Washington and Lee adopts new tool that takes intimidation factor out of college cost calculator

washington and leeIt is a practice for many parents with a child approaching college. Their children are bright high school sophomores and juniors, so they search for the best schools. Some look at the costs and shudder, thinking the price is more than they can afford.

In 2013, Wellesley College introduced a fast, user-friendly tool that has given families a more accurate way to gauge costs while factoring in financial aid. Williams College and the University of Virginia adopted Wellesley’s tool in 2015. Since then, applications at Wellesley, Williams and the University of Virginia are up, with about 90 percent of that increase coming from students planning to apply for financial aid.

MyinTuition has proved so successful that 12 more schools, including Washington and Lee, are adopting the tool. This broader reach means that thousands of other parents and their children may pursue education paths they might have otherwise ignored for fear that the costs were out of reach. The tool is available on each of the college’s websites, as well as on myintuition.org.

The 15 schools that now offer MyinTuition are:

  • Amherst College
  • Bowdoin College
  • Carleton College
  • Columbia University
  • Colorado College
  • Dartmouth College
  • Mount Holyoke College
  • Pomona College
  • Rice University
  • University of Virginia
  • Vassar College
  • Washington and Lee University
  • Wellesley College
  • Wesleyan University
  • Williams College

MyinTuition was driven by the knowledge that too few students apply to top-notch schools because they assume they cannot afford them. Since a high-quality college education is an important pathway to upward economic mobility in the United States, this is a critical issue across the country.

In 2011, the federal government mandated that colleges and universities offer a “net-price calculator” to provide prospective students with an estimate of the cost of enrollment and financial aid possibilities. These often ask parents to answer a dizzying array of questions requiring detailed answers about family finances, including information from tax returns.

MyinTuition does not intimidate. It informs parents through a user-friendly process that asks six basic financial questions in order to provide personalized estimates of what it would cost to send their child to a particular college.

“Often families look at the sticker price and walk away without thinking about financial aid possibilities because the assumption is that the cost is too high,” said Phillip B. Levine, an economics professor at Wellesley College who developed MyinTuition.

With MyinTuition, parents and prospective students can take a closer look and see a clearer picture of what a college education will cost them at a top school. “They might see that they don’t have to walk away,” explained Levine. “Their son or daughter can go to the school that is the best fit for them, regardless of the sticker price.”

The calculator takes the average user about three minutes to complete and gives parents a breakdown of the estimated costs paid by the family, work-study and loan estimates, in addition to grant assistance provided by the institution.

“This helps bring more students from low- and moderate-income families into the stream of students flowing into the top schools in this country,” said Levine. “It takes down a formidable barrier.” In doing so, MyinTuition can help colleges diversify their student enrollments.

“We see MyinTuition as particularly useful for families early in their college search, especially to differentiate the sticker price of a private college from what their family will actually pay, after financial aid,” said Sally Stone Richmond, vice president for admissions and financial aid at Washington and Lee. “Just as an admissions profile offers students a sense of the academic qualities a college seeks, MyinTuition gives families a means of understanding their potential financial expectations prior to applying.”

“As a key part of our efforts to promote Washington and Lee’s affordability, we are pleased to include MyinTuition as a secure, efficient, informative tool for prospective students and families to estimate their expected college costs,” said James Kaster, Washington and Lee’s director of financial aid.

More than 125,000 estimates have been provided at Wellesley, Williams and the University of Virginia so far.