Top 10 Design Guidelines for Your Higher Education Website

Paul Schetelich

Lead Designer

If your college or university’s website is being updated, it’s important to create a positive experience for prospective students. Effective university websites can increase conversions, improve user satisfaction, strengthen credibility and save time and money. What’s interesting is that many colleges and universities miss the mark when it comes to creating quality, functional websites. So rather than comparing your website to your competition, set the bar high and follow these top ten design guidelines.

1. Identify Your University on Each Page

The name of your higher institution should be on each and every page of your website. This may seem redundant and perhaps trivial, but keep in mind that not everyone enters your website through the homepage. Many visitors will come to your website through internal pages on search. By having your name clearly posted on each page, visitors will know exactly what school they’re interacting with. Brand recognition is also increased.

2. Add Images that Match Your Values

Images tell a lot about your school. Take a look at the pictures posted on your website and ask yourself if they tell the “right” story. Are students happy? Are they interacting with each other? Is there diversity?

The images should always be of your students - never stock images. Stock images are bland, generic and meaningless, and visitors will notice the difference. It also makes people feel like you don’t care. Take the time to get out on campus and photograph students in their element.

3. Create a Strong ‘About Us’ Page

One of the first pages that students will visit when learning about a new college or university is the About Us page. Make it count. Many schools have dull, boring About Us pages that go into detail about the university’s history or include outdated facts and figures. Or, the page may instead look like a cookie-cutter introduction page. Keep this page short, simple and easy-to-scan, using bulleted lists to highlight key facts about your school.

4. List Your Majors and Programs

Another page that should be easy to scan is your list of majors and programs. Prospective students typically start their journey by looking for majors rather than particular schools. It’s not until they find programs of interest that they narrow down their search and start looking at individual colleges. If you don’t have a clear list, students may think that the program isn’t offered at your university. If you have a lot of programs at your school, group them together by field.

5. Provide Information about Job Placement

What happens after graduation is very important for prospective students. They want to be assured that their hard work and financial investment will pay off. Provide information about what graduates are doing after they graduate. Make sure you have resources and links to back up this information. You may also include testimonials from alumni. If you don’t have this information yet, start collecting it to build out the Alumni section of your website.

6. Display Your Strengths and Achievements

Your school’s strengths and achievements are what make you different from other programs. Gather up all the statistics, rankings and awards you can think of and decide which ones tell the best story of your school. Highlight these strengths and achievements in a bullet list rather than burying them deep in content that is likely to be overlooked by readers. Seeing that your school has achievements and awards is a fast and easy way to build trust and loyalty.

7. Keep Things Clean, Simple and Formal

You have a young audience to appeal to, and you may think it’s smart to connect with them by using flashy graphics and trendy phrases. Though some brands benefit from this jovial attitude, it doesn’t work well in the academic setting. Most students go into debt after investing in college, and the last thing they want is a school that doesn’t take the journey seriously. The best way to connect with students on a personal level is to have other students talk to them.

8. Make Sure External Sites are Updated

If adults are impatient when conducting an online search, imagine how impatient teenagers can be! If a prospective student can’t find what they’re looking for on your website, they’ll leave and try to find the information on an external site. Obviously, the best way to avoid this from happening is to create an engaging site, but you can’t control user behavior entirely. In the meantime, make sure information about your higher institution is updated and accurate on external sites.

9. Outline the Application Process

If you’re not clear about the application process, it’s possible that some students won’t apply at all. Remember, there’s a lot of competition, and students will look for easy ways to cross schools off their list. To avoid this from happening, create an Admissions or Apply page that is easy to follow and has all important dates listed. Applicants should be able to spot the information quickly and have no trouble sending in an application.

10. Follow the Student Journey

Prospective college students have a journey they follow and it’s important that you understand it. The better you recognize this journey, the better you can provide students with the right information at the right time. This builds trust, loyalty and credibility while also establishing strong relationships.

You can learn about the unique student journey through students themselves and the conversations they’re having on social media. It’s also smart to look at areas where your website is lacking. Are there pages that students are bouncing off of? Do you have duplicate, misleading or inaccurate information on your site? As you improve your pages, use split testing to see which messaging, tone, images, etc. work best for your audience.

Conclusion

Developing a website for your higher institution is a continued work in progress. The good news is that you can improve your website easily with each new school year. New students means that your college environment is always changing, and there’s likely other improvements to celebrate such as renovated dorms and academic buildings, new programs and staff and opportunities to get involved on campus. By practicing the above guidelines, you can create an interactive and engaging website that follows students on their unique journey to a higher education.

About the Author: Paul Schetelich

Since the days of sidewalk chalk and finger paints, Paul has been creatively crafting the art of design. With a B.A. in Graphic Design from Monmouth University and a Masters from the Califano School of Art - Paul quickly moved up the ranks at SEMGeeks from Junior Designer to the Lead Designer. With 4+ years of experience in web design Paul is ready to conquer the digital atmosphere.

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