What Students Aren't Finding On Your Higher Ed Website
In order to redesign a website’s interface or navigation successfully, we first need to understand how it is currently being used by both internal and external audiences. Meeting with stakeholders will help us to define key business objectives, but it is equally important to hear directly from our users so that we are including their needs as well.
On most higher ed websites, stakeholders will want to use the homepage to promote academic offerings, campus life, and news stories in order to engage with prospective applicants and donors. It is important to remember though, that a college or university website cannot be designed solely from an administrative perspective; meeting with actual students to understand why they visit the site and what they are looking for will make a noticeable difference in the final redesign.
Looking at qualitative research collected over the years—from interviewing students at small private colleges, to meeting with members of community college districts—we’ve listed three areas of content that students in focus groups are routinely asking to see more of.
Resources & Quicklinks
Once a student has enrolled at a college or university, their relationship to the school’s website drastically changes. What was once an important tool in their research of the admissions process and areas of study, is now much more of a utility, relying on the site for a number of outbound links and internal services. For them, the website mostly serves as a jumping off point to get to the following:
- Internal logins (e.g. student portals, email login)
- Third party apps (e.g. Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle)
- Academic resources (e.g. catalog, calendars, library, bookstore)
- Contacts and wayfindings (e.g. directories, building hours, campus maps)
Occidental College website uses a Quicklinks dropdown for their gateways, directories, and other student resources. Full case study here.
Dates & Deadlines
Students will have a number of due dates to keep in mind throughout the school year, from financial aid applications to summer classes and more. Between emails, letters, social media, and other forms of communication, the different dates & deadlines can be hard to keep track of. An academic calendar or a more generic student landing page on the .edu site can serve as a centralized point of reference for all types of students, including the reminders that are most relevant to them:
- Prospective students (e.g. application deadlines, financial aid, scholarships)
- Accepted students (e.g. registration dates, student orientation)
- Current students (e.g. final exam schedules, events on campus)
- Families & community (e.g. commencement, athletic events, performing arts)
San Jacinto College website features a prominent call-to-action beneath the banner of their homepage.
Student Support & Awareness
As previously mentioned, we want to make sure that our higher ed website is appealing to our target audiences without alienating other important visitors. But too often when a college or university overwhelmingly focuses on recruitment, valuable content related to student support can get swept under the rug. It’s important that the website helps to bring awareness to how the school or university can accommodate the needs of students beyond enrollment.
- On campus (e.g. health services, dining, counseling)
- Student services (e.g. academic advising, tutoring, career services)
- Support centers (e.g. international students, disabled students, undocumented students)
Scripps College includes "Student Services" as a main menu item on their recently redesigned website.