Best Education Sites Maps College Web Design, Utility

I’ve seen some interesting, innovative and flat-out weird ways that colleges have marketed to students. When I was on the receiving end, the ‘interesting’ factor in admissions was just starting to climb — but the most I remember are some packages and postcards with wild designs that made colleges look like they were trying too hard to be cool.

Even then, I gravitated toward stodgy, classic and boring.

Now it’s a different game. The other day a parent showed an e-mail her son received from a college that was courting him. The e-mail was a mock-romance letter that said the institution was worried he just wasn’t interested — and they wanted to know, was there someone else?

It was a funny, lighthearted way to communicate — but it shows the extent to which the admissions landscape has changed.

Now, the main portal to a school — the portal they’d like prospective students to jump through, and imbibe absolutely everything on the other side — is the college’s website. Just about everything can be there, and truth be told, it’s a lot more useful than a generic admissions rep or, what’s worse, a jacketed-junior whose knowledge of higher ed couldn’t fill a Nyquil cup stumbling over your most basic questions as you’re hustled across the quad on a third-rate tour.

I love design and web utility. Always have, since that summer class at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School where I learned HTML back in the internet’s Pleistocene Era. It’s been a trip to see how sites in higher education — and particularly the website’s role in the admissions process — has evolved over the last 20 years.

Best Education Sites, a new project designed to track some of the design/utility and engagement in higher ed’s online media, has some pretty interesting analyses of how colleges use the web. It’s no surprise that some schools have taken to social media more quickly — and more successfully — than others, but some of the design patterns surprised me.

If someone had asked me about font use on higher ed sites, I would’ve said 60/40 sans serif to serif. Colleges go for clean and chic, but I didn’t think the edge was more than 3:2 or 2:1.

Wrong. 94% of content on college sites employ sans serif fonts.

And colors might be more interesting. Reds, oranges, greens and purples are incredibly uncommon, while grey and black make up the lion’s share. Blue and yellow you can get away with, it seems.

Hop on over to Best Education Sites and check out their wonderful infographic — it’s worth a look to see how the Mad Men of college admissions are designing their sites.