Financial Aid Websites: What’s the challenge?

I’ve been thinking about financial aid websites lately. It’s June, and with most of the deciding done by May 1, many prospective students and families are in the midst of a relationship with a financial aid office.

What are the challenges? How is the content for financial aid different and how is it best presented on the web?

It’s complicated. Communication about financial aid is difficult because so many scenarios exist and so many federal standards and policies must be part of the content mix. Although admissions sites can target an audience of prospective students and influencers, the financial aid office must serve those who are applying, those who are admitted, current students, and al of their parents. I took a quick spin through eight financial aid websites and here’s what I noted:

  • There is increased use of video for explaining the process.
  • Infographics make financial aid information more digestible and understandable.
  • Financial aid content typical begins on the admissions site with links to detail on the financial aid office website.
  • The net price calculator is often highlighted and just as often hidden.
  • More highly-designed sites with profiles of students as a way to personalize the financial aid process.
  • Friendly, clear, concise, and helpful content that speaks to parents as primary consumers of the information.

Certainly, there is an incentive for colleges and universities to work hard on their financial aid content since the “Can I afford it?” question remains one of the top asked by prospectives and families. A summary of just a little of what’s out there follows:

University of Missouri-St. Louis – http://umsl.edu/future/
This Future Students site won a Silver Award from CASE District VI in 2014. The Financial Aid landing page (you land there after you click on “Check Out Tuition & Expenses”) presents a few key pieces of information using infographics. I like the early messaging around aid and this site highlights UMSL’s net price calculator.

Davidson College – http://www.davidson.edu/admission-and-financial-aid/financial-aid
The Davidson site won a CASE Bronze Circle of Excellence Award in 2014. On the financial aid section of the site, you immediately see an effective video about their net price calculator and the “Davidson Trusted Me” quote from a student personalizes the content.

Duke University – http://admissions.duke.edu/application/aid
This site won a Best Prospective Student or Admission Site award in 2013 from eduStyle. The financial aid section is fairly unique among typical university financial aid sites and more like marketing-critical, top-level landing pages on most university sites.

Bob Jones University – http://www.bju.edu/admission/tuition-aid/
This site won an eduStyle Award in 2013 for Best Prospective Student or Admission Site. A video (found in the bottom, left corner of the site) explains the financial aid process.

University of Pennsylvania – http://www.admissions.upenn.edu/
This site was nominated for an eduStyle Award in 2013. The presentation of financial aid content begins by clicking on “Afford an Ivy League Education.” The “Costs & Financial Aid” section is visually interesting and a welcoming way to make the case. Also, the “How Aid is Determined” page presents information well.

Brown University – http://brown.edu/about/administration/financial-aid
This site uses video to effectively profile students who benefit from aid and the net price calculator is also prominent. The site also offers an A to Z index approach that makes sense for the detailed and dense financial aid content.

Boston University – http://www.bu.edu/finaid/
This site includes splashy, rotating feature content and I like their presentation of “Frequently Asked Questions.”

Who’s doing this well? Do you have a favorite financial aid website? I’d love to see it and feature it on the mStoner blog. Let me know.

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Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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