
It could be that the school has buried its free, federally mandated NPC because it’s “inaccurate, confusing, and frustrating,” Mullenbach notes. Or, she adds, perhaps it shows a very high cost of attendance without explaining the nuances that can effectively improve the school’s price tag and express its real value in the net-price calculation.
That’s no way to engage students. In fact, it’s enough to make them move on, as the high school counselor suggests. So, how do you keep students on your website, engaged in the price-shopping process—and interested in what your school has to offer?
Celebrate Your NPC and Support Student Engagement
Conduct your own search. How many clicks did it take to get to your NPC? Do you think students will enjoy the experience once they get there? Mullenbach shares these best practices for engaging students with your net price calculator:
- Add an easy-to-find link on the homepage—at the very least, in the footer navigation.
- Make sure a link appears in several locations on your website.
- Implement best practices for search engine optimization.
- Talk to your web team about suggestions for meta descriptions and relevant keywords.
- Explain what an NPC is, and why it’s useful, in hover-text or in a description with the link.
Consider the user experience.
- Is the calculator optimized for mobile? Remember that’s how most users will first encounter it.
- Make sure your NPC opens in a new tab—so students won’t have to use the back button to learn more about your school.
- Does the page load quickly? No one waits for slow websites anymore.
- Engage students with a ‘branded experience.’
- Use school colors, imagery, and messaging to build trust with a consistent look and feel with the rest of your website.
- Don’t just let students complete and close the calculator. Instead, add messaging about next steps.
- Think about how much time the process takes; are there ways to consolidate (or skip) repetitive income questions—perhaps with a ‘known Estimated Family Contribution’ (EFC) box? Consider noting average completion times for this exercise, too.
Above all, be transparent.
- Engage students with messaging about cost and value—and how your NPC can help them see into their future.
- Encourage use any time, including well before applying.
- Conduct outreach with high school counselors to explain the value of your NPC for students and families.
- Send personalized emails with a link to your calculator, and bullet points about how important it is to make informed financial decisions—to help reduce loan debt, for instance.
- Designate a person from admissions or financial aid who can walk individual students through the calculator at college fairs and open houses—right on their own smartphones
Shameless Plug: Meet ClearCost, a Powerful Engagement Tool
At CampusLogic, we’re all about easy, mobile, personalized student financial services. ClearCost, the industry-leading commercial net price calculator, is a key product in our platform. With ClearCost, your institution can engage with prospective students from the moment they start their college search. Comprehensive cost information—in real time and optimized for mobile devices—drives engaged students who’ll have more confidence in making their eventual, well-informed college choices.
Up Next in Our Series
We’re taking a deeper dive into a range of best practices that you might not have previously considered for your NPC. In our next article, Summer discusses the array of cost-and-aid calculations that most net price calculators overlook.
Spoiler alert: Does your NPC work for military students?