Annette Fowler

Improving Your Higher Ed Website from the Parent of a High School Junior

Est. Reading Time: 6 minutes

I am, for better and for worse, the parent of a high school junior this year. This means that I spend about 75% of my free time worrying about what my child is going to be doing a year an a half from now as she heads to college (and how I’m going to be paying for it– but that’s another story).

At this point, we are deeply buried in piles of admissions bulletins and postcards and busily searching college websites to narrow our list. This is an interesting shift for me, because as a project manager with Beacon’s software development group, I’ve been deeply involved in many large higher education website launches and have analyzed these sites as a stakeholder, student, visitor, etc., but never as a parent.

With this new and unique perspective, I thought I’d create a list of my recent higher ed website-related discoveries. I plan to update this periodically through the next year, as I’m sure my perspective will change as we progress from “prospective” to “applied” to “current” students.

  1. Just the Facts– I know that every family is different, but we’ve focused upon the following when trying to narrow the list of thousands of schools to just a handful to really research (in order of priority to us)– majors offered, location, tuition/board, extracurriculars offered, size/enrollment. Please make it very easy to find these facts somewhere on your site!  I know that many schools offer an admissions “portal” that we can register for to get access to this type of information, but at the early stages of this process and with hundreds of schools to consider, it is a lot of effort to fill out a HUGE form, wait for an email to arrive and then log in to the portal, just to get this info.  It would be really nice to have a “Just the Facts” page that summarized these items and then if the school makes our “list”, we’ll be sure to register to learn more.
  2. Requesting Information– Please make it really easy for us to get mailed a packet of information about the school. As we are in the very infancy of our search, we mostly just want to get a pretty book of pictures to look at and some basic school facts. Most university sites ask for at least 25 fields of required information (if we could even find the form) to get this.  I’m happy to give you address, email and areas of interest (academic and extracurricular), but that’s pretty much it until we know each other a little better. And, by the way, please call it “Request Information” not some clever like “Learn More”, “Join the Mailing List”, etc. Finally, please let me request this information as many times as I want. At least two schools wouldn’t let us submit the form because they already had our info (probably from a college fair months/years ago). I do understand the issues of data integrity, but if I go to the effort to fill out this form, I clearly don’t have this information anymore but still want it, so wouldn’t it really be to your benefit to send it to me again?
  3. Programs/Majors– On every single school website that we go to, we first search for the majors/academic programs offered to make sure that the school has the program we are looking for. My child is looking for a very specific program and I don’t want to spend a bunch of time trying to figure out what the university calls their colleges and/or programs.  Please have a simple list of all majors offered and links to where I can find more information about requirements, classes, faculty, etc. but don’t pack all that information onto one page.
  4. The Home Page– I know from personal experience that it will kill you to hear this, but so far I’ve spent about two seconds per school looking at the home page (max!). I know you spend a lot of time and effort refining that home page, but at this point, I’ve only been using it to navigate to the Academics and Admissions areas of the site (sorry!).
  5. Photography– I’m pretty sure most schools are paying a pretty penny for professional photographers (or have them on staff!) and, let me tell you, it is WORTH every penny! My child is not interested in remaining in-state for college (sniff!), and I don’t have the time or means to visit the 38 schools on her list, so we pour over these photographs, videos, etc. If you want to be on the short list of the schools that we make it to visit, please give us lots of pretty imagery.
  6. Mobile functionality- So far during the college search, we’ve primarily used my iPad to fill out request information forms, so PLEASE make those forms mobile-friendly– many, many were completely unusable – particularly the “high school look-up” functionality.  We’ve also used a mobile device (iPhone) to look at slideshows, videos and campus photography. I leave any page that has lots of text on it for my computer monitor, because most of the long text-heavy pages are virtually unreadable on the iPad/iPhone.
  7. Third Party Sites– My child’s high school uses “Naviance” for their internal college search tool, though I’m sure there are others. If you feed your data to a service like this, please make sure it is up-to-date and accurate. Of primary importance to my family is the majors offered. If you don’t offer the program that we are looking for, I’m not going to even visit your website. In addition, we’ve found errors with enrollment, tuition and one school even misspelled the campus city, so we couldn’t find it on a map! Check your data people!

I would welcome your comments and feedback and thanks for listening!