The Application Journey

School websites are burdened with the problem of pleasing current students while attracting prospective students. College websites attempt to do this by overloading their websites with information. The overloading of information essentially causes user fatigue. However, to make up for the faults, school websites generally have attractive pictures that entice new viewers to attend the school and for the sake of good web design.

I’m focusing on the journey of a prospective freshman applicant. More specifically, I researched how a poor college student with above average test grades would go through the college application process. I did this by assuming that a low income student would first look at the tuition prices then find if they could help lower the costs by searching for financial aid information. And then ultimately apply for the school.

University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

The first website I studied was UTC’s website. At first glance, the website homepage looks very cluttered. The user is forced to sift through many different links and paragraphs of information to find their goal.

Second page of the journey

Cost of Attendance

Assuming that I’m a poor college student, I’m going to search for tuition cost and how to reduce the price with scholarships and financial aid. I start off by clicking the “Money Matters” link on the homepage. After clicking the link, I’m presented with ten options that provide me with links ranging from small things like parking fees to more heavy stuff like scholarships and financial aid. I don’t see anything that tells me about tuition so I click financial aid because it seems like it will lead me in the right direction.

Third page of the journey

The page that I land on is loaded with links that are mostly irrelevant to what I’m searching for. After searching for relevant information I find a tab in the side bar that says “Label my costs” and the drop down leads to “Cost of Attendance”, which I believe should carry more visual weight since the majority of students regardless of income want to have some sense how much they will be paying for school.

Fourth Page of the journey

Furthermore, the link “Cost of Attendance” leads the me to a page that presents a couple paragraphs of information describing the sub tabs. This information seems redundant because when you click the links it tells you the same information. After looking at all the links, I finally click “Cost of Attendance” and I’m presented with a PDF with the exact cost of attendance including tuition including board and additional fees.

Mini Critique

On the homepage there should be maybe 3 primary links rather than placing all of the things that seem important in an un ordered list. With every click you are presented with at least ten different links that you can choose from. There might be a reason for this, but I believe that that some of the of these links can be grouped into one category so it takes less thought to navigate the website. Additionally, there is a lot of redundancies through out the website such as, having a link for “Types of Students” and have those types of students listed directly after.

Why not remove “Types of Students”?

I also noticed that there are not any appealing images of UTC. There should be more images that encourage the student to attend. UTC’s website should integrate pictures into their websites compared to SCAD’s, which give the students visual examples of campus life. Aside from that, it is nice that UTC lays out a guide with deadlines that are needed to complete the application along the journey. However, it would be smarter to display that information all at once rather than keeping it in a separate link.

After I clicked the freshman link I’m led to the button that allows me to apply for the school. For whatever reason there is a a box that has graduate school information included with the freshmen page with the apply now button. After clicking reply the application process begins. I won’t dive deep into this part, but there is a weird lost id and/or password thing going on.

If you have lost your login ID & PIN that you created during the application process please email jason-lyon@utc.edu with the subject heading “Lost Login ID & PIN”. Include your full name & birthday in order to retrieve the information.

Despite the flaws throughout the UTC admissions journey it does get the job done.

Southern Adventist University

Southern’s website is easier to navigate and is less cluttered. Although the design looks a little outdated, it still works.

The two clicks it takes to reach tuiton

Unlike, UTC’s long journey to find the total costs, SU’s is literally just two clicks from the homepage. This seems good, but it would be more effective to have a journey half as long as UTC’s to cost of attendance. This would be effective because it gives the college more time to persuade the the prospective student with pictures and what not.

Southern uses well produced photos to show student life

Southern also does a good job providing prospective students with a sense of what it’s like living on campus as well. They provide a lot of detail on the different events happening around campus along with fun pictures.

Inconsistencies between webpages

However, the site is lacking in consistency. The homepage has a completely different style than the page that contains the campus life tab. The only elements that lets the user know that they’re on the same website is the green banner at the top along with the logo. Unifying the design styles would have been a better choice.

Additionally there are out-dated buttons and the carousel’s dots are partially covered

Outdated buttons
Covered Carousel dots

Despite design flaws, Southern University cuts through all the fluff other college websites have and gets straight to the point. Although there could be some minor tweaks made, Southern University successfully provides a good journey for prospective students.

Savannah College of Art and Design

SCAD’s website is arguably the best website of the three. The website and the interactions are beautiful.

Beautiful design

SCAD does what I said previously, by making it difficult to find the tuition costs while persuading the student why they should attend the school. However, I think that it’s a little too hard to find the information.

The webpage after clicking “Apply”

Additionally, the application process is straight forward. The apply button is in the top right corner of all webpages so it is easy to remember. After pressing the apply button, it leads you to page that lists the types of applicants and from there the application process starts.

The dorms looks dream-like

SCAD successfully presents itself as a dream school. The well designed website complements the professionally produced pictures of campus and campus life.

Webpages are well crafted
Safety and security tab

However, the only complaint I have about the website is the “Safety and security” tab. It makes me feel like I have something to worry about. It’s almost as if SCAD isn’t safe. This sub tab should be removed.

Overview

After analyzing these websites, I learned how difficult it is construct a good college website. Information needs to be concise, pictures need to be strategically placed, and the IA needs to be well thought out. SCAD’s website does the job best among the three. Furthermore, I learned that well produced photos of the campus and campus life give students a better idea of how the school is rather than presenting blocks of descriptive text. Although, these websites have their flaws, they still work as intended.