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.

9 Responses to “Best Education Sites Maps College Web Design, Utility”

  1. Hi Mr. Tabor,
    My name is Kristen Phelps and I’m currently in Dr. Stanges’ EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I’ve been assigned to comment on your blog! Considering that I’m still in college, I understand this article oh, so well. It was only 3 years ago that I had the joy of being harassed via snail mail by colleges! :) I have noticed though, that colleges have really jumped on board with social networking through things such as Facebook, Twitter, and their own personal websites. Sometimes I feel like everywhere I turn I have a “Check us out on Facebook” sign staring me in the face! I checked out the “Best Education Sites” link from your post and I have to say that I thought it was REALLY interesting! I’m going to put a link to it on my blog for my classmates and hopefully my teacher to take a look at! I think they would all find it interesting as well. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Interesting graphic. Dear Daughter is in the middle of her Freshman year at a local university. It was quite amusing to go through the courting process with her as school after school deluged her email and my mail box with information. Another interesting aspect to this is how these schools contact their alumni. That’s the side of the fence I’m on presently as my age group is one of the fastest growing segments of the population using social media. Often I’m contacted four or five different ways from the same alma mater….it would nice if they would hit on a mosre concise way to let me know what is going on. One school has five different Facebook pages alone for various departments.

  3. James Dunnam says:

    Hello Matthew,
    My name is James Dunnam, I am a Secondary Education Student in <a href=""Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class. I am a retired military veteran, not your typical college student right out of High School. I am a older student so there were not any colleges trying to market me as a prospective student. I did my own research on the local colleges through their websites. I obtained a wealth of information by surfing the web. I was able to search programs, course information, degree plans and almost everything else that I needed to know.

    In my research, I never really noticed any colleges using social networking sites. However at the time I was not that familiar with social networking sites. With that said, I do think that it is a good idea. I looked at your “Best Education Websites” link from your post and I thought that is was very interesting. I noticed that the top ranked colleges were also the ones with the best web presence. I think that the internet is a very powerful tool and the colleges that make the most of that tool will lead the way in education.
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Hailey Pope says:

    As a college junior at the University of South Alabama, I easily remember the amount of incoming e-mails, calls, and even texts from multiple universities within the last months of my high career. Also, during these two years in college, I have seen changes made in the Public Relations aspect of the college. Since I have been attending, there are Facebook groups and pages for not only the university, but for the individual departments, clubs, and activities. Also, South has a twitter account, and an Iphone application. These methods help reach students in ways other than the basic pamphlets in the mail. It also keeps current students active in campus activities. Colleges are essentially using all resources they can to connect to high school juniors and seniors and it seems to be working!

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