Monday, January 29, 2007

Audience-Oriented Links - "Prospective Students"

Part 1 in a look at what's behind audience-oriented links.

In my Analysis of Navigational Links on Top 20 Home Pages, I discovered that 75% of the sites had a navigational menu devoted to audience groups (e.g., prospective students, current students, faculty, alumni, etc.) and 90% at least had a link for at least "Alumni".

Obviously, audience-oriented navigation is popular. But what is behind those links? What services and information are sites directing these audiences to?

This is the first in a series of posts exploring the links behind the audience-oriented menus.

Prospective Students

As I discovered in a previous post, "prospective students" is not a universal label. Of the 12 sites with a link to this audience group, 9 used the label "prospective students" and 3 used "future students". I personally like "future students" better, but mostly because it's shorter and would fit in a smaller space.

Methodology and Results

I clicked on the "Prospective Students" link and inventoried the links unique to that page, ignoring global navigation links that were also found on other pages. Here's the results (links that appeared on 3 or more sites):

Link Total Percent
Graduate Admissions 11 92%
Undergraduate Admissions 9 75%
Financial Aid 7 58%
International Students 7 58%
Visiting/Visitor Center 6 50%
Continuing Education 5 42%
Distance/Online Learning 5 42%
Transfer Students 5 42%
Academics 4 33%
Apply Online 4 33%
Campus Map 4 33%
Freshmen 4 33%
Summer Academic Programs 4 33%
Directions 3 25%
Housing 3 25%
Campuses 3 25%


Eh. Mostly pretty boring and typical stuff. Come on people! Do something engaging and interesting! This is the page where students who are shopping for a university go first. This page should really grab them and offer a persuasive argument why your university is THE ONE they want. After all, these students may be looking at dozens of other university sites. You have to do something that stands out.

And honestly, for the most part, none of the 12 sites that I looked at did. But a few are doing some vaguely interesting stuff.

Utah State has a link to campus webcams (though the image is lame).

University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign and the University of Colorado both had links to virtual tours. Unfortunately, UIUC's wasn't even an actual virtual tour. UC's was better, but used pop-up windows (annoying) and only featured a few locations. I'll do an entire post on virtual tours some time soon.

Today's prospective students are pretty technologically savvy and used to social networking applications like MySpace and Facebook, as well as self-publishing tools such as blogs, photo sharing sites, as well as video-sharing sites like Youtube. Today's universities need to be making good use of these technologies, particularly on the pages that prospective students are most likely to visit.

Recommendations: Stand out from the Crowd

So what things can you do to attract prospective students and stand out from the crowd?

  • Use student blogs to personalize your school
  • Use videos to communicate your people and your place (post them on YouTube as well)
    • Campus Tours
    • Student Life
    • Community Attractions
    • Lectures and seminars
    • Concerts and performances
  • Used geotagged photos in Flickr or Panoramio to show the beauty of your campus or location
  • Create virtual tours in Google Earth to familiarize people with your area (Here's an example - you'll need Google Earth installed. Choose "Tools", "Play Tour" to play the tour. You may have to adjust your tour settings to slow it down a bit. All place marks in the tour have photos attached.)
    • Campus Tours
    • Restaurants, Cultural Attractions
    • Local Landmarks
  • Use podcasts like blogs and videos to personalize your school and to communicate the people and place
  • Use Facebook groups and online forums to personalize your school and to reach out to prospective students
  • Use IM to chat with prospective students live

Not all of these might be appropriate for your campus, but prospective students are going to be using these tools to learn about your campus. Even though you can no longer control the message, at least you can be part of it.

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