What Prospective Students Want to See on Higher Ed Websites

Your university’s website is your most effective tool for engaging prospective students. 93% of students use a college’s website to get information. Plus, studies show that a university’s website is often the only source of information that “stealth applicants” use. These are students who don’t make any contact or inquiries before applying for admission. 

So, how can you engage with prospective students effectively and help them determine whether your university is the right fit? Let’s explore the primary elements potential students look for from higher education websites, with examples from the top college websites and statistics from the 2023 e-Expectations Trends Report

Easily-accessible educational and campus information 

According to the Trends Report, when asked what frustrates prospective students the most about higher education websites, the top answer students gave was hard-to-find information about specific programs and majors.

Students want a glimpse into the type of experience they’ll receive while at your school. Make this information readily available by working through frequently asked questions from prospective students and strategizing ways to meet their needs.


Common questions prospective students have


Put yourself in potential students’ shoes to understand their common concerns and questions, such as:

  • Where is the school located?
  • Does this school offer the major or degree I’m interested in?
  • What are the admissions statistics and criteria? 
  • What is student life like?
  • What kinds of financial aid are available? 
  • What makes this school unique?
  • What are my job prospects like once I graduate from the program I’m interested in? 
  • What do real students think about going to this university?
  • What is the alumni experience like?
  • How can I apply?  
  • When is the deadline to apply?

Your task is to create a user journey for prospective students that answers these questions and provides all the resources prospects need.


Ways to answer questions from prospective students


Strategize how your university will answer students’ FAQs through your website design approach. Start by ensuring that your website offers the following elements:

  • Simple, mobile-friendly, accessible forms that are accessible via mobile devices, tablets, or laptops. For example, the University of Notre Dame’s request information form offers a simple page that prospects can complete in just a few steps.
  • Clear internal search functionality that includes quick links and opportunities to filter a search based on specific criteria. Take a look at Adelphi University’s internal search function as an example—it offers quick access to information about programs and a faculty directory.

Alt: Adelphi University’s internal search engine with quick access links for programs and a directory

  • Call to action (CTA) buttons and menu items tailored to different interests and user needs. For instance, Loyola University Maryland offers just three clear CTAs in its top-level menu: Visit, Apply, and Give.

Alt: Loyola University Maryland’s top-level menu with three CTAs: Visit, Apply, and Give

  • Easily navigable main menu that offers pathways for each primary user group, including potential students. Check out Flagler College’s expandable main menu for an example of an effective way to structure your menu. An expandable main menu keeps your homepage uncluttered while still providing convenient navigation options to help each user find what they’re looking for.

Alt: Flagler College’s expandable main menu

  • Videos and images showcasing student life that give future students an idea of what it’s like to be a member of the student community. For example, Georgetown University’s Campus & City page features a video illustrating different activities Georgetown students can participate in around the D.C. area.

In addition, consider offering a prospective or admitted students information page that directly answers potential students’ FAQs, like the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Prospective Students Page. The page features information about campus life, the academic environment, student activities, admissions, and more. 

Personalized content

The Trends Report revealed that 56% of prospective students like websites to show personalized content. Create personalized interactions by taking these steps:

  • Use form responses to personalize email follow-ups. For example, if a prospective student notes an interest in learning about the journalism program, send an email response with information about the classes, professors, educational pathways, and real-world opportunities available to journalism students.
  • Include a quiz to help prospects get connected to relevant resources. For example, you can create a “What Major is Right for Me?” quiz that helps narrow down what prospective students are interested in and provides information tailored to their interests.
  • Allow users to “choose their own adventure” based on the programs that interest them. Allow potential students to dive into information about study abroad, research opportunities, potential careers based on their intended major, and other areas they may be interested in. For example, the University of Arizona’s “I am” CTA allows users to pick from several options, including “a future student, a current student, a faculty or staff member” and many more. Future students are sent to a page with information about applying, different ways to attend the university, and other resources tailored to their frequently asked questions. 

Alt: The University of Arizona’s “I am” CTA, which allows users to choose the category that best describes them

Potential students will appreciate your efforts to create a personalized experience that speaks to their needs. This can help make the decision to apply to or attend your school much easier. 

Inclusive content

Prospective students want to know they will be welcomed at your university, no matter who they are. Make your website more welcoming by incorporating:

  • Inclusive language. Inclusive language is a priority for many young people today. According to a Pew Research Center study, Gen Z is by far the most likely to say that online forms asking about a person’s gender should include options other than just “man” and “woman.” Kanopi recommends avoiding gendered, ableist, and colonialist language on your website to make it as inclusive as possible.
  • Inclusive imagery. Your website visuals should accurately reflect the diversity of your student community. Choose genuine, candid photos to make your site feel more authentic. Try to avoid stock photography.
  • Clear diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) policies and resources for students from underrepresented groups. Empower future students with clear DEI policies laid out on a web page or microsite. Check out Kenyon College’s Diversity & Inclusion page for an effective example of a robust DEI policy.
  • Financial aid information. 93 percent of high school juniors looked for information on the cost of attendance when researching college choice via college websites. Make pricing and financial aid information easy to find and calculate. For example, Flagler College offers a Net Price Calculator for first-year and transfer students.
  • Resources for first-generation students. First-generation college students often have additional questions and concerns as the first members of their family to attend a university. Make them feel comfortable and welcomed with a robust catalog of resources. For instance, the University of Georgia’s First Generation Student Resources page includes many helpful resources such as a First Generation Handbook, student organizations for first-generation students, and financial aid information.

Your website should project one primary message to prospective students: “You belong here.” Today’s prospective students want to know that your campus is a safe, welcoming environment that offers resources tailored to their individual needs. 

Opportunities to interact with your university

The Trends Report shows that prospective students are interested in opportunities like virtual tours and interactive maps that help them connect with the university on a deeper level. Incorporate more opportunities for interaction by using your website to showcase:

  • Prospective and admitted student events such as information sessions or meet-and-greets with student ambassadors and college representatives
  • Prospective student message boards or social media groups where prospective or admitted students can ask questions and connect with fellow students
  • Opportunities to connect with current student ambassadors via email, social media, or video chat
  • Microcredential opportunities that give prospective students a taste of what your university’s classes offer (Pro tip: add gamification elements such as digital badges that help students track progress or quiz results!)
  • Virtual tours that allow prospective students to get a feel for the campus without having to visit in person (Rice’s immersive virtual tour comes to mind as an impressive example of an online college tour)
  • Sign-up page where prospective students can register for in-person campus tours

Interaction opportunities give a friendly face to your higher education institution, helping prospective students connect with real students and faculty to get an inside look at what it’s like to attend your university.

Prospective students may be feeling a mix of emotions as they explore your university’s website: excitement, nervousness, and intrigue are just a few that come to mind. Help alleviate any apprehension and increase students’ excitement by providing a smooth user experience. A positive user journey can help you connect with more students who will be a great fit for your school and contribute positively to your university’s community.

April 5, 2024

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