Recruiting a student is a lot like selling a product—if you’re not offering something people want, no one will buy it. Since a college is selling an education (which is something millions of people want), the trick becomes more geared towards the art of “permission marketing”. In other words, when people seek information about a college, it should be presented in the most creative and appealing way possible.
Prospective students these days find all their information about schools via the Internet. This makes college websites infinitely critical in the process of driving in applications. Here are five elements of a college site that should never be overlooked:
The U.S. News and World Reports gave a list of their own rankings for the top 100 universities in the country, and then the Bivings Report went ahead and extrapolated its top 10 favorite websites from that particular bunch. Taking a look at the websites, it seems that photography is the most magnetizing aspect above all else—the designers were fantastic at showing off what makes their schools unique and exciting through the use of imagery.
This reigns especially true for younger students who aren’t quite sure about what careers to pursue. They want to be able to see an experience and say to themselves, “Hey, I can see myself doing that.” This will inevitably lead to further interactions which will decide whether or not an application is filled out.
2. Up-to-Date Content
If a student visits a college website and finds that the latest news update or photo was posted a month ago, it’s likely he or she will lose interest. A website’s updates are reflections of the college’s livelihood and active community—if there’s new stuff happening on the website, odds are there’s new stuff happening at the school. The pursuit of knowledge involves discovering the relevant and interacting with others; a site that properly showcases such a notion is bound to capture plenty of interest.
3. Useful Resources
A lot of students are nervous about taking on the challenge of a higher education and therefore want to know that the numerous problems they will encounter can be solved without too much struggle. This is where the resources come in—contact information, support, research tools, accessible e-services, answers to common questions and the like are all essential in making sure a prospective student is comfortable with spending four years at a school.
Take a look at the websites for Boston University and Rutgers. They both succeed in cutting to the chase with particular domains of inquiries: What if I’m considering enrolling? What research is available? What if I’m a parent? What is campus life like? These questions are all easily answered straight from the home page links which point to vast amounts of useful information.
4. Financial Aid
Many students already know what they want and are more concerned about how to get it. Collegeboard.org reports that roughly two-thirds of full-time undergraduate students capitalize on some type of financial aid, whether it’s in the form of grants, loans or scholarships. It’s crucial that a college website has an easily accessible and straightforward explanation of how it deals with financial aid, including information about eligibility, application deadlines and how parent-income factors into the amount of aid awarded. Almost every college offers financial aid, but not every college does a good job of illustrating the details for prospective students.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples. The designers of the Lafayette College website are wise to know that many students need information about financial aid and tuition. Almost right in the center of the main navigation bar is a link pointing to tuition and aid where students can learn about the different types of aid, which upcoming deadlines are relevant, and how to apply for and track the status of aid. By visiting the site and quickly finding what they’re looking for, prospective students can definitely get a feel for this school’s ability to accommodate.
On the contrary, the University of Louisiana website fails to demonstrate the same convenience. On the home page, there are no outright links pointing to financial aid information, and even when you visit the page for prospective students there are no relevant details to be found. It seems the best way to get aid information is to use the A-Z index to find the page for it. There, most answers to common questions are found in a bulky PDF file and there are also a lot of links pointing to other websites. This wouldn’t be a very fun experience for a prospective student.
College is about much more than just earning a degree—people inevitably learn more about themselves by exploring new opportunities and getting involved with a variety of events. As with financial aid, most colleges offer plenty of opportunities in regards to clubs and events, but not all websites emulate them efficiently.
The MIT website is particularly great at highlighting the college’s clubs, events, academic societies and support groups which can be very appealing to students who are seeking out new experiences. West Virginia State University does an even better job of this—they have a complete list of organizations in a table along with contact information for each of them! It wouldn’t be hard for someone to get involved with campus life at these schools and prospective students would pick up on that immediately when visiting their websites.
 http://www.bivingsreport.com/2010/top-11-best-designed-university-websites/ (Retrieved 6-12-2012)
 http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities (Retrieved 6-12-2012)
 https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/pay-for-college/financial-aid-101/financial-aid-faqs (Retrieved 6-12-2012)