Ask a high school junior about their college search and they’ll usually respond to you with some version of three questions they have when exploring and evaluating schools:
- Do they have my major?
- Can I get in?
- Can I afford it?
Do you have my major?
Besides being able to find the academic calendar, I think quickly finding a list of majors and minors could be the best effectiveness test for a college or university website. Even though we know prospective students want the answer to “Do they have my major?,” we don’t always make it easy to find a comprehensive list of academic programs. We should. Two good examples that get it right:
Building on that, we also know that high-ability students — or their high-expectations parents — will consume content on well-developed academic department web pages. Extend your reach beyond top-level landing pages like About and Campus Life. Creating rich academic program pages is an increasingly worthwhile investment in marketing your institution. Models to follow:
Can I get in?
Answering the “Can I get in?” question for prospectives means your site offers detail about admission requirements and a profile of the most recently admitted class. Again, making this content comprehensive, up-to-date, and easy to find is key. Examples of pages that make the grade:
Can I afford it?
Requiring the most nuanced explanation, this question is tough to answer. In usability tests of college and university sites, we’ve observed that students expect to find information about costs, scholarships, loans, grants, and other funding options located prominently under either Admissions or Financial Aid. And, during the focus group sessions we conduct with first-year students, they report that they were confused by the content they found about affording college. As a first step, devote time to crafting the right language for financial aid. Too many sites use unfamiliar financial aid vocabulary, lingo and acronyms. The copy on Warren Wilson’s College Value pages is clear, concise, comforting and a solid example.
There is a fourth question.
Most prospectives also search for the answer to, “Will I fit in there?” or “Will I like it there?” The storytelling, feature content and photography we include on top-level landing pages is usually meant to provide the answer. The admissions officers I meet say, “If we can get them to campus, they decide to apply.” Make sure your site tells the story of the academic programs and the campus life students will experience if they enroll. I found Bard College’s About Bard and Academics at Bard to be inspirational examples.
By providing easy answers to the questions that prospectives ask most often, you’ll help them determine if your institution is the right fit.