7 Deadly Sins on Admissions Sites

If you manage web content or a microsite for admissions, you’ve got some top-level content on your plate. Colleges, universities, and independent schools all want enough right-fit students and exceptional admissions websites can help achieve enrollment goals.

A few days ago, I heard from a client about his recent journey through a bunch of admissions sites. Although he was probably looking for inspiration, I think he was a bit stunned by what he found. In fact, he encouraged me to write the post you’re reading with this tweet:

Sebastian Tweets

Never wanting to disappoint Sebastian, I randomly picked 12 undergraduate admissions websites to visit. Guided by what I found, and in the category of deadly sins on admissions websites, here are my top seven:

  1. Apply links that don’t let you apply.
    Sebastian Ordelheide is correct, an Apply link should work. It shouldn’t be broken. Check to make sure it works, frequently. Enough said. Of the 12 sites I visited, only one did not have an apply link. (You heard me right, it was an admissions site with no Apply link.) And, another one out of the 12 included an Apply link that didn’t provide a way to apply. In my view Apply means you can apply; not that you can read about applying.
  2. Stock photography.
    Prospective students are sophisticated consumers. They can quickly sniff out inauthenticity and they want to see photography of real people (not just buildings). Prospective students want to see photos of current students because it’s part of how they determine if they’ll fit in. And fitting in is everything.
  3. Pictures of deans.
    Speaking of photography, pictures of deans and other administrators should not be prominent on an admissions website. Frankly, these individuals are too far removed from the experience of a young adult. Prospectives just can’t relate and they probably don’t see the point. On the other hand, photos and profiles of professors is a good idea and students I meet say that this type of content influenced them.
  4. Ugly web forms.
    Prospective students are jarred and disturbed by your 1998 web form when they click on a Request More Info/Join Our Mailing List link. It’s harder than ever to get prospectives to self identify; some admissions offices are reporting that as many as 40% of applicants were never in the prospect pool. Two sites I looked at did not even have a Request More Info/Join Our Mailing List option. Most of the sites I visited did make some attempt to “skin” these web forms to complement the look and feel of the admissions website. Although one of the 12 sites I viewed did so, I agree with Joel Pattison’s opinion that sending prospectives to your clunky, backend student system is not a positive brand experience.
  5. No references to academic programs.
    The enterprise is the curriculum: the programs, the majors, the minors, the courses. While the website copy had a lot to say about campus life, eight of the 12 sites reviewed offered no content about the heart of the academic experience. Disappointing.
  6. No storytelling.
    Prospective students and families do need the details, the deadlines, and the requirements, but you also have an opportunity to engage them. A storytelling platform on an admissions site is a way to convey the distinctive, authentic core of your institution. The stories about your people and your campus can, and should, romance your prospective student audience.
  7. No brand-based content.
    Speaking of what makes you distinctive, prove it. The language from your mission statement is not the language for conveying your brand. Surprisingly, four of the 12 sites I reviewed, did not include content or photography in support of a brand platform. When you think brand, think reputation. If you think study abroad opportunities and student/faculty relationships are your brand, think again. Then, visit the Monsters U website, watch the Monsters U Admission Video, and realize you have to dig deeper.

So, go, and sin no more.

Other student recruitment blog posts:


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.

One thought on “7 Deadly Sins on Admissions Sites”

  1. Nice overview, Susan! Will definitely keep this list close at hand when doing client work. And I just recently wrote a blog post dealing specifically with #5 (http://bit.ly/17fWP7X) . Amazing how people underestimate the seriousness of prospective students.

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