Josh Keller at The Chronicle of Higher Education recently published an article exploring the value of a university’s website, which, at this point is an essential point-of-contact with potential students. He cites the startling statistic, that,
A quarter of prospective students decide not to apply to a college because of a bad experience on the college’s Web site.
While the validity of this statistic can be questioned, it reminded me of my own experience when applying for Stanford. Finding the necessary links to the common app supplement, the mail-in recommendation letter labels, the financial aid instructions, and the instructions for the entire process was not easy. Information and links were placed on different levels in the organizational hierarchy or on separate pages when it should have been together.
To be sure, sharing the instructions and information that applicants need to know is not easy because of just how much data must be conveyed. Stanford does do a decent job of organizing links that apply to different situations or groups, like undergraduates vs. graduates.
But the university can benefit from a larger pool of applicants, and so losing some because of a poorly designed website would be disappointing. Keller wrote, “Many private universities spend upward of $2,000 to recruit each student who enrolls, and their Web sites often form prospective students’ first impressions.”
Stanford should use analytics software to determine the effectiveness of certain pages and links (I hope this is something it already uses). While I would hope potential applicants have enough desire to apply than to be turned off by a disorganized website, perhaps the university can keep some qualified students for whom Stanford is not a top choice from leaving. If anything, maybe a big red button saying “apply” could be added to the home page, to avoid the otherwise cumbersome 5 clicks needed to get to the application instructions page, and to make life easier for everyone starting the application process.