Eric Wang

To help students receive an estimate for their expected tuition more quickly, Yale has added a new quick cost calculator — MyinTuition — to its website in addition to its old net cost calculator.

When students apply to college, the expected cost of attending that institution weighs into the decision-making process. As a result, most schools offer a net price calculator, which takes into consideration tax income and assets as well as bank and investment account statements. Unlike these more extensive questionnaires, MyinTuition asks six basic financial questions and gives students an estimate of the amount their family will need to contribute for one year at Yale. MyinTuition asks for family income, assets and family size. The resulting number provides an estimate, but is not a guarantee of financial aid. In addition to MyinTuition, Yale still offers its old net price calculator, which provides a more accurate estimate but takes a significantly longer amount of time to use.

“MyinTuition allows students and families to finally get a quick answer to one of the most important, yet difficult-to-answer, questions of the college search process: ‘what will this cost?’” said Director of Undergraduate Outreach and Recruitment Mark Dunn. “I believe misconceptions about Yale’s affordability and accessibility are some of the most significant barriers to applying for high-achieving students from lower-income backgrounds.”

Wellesley economist professor Phillip Levine developed the quick price calculator in 2013. According to Levine, he did not put much thought into the importance of receiving estimates for expected tuition fees until his own children started applying to college. Levine, who was curious to see how much he might have to pay for his children’s tuition, soon realized the difficulty of determining costs.

“The challenge with [net price calculators] is that the process of determining a family’s need and awarding aid is complicated because a family’s finance is complicated,” Dunn said. “It usually takes families 10 to 20 minutes and requires families to take their tax returns out.”

Levine receives anonymous data from 66 participating institutions and uses “statistical methods to forecast financial aid awards to prospective students.” Participating schools include Harvard University, Stanford University, Duke University and the University of Massachusetts Boston.

The tool uses statistical methods to compare the financial information of prospective students to those of students already enrolled at the college. It then provides an estimate based on the tuition of students with similar finances. According to Levine, the tool uses a confidence interval and is able to provide a high estimate, low estimate and best estimate. Ninety percent of students fall between the high and low estimate, Levine said.

“We want to move the financial question of higher education to a much earlier stage in the process,” said the calculator’s website. “We want to move the discussion past ‘sticker shock’ by generating a reliable estimate to a prospect much earlier in the process.”

According to Levine, the tool has provided a million estimates since its inception, and usage is growing at a fast rate. Half a million of those estimates were provided in the last year and 85,000 in the last month.

The promotional campaigns have generated strong responses, according to Levine. The calculator is a tool that will help hundreds of families assess affordability.

“MyinTuition has the ability to simply cut through the complicated question of how much does college really cost,” Levine said. “When students better understand the true price of attending college, they can make better educational decisions and attend the school that is right for them.”

Yale has partnered with Levine and his tool since January 2018 and this year is working on a marketing campaign to promote the tool to prospective students. One such email campaign to high school students includes the subject line “estimate your cost in three minutes.” According to Dunn, this email has been the most clicked-on email from the Office.

63,000 estimates have been made in the first year of Yale’s partnership. More than 10,000 of those estimates were students that the calculator said were eligible for a federal Pell grant, according to Dunn.

“MyinTuition helps convey the message that financial aid is used as an aid to open up doors for folks and to level the playing field,” Dunn said. “It allows us to attract the best and brightest students from all backgrounds.”

The Office of Admissions is hoping to launch a paid social media advertising campaign with videos in December or January of this academic year to further Yale’s commitment to affordability, said Dunn.

Dunn added that the Office of Undergraduate Admissions has developed a series of short videos featuring MyinTuition that will be used in promotional placements on social media platforms. This will be the admissions office’s “first use of social media advertising,” he said.

“Our hope is that the videos provide a compelling pitch for students to try the MyinTuition Quick College Cost Estimator and generate a personalized estimate of a family’s Yale cost,” Dunn said. “We think this message is valuable for a wide cross section of the population, even those who are not in high school or the parent of a high school student.”

Yale will now offer zero parent contribution aid for families making $75,000 or less starting in the 2020–21 academic year.

 

Kelly Wei | kelly.wei@yale.edu