When a college has a bad website

Just venting here. I feel like I’m being over-influenced by the college websites. Specifically the bad ones.

I’m well aware of the big money spent by colleges on their marketing materials. Our family has toured nearly a dozen colleges now, so I realize that experiencing a school in person is the best way to evaluate. I don’t think I’m being sold by good websites so much as put off by bad ones.

What I’m talking about in the way the information is organized. Does anyone else experience this, where some school websites are user-friendly, and all the info flows logically and is easy to find. Other schools have huge photos and brief inspirational words on main pages, but the actual information is hidden in a teeny-tiny “menu” hidden way up in the corner? Then you have to click through several pages to find it. When you get there, it’s a page with dense blocks of text and no graphics, photos or eye-friendly features. Why?

What I’m wondering is why, if colleges are so interested marketing, do so many colleges have hard-to-navigate websites? I’m over-thinking it, I know, but it definitely influences me (I’m a parent). I ask myself “is this the website I want my family to be looking at for the next 4+ years?”. I’m experiencing this with many different types of colleges, many of them with lots of $ that could be used to improve the website. Then website experience seems so important, especially during a pandemic. I’m really wondering why more attention is not paid to this crucial aspect of the school.

That is all. Thanks for listening, everyone! :slight_smile:

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I wouldn’t let it be a factor in choosing the college or not. But I will pile on. For some time now, college websites often have this horrible main page with a gigantic photo that covers even more than a full screen view, with little helpful text, and any remotely helpful text is disproportionately tiny compared to the photos, so that control-minus to reduce the photos makes the text size unreadable, and vice versa, control-plus to increase the text size makes the photos even bigger. All sense of visual proportion for communicating information is gone, in favor of looking… cool, I suppose?

I realize that with commercial websites, clicking and scrolling have some sort of advertising value, such that the inconveniences are completely intentional. But, it’s disappointing to see so much of that in college websites, a failure to accurately and logically communicate information, in favor of poor web design trends.

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It is frustrating but I would not let the web design for a college inform your ultimate choice. You will have nothing to do with admissions or the people who design the school’s website once you start a college.

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In my opinion, Cal Poly SLO has one of the least user friendly websites/portals. It amazes me that a polytech school doesn’t have a better website.

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I cannot imagine caring about the college’s website. In fact, if a college is putting its resources towards labs and libraries and faculty and better advising for fellowships and a living wage for its custodial staff instead of constantly redesigning its landing page- I’m all for it!

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I notice most public colleges have less than impressive websites. I attribute it to lack of budget but it is annoying.

I suppose Yale can get away with it, based on name recognition. But allowing their art school site be what it is has always intrigued me. https://www.art.yale.edu/

My experience after two admissions cycles is that marketing material, information sessions, and the like, can provide some level of insight into the overall organization, operation, and delivery effectiveness of services to students.

My complaint is that some of the worst web site designs are clearly expensive. Lots of bells and whistles, but you can’t even find what majors they offer. Or so many moving photos and text that I become motion sick. Some of the best websites come from schools I know have low budgets.

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I would be careful about overvaluing the campus tours. They often don’t emulate the actual experience.

On the websites, I am a big fan of search Searching for “Course Catalog” is much faster than clicking on a thousand links.

One might care if useful information for applicants or current students is hard to find.

Sometimes, such useful information is commonly hard to find (perhaps deliberately hidden). Examples:

  • Secondary admission to major requirements and competitiveness.
  • Effect of intended major on admission.
  • Admission formula for colleges that use formulaic admissions, and what the thresholds will be (if pre-set) or were in past years (if determined competitively).
  • Career survey results by major.
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I never consulted older D’s college website until after she got in, but I found it very hard to navigate and find what I was looking for. She went to a highly ranked college, and I used to joke that I needed to have a degree from there in order to be able to use their website. I’ve used it a couple of times since she graduated and while they’ve made a few user-friendly improvements, it’s still a little stiff and hard to navigate. Not my favorite.

On the other hand, younger D’s college is website is a dream - very user-friendly, with both a search bar and a “chat bot” that quickly take the user to exactly what they are looking for. The content is concise and friendly and doesn’t use an overabundance of complicated vocabulary. I did look at her college websites extensively, pre-applications, as most hadn’t opened up for visits yet after Covid and we had to do a lot of virtual information gathering. The website is not a make or break for college selection but knowing that a college wants to help you find information quickly and easily, scores a lot of parent points with me.

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Ease of use and navigation often depend on whether it’s meant to be navigated on a desktop or a phone and then which one you are using. The target audience is generally students using phones…

And it also often depends on when they did a wholesale re-design vs “updates”. Lots of updates tend to create a clunkier experience.

A slick website is nice, but I wouldn’t let this influence me in any way about a school itself.

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What are, or where are best practices found? So many colleges may not have budget for new hardware or staff to make user friendly social media.

I’m not sure that it is budget. UC Irvine’s website has many links to “Page Not Found” or requires that one log into a portal to find information that isn’t confidential (ex. dates of placement tests).

When one references a post or thread on CC, there is grey wording indicating that it was referenced in another thread (example ). I imagine that something similar can be written into websites so that when one takes down a page, they will see that there are links to it that will no longer work. Maybe it is on the back end of websites but people don’t pay attention to it.

Another thing that annoys me is when one clicks a link to find out more information and the second page has another link that just loops you back to the first page. :weary:

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I view them like college tours. Some were great and some sucked. If it was raining they usually weren’t great but is that really a way to evaluate a college? To me no…also some tour guides were great and some weren’t… Not hugely a reflection on the school unless like everything is like that. We did encounter that

There is usually a search area to plug in words and get to where you need to go to… Usually.
LOL…

But yes, some schools really need to make their sites more user friendly. No question.

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My kid took no college tours because of Covid. Landed at his college without ever having seen it in person. And he loves it.

He had the same complaints as you, and it really does matter. When sites were hard to navigate to find information, they dropped off his list early. What made the most difference were the one on one chats with admissions officers or students, where he could ask lots of questions. But even an average website made sure that he got to that point.

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I’m sure that photos and videos, lists of facilities and events, and easy-to-use navigation don’t waste a lot of time and it doesn’t require the best specialist in the world. If there is a desire, there is a result…

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I personally see it as more of an annoyance than a dealbreaker. I ended up choosing a school with a website that… wasn’t great (not easy to navigate; there was information; but it wasn’t easy to find). I don’t regret the decision and am not sure that I would have been better served by a school with a better website. Again, it was annoying, but never an actual factor that I computed into the decision making process.

That reminds me of this classic: xkcd: University Website

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