A Website for The Graduate School

Those who manage the web strategy for all graduate schools within a university have quite a challenge to face. After all, the MBA is different from the JD which is different from the MFA or the PhD in Anthropology. Talk about the need for a multiple personality approach to digital communication…

Since I began this series of blog posts about graduate school web strategy, I’ve received a few requests from those who hoped I’d write about “sites that have to promote ALL of the university’s grad programs.” In a practical sense, what is the result when one website must represent the full range of graduate programs? Before taking a tour of some randomly-selected site, I had these two suspicions:

  1. Developing an audience for a general graduate programs site won’t be easy.
    Prospective students, particularly at the graduate level, are most interested in details that only a particular academic department can provide. Getting specifics on the faculty they will work with and the courses required will be more important than general information about graduate education within the broader university. In order to be true across all graduate programs, the info provided on a general graduate school site will need to be so generic that it is likely to be site that prospectives quickly move away from.
  2. These general graduate programs sites often become administrative umbrellas.
    Sometimes, general graduate program websites become the umbrella site for a link farm; they are simply lists of links for how to apply for admission to the full range of graduate programs. Also, these pages are sometimes placed within an Academics IA that is primarily undergraduate focused. More than once, those who manage general graduate school websites have said to me, “We’re often forgotten.”

Next, I visited the general graduate websites of 15 universities. Typically, I found the general graduate web pages by navigating from Academics on the university homepage. Here are some of the characteristics common to the sites I visited:

  • The sites are administratively focused, often containing lots of detail on the admission process.
  • When you click through to individual graduate schools or programs, you often get a different “look and feel” from the top-level university site.
  • Many of the sites I visited are simply routing pages; they are a list of links to the separate websites of the university’s graduate and professional programs. Of the 15 university sites I visited, six offer a routing page as the primary graduate education link from an Academics landing page. An example from George Mason University is one of the more attractive. I found a page like this one at University of Michigan more frequently.
  • The majority of the sites I visited — nine — were umbrella sites. Seven of the nine schools refer to themselves as “The Graduate School.” At first, I thought “The Graduate School” was sure to be the label for arts and sciences graduate programs. I was wrong. Eight of the nine using “The Graduate School” are referring to all graduate programs, including professional programs like business and law.
  • About half of the sites I visited make it difficult to find a list of graduate programs. (Note: the is often the case for lists of majors and minors on undergraduate academics pages. Fortunately, the other half of the sites I visited made it super easy — they were well labeled and I quickly found a full list of graduate degrees offered.

Things I liked:

  • The What’s Your Story? widget in the right column of UC Boulder’s prospective students page.
    Using this simple web form, students can submit their own story for inclusion on the site or in admission materials.

CU Boulder What's Your Story?

  • The Grad School Advanced Search option on the NC State University site.
    You can search by program area, degree level and delivery method.

NC State Graduate Programs

University of Washington Degree Options

  • The Programs of Study page at the University of Chicago.
    The clean layout and tabbed structure make the presentation of a wealth of info very digestible.

University of Chicago Programs of Study

In case you missed them, here are the other posts I’ve written about graduate school web strategy for the mStoner blog:

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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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