College websites can be very confusing and intimidating to navigate. Some use industry-leading web platforms and are very dynamic while others look like they haven’t been updated in years. Some make finding the information you’re looking for very simple while others almost seem to be hiding things from you on purpose. Unless you live near the college you want to attend, you will often have to rely on its website for most of your initial information. Therefore, it is worth getting to know its website and how to navigate it.
Check out a few of the homepages for these colleges and universities below, some of which I have attended or worked at. Try them both on a desktop and on your mobile device. What similarities do you notice in their interfaces? What differences? Which is the easiest to navigate? Which is the hardest? Which do you prefer?
The below information on navigating college websites and this section’s Self-Reflection/Discussion Questions are remixed from the open textbook A Different Road to College, pp. 72-74:
Colleges will often cater the organization of their website for different types of students. These types might include:
•New: You’ve never attended any college.
•Returning: You were previously enrolled at this college, you took time off, and now you’re coming back.
•Transferring: You were a student at another college, and now you’re coming to this one.
•Students requiring accommodations: You have a temporary or permanent disability that requires special accommodations, especially during the admissions process.
•Local residents: You are an “in-state” student who lives around the campus.
•Veterans: You are either on active duty or are inactive and will attend classes.
•International: You are a resident of a foreign country and will be attending this university on a student visa.
•Credit: You will take classes that bear credit, moving you toward the completion of a certificate or degree.
•Non-credit or community education: You will take classes that do not bear credit, and you are not seeking to complete a certificate or degree.
•Continuing or adult education: You are taking classes in the evening and/or on weekends that may or may not lead to completing a certificate or degree.
Whether you agree with this organization or not, you probably fit into one of these categories more than you do another. You will need to figure out which one is yours. Luckily, many schools’ front webpage will have a button that reads something like “Getting Started.” If you can find this type of button, then you might have a better chance of figuring out which category pertains to you. Another tool is the search bar. If you can find a search bar on the front page, try typing in a few of these keywords to learn about important aspects of the college: “mission statement,” “strategic plan,” “vision,” “enrollment,” “location,” “application,” “deadline,” “residency,” “student conduct code,” “student rights and responsibilities,” “placement test,” “test scores,” “financial aid,” or “success stories.”
Beyond individual college websites, there are large websites that gather lots of information about colleges all over the country. Some useful websites to check out include:
College Affordability and Transparency Center, which is a portal website run by the United States Department of Education to meet requirements in the Higher Education Opportunity Act. From this portal, you can access:
•College Affordability and Transparency List, which is a report generator that answers questions such as “Which colleges have the highest and lowest tuition and net prices?” or “How much do career and vocational programs cost?” or “How fast are college costs going up?” You can also download archived data files dating back to 2011.
•College Navigator, which is a tool created by the National Center for Education Statistics for finding both general and very specific information about colleges and universities across the United States. General information includes the university website address, type of university, degrees offered, campus setting, availability of campus housing, student population, and student-to-faculty ratio. Specific information includes tuition and estimated student expenses, financial aid availability, enrollment figures, admissions requirements, retention and graduation rates, outcome measures, programs and majors, services for veterans, varsity athletic teams, accreditation information, campus security information, and student loan default rates. You can search for schools by name, state, zip code, level of degree/award, and institution type.
•College Scorecard, which is a tool for comparing colleges and universities. You can compare by programs and degrees, location, size, type of school, and religious affiliation. After you have chosen what schools to compare, you can sort institutions based on average annual cost, graduation rate, or salary after attending.
College Board, which runs the AP® exams and the SAT® test. From this website, you can access:
•Big Future, which offers free college planning information and help with searching for schools, choosing majors, applying for scholarships, and planning for a career.
Strive for College, which is a system of free college and career matching services, including:
•UStrive, which is a free college mentoring service for help with college applications, financial aid documents, career opportunities, and more.
•I’m First, which is an online community celebrating and supporting first-generation college students.
Visiting every campus physically would be tiresome and costly. Luckily, the internet is a digital bridge that connects people and places from all around the world. Make sure you know how to use it. It’s one of the best resources you have in preparing to physically cross that bridge later.
1.Have you ever visited a university’s website? If so, how comfortable were you navigating the site?
2.What information on a college website is most important to you as a student?
3.Do you think it’s important that your university is good at using social media? What kinds of social media platforms should universities be taking most advantage of?
4.As a student, how can you use the college website, social media, and the internet in general to strengthen your own learning community?