Report: Some College Websites Don’t Give Prospective Students What They Need

NationalTech
Posted By Terri Williams on January 2, 2017 at 12:39 pm
Report: Some College Websites Don’t Give Prospective Students What They Need

When students and their parents research institutions of higher learning, they look for a variety of information. Among the most-used resources for the information are college websites. But college websites may not always have what students need, according to Mythbusting Websites, a new report by Chegg Enrollment Services and mStoner.

How important is the research? The 2016 Princeton College Hopes and Worries report reveals that students are applying to more schools and also worrying about how they’re going to pay for college. In addition, they’re looking for schools that offer their preferred degree program while keeping an eye on the best majors for jobs of the future.

That’s why bad information can hurt students and schools alike. Mythbusting Websites reveals seven myths regarding what colleges think prospective students want on a website and how these students really feel.

7 common myths about college websites

1. A college’s website works for students even if it isn’t mobile-friendly

Colleges need to make sure that their websites are responsive – that is, that the websites adapt when viewed on a cellphone or other mobile device. Among those responding to the survey, 92 percent of higher-education professionals used laptops or desktops. However, 66 percent of students used smartphones so schools need to make sure that their websites are mobile friendly.

2. Students will think poorly of a college if the school has a bad website

About 77 percent of higher ed professionals thought students would think less of a college with a bad website. However, only 43 percent of students felt that a bad website influenced their opinion of the school itself. As long as the website had “some redeeming qualities,” most students were quite forgiving.

3. A website is the most important influence in a student’s decision

While a college’s website is important to students looking for information, it may not be as important as college professionals think. Although 80 percent of the college pros thought the website would rank very highly in the decision-making process, only 37 percent of students agreed.

4. Students overwhelmingly prefer videos and images to text on websites

About 76 percent of college professionals thought students preferred videos over text, and 74 percent thought that photos would be the second most popular choice. However, 64 percent of students thought text and articles were most important. Photographs were a close second (60 percent), and videos were in fifth place.

5. Students move freely back and forth between social media and college websites

While most students are quite active on social media, they typically don’t follow a college’s website to the school’s social media channels, or vice versa.

6. Students are eager to engage with a college through a smartphone app

Students download a lot of apps, but apparently, they’re not too keen on downloading college-related apps. Only 22 percent of students said they would download an app to learn more about a college, although 54 percent of college professionals thought students would probably do so.

7. Virtual tours are way more important to students than campus maps

78 percent of college professionals believe that students look at virtual tours when comparing schools, and 39 percent believe they look at campus maps. However, only 64 percent of students actually use virtual tours and a whopping 67 percent use campus maps.

What’s really important to students

While students use a lot of sources to research a college, Michael Stoner, co-founder and president of mStoner Inc. and a co-sponsor of the survey, tells GoodCall,  “A college’s website is the single most important source of information that the college produces, providing ready access to all sorts of vital information.”

From the initial search through the admissions process, Stoner says these websites play an important role in shaping decisions. “Initially, they’re seeking information about majors and academic opportunities, financial aid, and admission, and once they’ve chosen to apply, they’ll go deeper into these areas and explore more broadly – and details about specific processes become more important.”

After deciding where they want to attend school, Stoner says students will probably turn to social media to see what other students are saying, but they’ll also start looking at the school’s official social media accounts. “Throughout, though, they’re looking for good navigation, search, and clear language that leads them to the information they want,” he says.

While they may not use video on a casual level, Stoner says they will if they believe the content will provide value to them: “For example, they may watch a video of a professor teaching when they’ve decided they are interested in a major.”

Beth Brody of Stockton, NJ, is the parent of a high school senior, and she agrees that a college’s website is very important.” Especially if the college is far away and the student is unable to visit the campus – and virtual tours are also helpful,” she says.

Brody tells GoodCall that she needs to be able to easily locate such information as tuition costs, available scholarships, and a list of majors. “College websites should also make sure their websites are carefully proofread because it makes a bad impression when we see typos and misspellings,” Brody warns.

And when parents and students can’t find information on the website, Brody believes that the college admissions counselors should step in to help. “I emailed some questions to the admissions department at one university in New Jersey and their response was that I should type my questions into the search box on their website,” says Brody, who concludes, “That was the most unhelpful response I received from the dozens of colleges we wrote to.”

Brody’s experience was significant because when survey respondents were asked to list the biggest weaknesses of college websites, the answers, in order, were:

  • It was difficult to get around the site to find information they want/need.
  • The content didn’t answer their questions.
  • The search features didn’t work well.

While students and their parents might be forgiving of some website flaws, failing to make information readily available could be a deal-breaker.

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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