What is the most visited page on your Catholic or Independent school’s website? Is it your stellar academics? Your breadth of extracurricular activities? Or perhaps the section on how you incorporate faith into the classroom?
While all of these are important and go a long way in describing your school and creating interest, one of the most visited and critical pages to get right is your tuition page.
Many schools (like many people) are uncomfortable talking about how much something costs. It can be easy to get defensive or to worry that you are too expensive. Perhaps because of this natural human inclination, many schools don’t spend much time thinking about the content of their tuition page and merely list a schedule or grid of the costs of the school.
While this is not a horrible strategy, it is after all factual and accurate, instituting a few tweaks to your tuition page may help you to overcome one of the chief barriers to attending your school: cost.
Here are the 7 ways to improve your school’s tuition page:
Understand how your tuition compares within your environment
You should have a good understanding of how much the schools that you compete with are charging. Make sure that every year you are doing a competitive scan of the schools in your area that attract a similar type of family. In comparing their tuition against yours, understand what they offer that you don’t and if you are more expensive, be prepared to explain (with strong data and/or stories) why you are worth X more than the school down the street.
If you are a high school and primarily pull from other private elementary schools, understand and appreciate what the price change is going to be for that family when they enroll at your school. While a family may be able to afford the tuition of $6,500 for a K-8 school, that family’s ability to pay might be dramatically different when they are looking at a $15,000 / year high school.
Being sensitive to this change is critical to helping them navigate the changes in tuition as their children grow older. This might also lead you to think a little differently about how you deploy your financial aid.
Establish value before talking about the cost on your tuition page
In a perfect world – the prospective parent will pour over every page of your website. She will fall in love with your classroom stories and the quality of teachers. She will become excited and will be envisioning her child at your school. She will be ready and eager to enroll by the time she looks at the price.
But we don’t live in a perfect world. Often prospective parents will skim through your site on their way to clicking on your tuition page. They may not have the full story – but they want to understand how much it will cost. Your challenge on your tuition page is to make sure that you are helping to shift their thinking away from cost into value.
Before you list your prices, ensure that you are demonstrating value by showing statistics of what an education at your school means.
- List the amount in scholarships and admittance into top tier universities that your Sr. class achieved last year
- State how many college credits your average graduate earned due to your AP and dual credit offerings.
- Reinforce your value by testimonials from students and parents stating how glad they were to invest in their child’s education.
- Show pictures of your proud graduates.
The first thing they should see when they go to the tuition section of your website is an explanation of the value that they will get from enrolling their student at your school, not how much it is going to cost them.
This doesn’t need to be a complete rehash from everything else that is on your site – but you need to have value statements before cost.
Always provide financial aid information before cost on your tuition page
I don’t know how the practice of putting financial aid on its’ own page started, but this needs to end now! Always provide information about what your financial aid philosophy and offerings are before showing your tuition. Unless you have a very compelling reason for why financial aid should be separate from cost, combine those two pages.
Before discussing cost, you should be establishing a few facts about the affordability of your school:
- Layout what percentage of students receive financial aid.
- Establish what the range of financial aid packages are.
- State what is the average amount of financial aid given to a student.
Doing this helps to create a belief that your prospective family may qualify or should qualify for financial aid before seeing the actual costs.
By establishing this belief, you are reinforcing that while your list price is X – they will be charged less.
It is so critical at this point that they do not instantly dismiss you because you might be above their budget. You want them to move forward in their admissions journey, so even if they are not 100% certain they can afford you, you at least want them to feel that they are close enough that they are willing to engage with you in person.
I have had schools ask me if they should not disclose tuition on their website for this very reason. I think that is a judgment call that you have to make, but I would never recommend it. I have found that it just frustrates parents because they need to call you, which many are loathe to do. If you are demonstrating value, you shouldn’t worry about or be embarrassed about your price.
Use emotive language on your tuition page
Language has power and word choices matter. Think about the types of words you are using to describe your school and how much somebody will spend.
Does your tuition represent X dollars or is the money they spend every year at your school a priceless gift that will benefit the child for the rest of his/her life. Is tuition $1,000 a month or does it represent an investment in the future success of the child in college and beyond?
You need to help shift the parent’s thinking away from the price tag and towards what investing in a quality education (as represented by your school) means to the future of their child.
When was the last time that you purchased a cell phone? As anyone who recently done that can attest, these companies seem to go out of their way to make it as confusing as possible to understand the various plans and how much you are ultimately paying.
Sometimes schools seem to love to make their pricing just as confusing. I have seen some schools do things like have a separate line item for books and then a separate one for technology. Maybe this is designed to establish a low list price and then incur add ons? I don’t know if this is their strategy but I don’t think it is very customer friendly and reminds me of the airlines or the cable companies with all their additional fees.
If you have ever bought a car from CarMax vs. a dealership, you know that they have a set price – no negotiating. That makes it very easy and is incredibly popular because it takes the stress out of the experience and offers clarity.
I always advocate making the costs as simple as possible – but if you can’t – try to explain it in a way that makes it easy for parents to estimate their ultimate tuition cost.
Roxbury Latin in Chicago does a nice job of showing 5 different scenarios and allowing parents to click on the one that is most applicable to their situation
This should allow anybody to get a rough estimate based upon these different scenarios of what their tuition will be.
Explain any state voucher or scholarship program
If you are fortunate enough to live in a state that has “vouchers” or other state support for your independent or private school, consider yourself lucky. Many schools would kill to have that available to their families.
But, don’t fall into the common trap of just providing a hyperlink to the state website that explains the program. Take it from somebody who worked in a state department of education, they don’t do a good job of explaining programs like these. Especially if you appreciate that these programs are often perceived by the state department of education as hurting traditional public schools.
It is up to your school to provide a clear and easily understood way for parents to access these state programs. Explain who qualifies, what the income thresholds are, and how to access these programs. Don’t expect someone else to do this for you.
Always include the next step forward on your tuition page
Hopefully, the tuition page is not their last interaction with you. If you analyze your web traffic and you see that this is generally when people leave your site, you have some work to do. Your tuition page should always include additional calls to action to help parents continue to move forward in their enrollment journey. This might be giving their email address for more information, attending an information night or going in for a tour.
You need to ensure that you have multiple calls to action to help them move forward on this page. Don’t just inform – inform and move them forward.
Your tuition page is one of the most critical parts of your website to get right. Since cost is the prime barrier for many people to attend your school, you need to help them understand the value of your school, the financial aid availability, and give them a reason to move forward. Investing the time in getting your tuition page right will pay significant dividends and a higher enrollment.