Chapter 7: Navigating The College Website

Alise Lamoreaux and Linnea Spitzer

“A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.”

– Author Unknown

A college website can be full of great information and ideas, but it can sometimes feel like a maze. Where do you start? Looking at the pictures? Scrolling down through the information? How do you find the information you need? Is the information you need even there?

The role of a college website has changed substantially over the past few years. Student expectations for easy, accessible information drives colleges to get as much information online as possible. It also can lead to a battle for what information makes it onto the home page and how many clicks it will take to find what the student is looking for.

Student services are increasingly utilizing the college website to communicate with students and expecting that students will be proficient in navigating the college website. Students expect to easily locate information; this is helped when the college uses logical organization to the information architecture and design of the website. College websites can be very frustrating to new users, especially if the new user is a first-time college student and is unfamiliar with the underlying structure of the college system. The people creating the college web site may be very familiar with the way their system works and not see the structure as confusing.

Adding to potential confusion can be the lack of ability to view the entire home page of the college depending on the size of monitor or mobile device the student is accessing the website from. Students are increasingly using smart phones and tablets as their primary viewing device for the Internet. Sometimes key information a student needs may be just out of view on the screen. The experienced user knows to make adjustments, but new users may not. Knowing where and how to get started may not be as easy as the “start here” button.

Logical arrangement of information for the college’s needs may not be a logical progression of information for the student’s needs. From the college perspective, students come in different groups/classifications. Here are some examples:

  • New
  • Returning
  • Transferring
  • Students needing accommodations
  • Local residents
  • Veterans
  • International
  • Student-athletes
  • Non-credit/Community Education
  • Adult Basic Education

Each of these groups can have variations on what their first steps should be. Students aren’t necessarily used to thinking of themselves in terms of these classifications/groups. It can be difficult for first time students, who may fit into more than one of these groups, to decide which one is the place to start.

Most college websites have a “Getting Started” type button on the home page. After clicking that button, a student begins to make a decision about what category of student he or she is. To an experienced user, this is not an obstacle, but to the first-time college student it may be a barrier. For example, what if a student falls into more than one group or classification? Where does the person fit? The answer may vary from college to college.

In addition, some college websites may not be mobile friendly so that students who are trying to use smartphones or tablets may face additional obstacles. Despite the potential difficulties, today’s college students need to become savvy users of the college website and recognize the role it will play in the communication process.

Website challenge:

Look at the website of the college you are currently attending or a college you want to attend in the future. Try to find the following information on the website.

  1. How do you enroll in the college?
  2. How do you sign up for courses?
  3. Where do you find the academic calendar?
  4. What information can you find about the faculty who are teaching the courses in your department?
  5. What information can you find about advising?
  6. What information can you find about financial aid?
  7. Is there a health center on campus? What kinds of information is on their page?
  8. Is there a learning center on campus? How can you sign up for appointments?
  9. Is there a disability resource center (DRC) on campus? How can you get tested for  DRC services?
  10. Can you find any information about student groups? What student groups would you be interested in joining?
  11. Are there any other student services? For example, is there a food pantry, childcare services, a women’s resource center, a veteran’s center, or cultural centers?

Website Challenge Reflection

  1. How comfortable were you navigating this college website?
  2. Did the websites’ organization make sense to you?
  3. What was your strategy for finding the information you were looking for?
  4. What information would you consider most important to you as a student?

The information a college prioritizes on their website can help you see what is prioritized by this college. .

  1. Who seems to be the target audience for this college?
  2. Who do you see represented in the pictures?
  3. Who do you feel the information is targeted towards?
  4. Does the information on the website make you feel welcome at this college? Why or why not?
  5. What do you think this college could add to their website to make it feel more welcoming or more inclusive?

Licenses and Attributions:

CC licensed content, Previously shared:

Lamoreaux, Alise. A Different Road To College: A Guide For Transitioning To College For Non-traditional Students. Open Oregon Educational Resources, 2018. Located at: https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/collegetransition/chapter/chapter-6/   License: CC BY: Attribution.

Adaptions: Reformatted.  Minor additions and deletions for accuracy and cultural relevancy. Website challenge activity revised.

License: CC BY – NC – ND 4.0 International.

License

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Blueprint for Success in College and Career by Alise Lamoreaux and Linnea Spitzer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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