Educational institutions face a number of unique challenges in the world of web design, and typically a singular goal: increase enrollment. The bottom line for most schools is to increase awareness and interest, eventually leading to more signups, a healthier student body, and a thriving educational ecosystem as a result.
So how can these schools, through web design, increase their chances of appealing to new and existing students alike?
Key Challenges to Overcome
First, let’s take a look at some of the biggest challenges educational institutions face when it comes to designing an effective website:
· Highlighting core programs. Most colleges have “main” programs, or areas of specialty that they like to promote, such as Orion College’s online medical assistant program. How can you make sure students see and are aware of what these programs really have to offer?
· Distinguishing from the competition. One glance at Wikipedia’s list of colleges and universities, and you’ll realize just how abundant these education programs really are. How can you make your voice stand out among that level of competition?
· Taking the next step. Providing information and raising awareness is good, but ultimately, you want your site visitors to engage with you in some meaningful way, such as signing up for a tour, enrolling online, or even adding themselves to an email list. How can you successfully achieve these conversions?
With these challenges in mind, let’s evaluate some web design strategies that can maximize your college or university’s chances of success:
1. Find ways to showcase your brand. Yes, even colleges and universities have brands. What’s the personality of your school like? What kind of tone are you trying to showcase? Choosing these characteristics for your school is a way of distinguishing yourself from the competition and zeroing in on a particular niche. For example, the University of Maryland uses a unique, playful font choice to emphasize its welcoming and contemplative nature. You don’t have to limit this to font choices; your choice in colors, the wording of your headlines, and even the overall layout of your site should be carefully considered in terms of how they relate to your brand.
2. Offer plenty of chances to interact. It’s good to include lots of straightforward information on your programs and multimedia content to increase interest and understanding of your programs, but don’t forget that engagement is your ultimate goal. Without engagement, you’ll be less memorable, and your visitors won’t pass as much real value to your site. Because of this, you’ll want to make your site as engaging as possible, giving students the chance to post comments, interact with your material, and sign up for more information. Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for conversion.
3. Include more images of your school. This isn’t much of an option for online universities, but as long as you have a physical location, be sure to include lots of high-definition photos of your facilities. Reading about a location is much different than actually seeing it, and until you have a way to teleport distant students to your location overnight, the best chance you have to show off is hosting a gallery of different images of your campus. The University of Notre Dame does this well, and has ample architecture to show off.
4. Balance your content. There’s a tough balance to strike when it comes to the density and volume of content on your website. You want to include as much information as possible, to help users make an informed decision, but at the same time you want to remain minimalistic to preserve high design standards and better aesthetic appeal. Try to get the best of both worlds, like the University of Tennessee. On their site, you’ll notice many pages with lots of white space and minimalistic openness, but you’ll also find some pages packed with information. Keeping this balance is imperative if you want to keep users’ attentions and still walk away with a beautiful site design.
5. Make it personal. Students don’t want to feel like they’re ushered through an assembly line, nor do they want to enroll in a faceless university. They want to be recognized as individuals, and they crave a personal experience. Bucknell University made a bold design choice in letting users customize their own versions of their homepage, toggling different features on and off. You don’t have to be this literal with your personnalisation, but you should go out of your way to make your visitors feel like they’re being seen as the individuals they are.
These design trends can help you create or rebuild an ideal platform to encourage more student enrollment. Your first job is discovering what makes you unique in the field, and you second job is finding out exactly what your students want to know about. Once you know those two things, you can apply these trends and sculpt a website that naturally appeals to your target audience, sending your online signups and overall reputation soaring.