Colleges may be leaving a lot of money on the table if their website, today’s first point of contact for many tech-savvy students, falls below expectations, according to a new report by Modern Campus, conducted by Ruffalo Noel Levitz (RNL).
The “2023 e-Expectations Trends Report” surveyed more than 2,000 high school students to discover how they prefer to learn about colleges they might be interested in applying to. The report found that 93% of prospective students navigate to a college’s website as one of its first points of contact with the schools. It’s no surprise then that the effectiveness of an institution’s website is pivotal to earning a student.
Luckily, 87% of students find websites helpful. However, there seem to be some critical points for improvement, like website navigation and transparency. For example, nearly a quarter of students said it was difficult to find information on their majors and programs (22%). The second and third most frustrating aspects of a college’s website were confusing information about the admissions process and difficult navigation instructions and links.
Similarly, college websites lack personalization features, which prospects are growing to expect. More than half of all students said they like using sites that personalize content to meet their interests. However, 12% found it frustrating that college websites don’t allow this feature.
When it comes to devices, mobile is king. More than half of all students use their mobile for their first contact point: requesting information (64%), using a cost calculator (63%), chatting online (53%) and using a scholarship calculator (52%). They only really sit down in front of a computer once they’re locked into a school, such as with filling out forms and applications.
With this in mind, Modern Campus advises building college websites that are mobile-friendly, personalized and easy to navigate to course information and the application process.
How college virtual tours are still proving popular
College students may be flooding back onto campuses since the pandemic’s waning, but don’t let up on virtual tour offerings. Modern Campus found that 73% of students are likely to enroll after completing a college virtual tour, a rate that’s increased since 2019. More than a quarter of students reported scheduling a visit after viewing a virtual tour, and a fifth completed an application.
Half of all seniors and 47% of juniors surveyed had completed a virtual tour. This means that potentially half of all prospective students are taking virtual tours, with nearly three-quarters of those students feeling likely to enroll afterward.
How are students even getting to your website?
Nearly 60% of prospective students land on a college website using a search engine, and 70% search for a specific school directly. This shows the importance of a college’s brand among today’s digital native learners.
However, a combined 98% of students click on schools after searching for specific academic programs and career interests. Colleges that lack brand power can integrate course catalogs and career pathways into website designs to attract students more interested in researching an institution’s specific offerings. As a result, institutions can increase their search-engine visibility by featuring real-time career data and adding course catalog keywords.