A journey of a thousand sites begins with a single click.
~Author Unknown

A college website can be like a cookbook, full of great information and ideas, and can be completely overwhelming. Where do you start? Looking at the pictures? Reading about the author? Can you taste the food in your mind just by looking at a picture? Can you imagine a food just from the list of ingredients? Is the number of ingredients needed to make the recipe exciting or paralyzing? How experienced a cook you are can impact your reaction to the cookbook.

As you begin navigating new information, remember, Julia Child wasn’t always a great chef!  In fact, when she got married, she could barely cook. Experience doesn’t matter. An open mind does. Let the joy of discovering be your guide.

Take risks and you’ll get pay offs. Learn from your mistakes until you succeed.
It’s that simple.
~Bobby Flay, Master Chef

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 they 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 students’ 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
  • Credit
  • 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, if a student had been getting a GED at the college, which probably falls on the non-credit side of the college structure, is the person a new or retuning student when it’s time to sign up for credit classes? The person may be new to credit classes, but not to the college in general. 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:

Pick 2 different colleges and examine their websites. Try to find the following information on each of the websites. 

  1. Can you find the Mission Statement/Strategic Plan/Vision of the college?
  2. What does the statement say and why is it important to know a college’s mission/plan/vision?
  3. What are the steps you would to take to enroll at the college?
  4. How many locations does the college have and where are they?
  5. How long would it take you to travel to the location of that college?
  6. What term are you planning to attend the college for the first time? Is there an application deadline you must meet?
  7. Where can you find important dates and deadlines for the term?
  8. How long does a person need to live in Oregon to be considered a resident of the State in terms of college tuition at the colleges you are investigating?
  9. Does the college have a student conduct code? (A document about student rights and responsibilities)
  10. Does the college have placement tests a student needs to take prior to staring college?
  11. Does the website explain what type of tests are required and is there a cost?
  12. What are the test scores used for?
  13. Is financial aid available for students who attend the college?
  14. Does the website have student success stories and/or student success tips?
  15. Identify a program that you might like to study at the college.

Website Challenge Reflection

    1. How comfortable were you navigating the college websites?
    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?
    5. What suggestions do you have for making the website easier to use?

The college website will be part of your communication system with the college you attend. Your college website makes you part of a learning community.

  • What other social media does the college use?
  • As a student, how can you use the college website, social media, and the Internet in general to strengthen you learning community and connections?

John Green: Paper Towns and Why Learning is Awesome (TED Talks)

Video link: https://youtu.be/NgDGlcxYrhQ


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A Different Road To College Copyright © 2016 by Alise Lamoreaux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.